There's not doubt that you'll gather a rainbow of service and achievement ribbons on your chest over the course of your military career. However, you get a virtually free one right at the beginning of your career -- the Army Service Ribbon. Introduced in 1981, this award is available to you, whether you're regular Army, in the Reserves or National Guard.
Award Information and Rack Location
The Army Service Ribbon is a basic award, meaning that on your ribbon rack, it sits at the bottom rung. The ribbon does not have an accompanying medal, unlike many other awards. The ribbon is mounted next to similar service awards not issued from combat actions or meritorious service, such as the Overseas Service Award and the NCO Professional Development Course Award. If you were in the Army prior to 1981 and were not issued the award, you are retroactively eligible if you're still in -- or were in -- after that same year.
How to Get It
Attending basic training as a raw recruit doesn't make you a soldier -- at least until you complete it. You'll also need to complete Advanced Individual Training that educates you on your MOS or Military Occupational Specialty. After your induction as a private, warrant officer or second lieutenant, you become automatically eligible. Note that you don't have to serve overseas or in a warzone to get this ribbon, since it's meant for anyone serving in the branch. If you go in as an officer, you need to complete your orientation or higher-level course.
Reserves and National Guard
Even weekend warriors are eligible for the Army Service Ribbon. Your unit does need to be in an active reserve status for it to count. However, you'll also be eligible for other awards for being in the Reserves, such as the Armed Forces Reserve Medal. This is issued as an actual medal with as ribbon counterpart to wear with your greens. The difference is on the back, with a different engraving showing you're in the guard or reserves.
If you're one of the many that enlists first and then becomes an officer later through OCS training, you won't be awarded the ribbon a second time. Soldiers that are deceased prior to completing basic training and AIT will be awarded the ribbon posthumously, despite not technically becoming a soldier. Also, if you happen to join the military in a specialized role, such as a chaplain or doctor, you'll get the award after four months of service.
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