What Are the Colored Bars on Military Uniforms?

Military ribbons and metals are worn on occasions that call for full dress uniforms. They are not seen often, and when they are displayed it is with distinguished pride. Each has been duly earned and has distinct meaning for the wearer as well as the observer.

Medal Basics

Colored ribbons, also called bars due to their firm attachment to an underlying bar, distinguish higher ranking officers and are displayed on both the left and right side of the outer jacket of a dress uniform. Dress uniforms are typically worn only at specific ceremonies. An officer or military professional does not wear the chest candy on their daily uniforms or even at award presentations.

In 2006, the Department of Veteran Affairs encouraged all military veterans to display their medals and ribbons on national holidays. Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day and any patriotic holidays that are nationally or locally celebrated is an opportunity to show respect and honor for the service person’s military career.

What the Colored Bars Mean

Color bars signify the time that the person served and/or the geographic location. This is one of the main uses of the color bars. They can also honor the military personnel with outstanding service in certain areas, such as the Purple Heart. This is usually a patch with a purple and white color bar, and the actual medal kept safe at home. Indicator bars represent a specific unit or task the soldier was assigned to. A black bar denotes service in a SWAT team. To understand the full story of a soldier’s panel of color bars, they can be interpreted with sites online that have a full breakdown of the many various color combinations available to military personnel who have proudly served their country.

How to Obtain Lost Medals

Sometimes there can be a mix up in the many branches of the military, and a veteran may not have received the earned decorations. Whether from a snafu or the constant moving of military personnel, an earned ribbon can be obtained in a few ways. There is only a one-time free replacement of decorations and medals. If a service person is active duty, reserve or a military retiree, they can simply purchase replacement decorations at the Exchange Clothing Sales Stores on the local base.

You can order medals online or at military surplus stores as well. Make sure that you only display medals and ribbons you are entitled to wear and have earned. The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 makes wearing a decoration that you have not earned a federal crime. A service person’s DD Form 214 from the National Military Personnel Records Center can help verify that the worn decorations have indeed been earned.