Whenever Soldiers don their dress uniforms for special occasions, it gives them a chance to show off any awards they have received throughout their careers. They wear these awards on their left breast. A ribbon rack is used to hold all the awards together.
A few weeks back, I talked about uniforms and how to read them; every uniform tells the Soldier’s basic story of their career. The ribbon rack goes even more in depth about their careers with various ribbons and devices. Learning how to read these ribbon racks can give you more insight into that particular Soldier’s career.
Ribbons and medals
I’m not going to go into every ribbon and medal and what they mean because there are a lot of ribbons and medals a Soldier can wear. I’ve picked out a couple of the most common to Fort Bragg. Ribbons are worn on the chest in order of precedence. So for example, a Purple Heart medal ribbon would take precedence over an Army Service Ribbon. These ribbons and medals are also only to be worn with Army uniforms or on the lapels, chests or collars of conventional civilian dress. Using the Purple Heart as an example again, someone who has been awarded the Purple Heart medal can wear it on a suit lapel.
Army Service Ribbon
The Army Service Ribbon is given to active-duty, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers for completing Basic Training. No devices are worn with this ribbon.
Global War on Terrorism
Service Medal
This medal is awarded to any Soldier who served in military operations to combat terrorism post Sept. 11, 2001. All U.S. Army Soldiers who served on active duty for 30 consecutive days after Sept. 11 are authorized to wear this ribbon. No one is entitled to more than one Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Army Overseas Service Ribbon
This ribbon is awarded to active duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers who completed an overseas tour. This award can be given multiple times, and a bronze numeral device placed on top of this ribbon denotes the number of awards given to the Solder.
Presidential unit citation
This is a unit award, given to Soldiers of a unit for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy. The device is a gold frame around a blue ribbon. Units who receive this citation not only wear it with their ribbons but are allowed to carry it with their unit colors as an additional streamer.
Army Devices
Devices are special awards given to Soldiers. They are usually worn on service ribbons. These awards can be given as additional awards of the same award. They can be awarded for valor or meritorious combat service, honorable service, participation in a certain conflict or special events. Again, there are numerous devices a Soldier can have on their ribbons, but I’m going to only highlight a few.
Oak Leaf Cluster and
Service Star
The most well known device is probably the oak leaf cluster. This little bronze device is an oak leaf with three acorns on the stem. A bronze oak leaf cluster is one award, however, a silver oak leaf cluster shows that the Soldier has won five bronze oak leaves.
The oak leaf cluster can be awarded to a set of specific awards for the Army that include the Silver Star, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, a valorous unit award and a superior unit award. Twenty-two awards in all can be given with the oak leaf cluster device as an extra award. A bronze or silver Service Star device is a similar award.
V, C, R Devices
These devices are small letters worn on ribbons. Only certain awards are allowed to be included with these devices.
The V of the device stands for “valor” and it is awarded to a Soldier who demonstrated heroism or valor in combat. In the Army, it can be worn with a Bronze Star medal, an Air medal and Army Commendation Medals.
The C and R Devices are new. “C” stands for combat, “R” for remote. These devices are used to help distinguish those Soldiers who use technology that have an impact on the battlefield. The C Device can be worn with the Army Commendation Medal and Distinguished Service Medal along with four other awards.
The R Device is for Soldiers who contribute to an operation from a remote location. These can be worn with four awards, including the Army Commendation Medal. Neither the C or the R devices can be worn with bronze stars.
Award numerals
These arabic numerals can be worn on ribbons that can be awarded multiple times. The Army Overseas Ribbon, for example, can be awarded more than once and therefore can have a numeral placed on top of it in the ribbon rack.
Ribbons and devices are a way for Soldiers to distinguish themselves. They are literal badges of honor.

(Editor’s Note: Information for this article was provided by http://www.americanwarlibrary.com/display/usa.htm.)
If you have any questions you’d like answered, please email me at AHansen@theparaglide.com.