Medals. Who needs them. Who gets them. Why are they important? I have my own little theory on Combat Awards...and I hope it doesn't...
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Military decorations, service awards, and medals are often mistakenly confused with one another. Decoration is a term for awards, which require specific acts of heroism or achievement (such as the British Victoria Cross or American Silver Star), whereas a service award or campaign medal is awarded for serving in a particular capacity in a particular geographical area and period (such as the Iraq Campaign Medal). In either case, an award or decoration may be presented as a medal.
The Roman Republic adopted an elaborate system of military awards that included medals called phalerae to be issued to soldiers and units for a variety of achievements. The practice was revived in the Early Modern period, and medals began to be worn on the chest as part of standard military uniform. The United States Continental Congress awarded the Fidelity Medallion as early as 1780, to three specified men for a particular incident, as a one-off award, which was characteristic of early military decorations. In 1782, the Badge of Military Merit was established, and mostly awarded to non-officers. The Légion d'honneur instituted by Napoleon I in 1802 had some of the characteristics of the old military orders, but was intended to be far more inclusive, and was awarded to rank and file soldiers for bravery or exceptional service. Other nations followed with decorations such as the British Army Gold Medal from 1810, though this only went to senior officers, and the Prussian Iron Cross from 1813. Medals were not awarded to all combatants in a war or battle until the 19th century, when the Waterloo Medal was the first British medal given to all present, at the Battle of Waterloo and all associated actions in 1815. By the middle of the 19th century, the number of awards used had greatly expanded in most countries to something near modern levels.
An order tends to be the most elaborate of military decorations, typically awarded for distinguished services to a nation or to the general betterment of humanity. Orders are distinguished from other forms of decoration in that they often imply membership in an organization or association of others that have received the same award. Two of the most well known and commonly awarded orders are the Légion d'honneur of France (military and civil) and the civil Order of the British Empire. The practice of conferring orders originates with the mediaeval fraternities of knighthood, some of which still exist and are still awarded. While most modern orders have no roots in knighthood, they still tend to carry over the terms of their historic counterparts, and terms such as knight, commander, officer, members, and so on are still commonly found as ranks. A military order may use a medal as its insignia, however, most tend to have a unique badge or a type of plaque specifically designed for an emblem.
Military decorations, including medals and orders, are usually presented to the recipient in a formal ceremony. Medals are normally worn on more formal occasions and are suspended from a ribbon of the medal's colors on the left breast, while a corresponding ribbon bar is to be worn to common events where medals would be inappropriate or impractical to wear.