The Defense Superior Service Medal was established by Executive Order 11904 signed by President Gerald R. Ford on February 6, 1976.


The Defense Superior Service Medal has been in effect from February 6, 1976 to the present.


The Defense Superior Service Medal is awarded by the Secretary of Defense to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, after February 6, 1976, renders superior meritorious service in a position of significant responsibility while assigned to a joint activity.


The Defense Superior Service Medal is worn after the Silver Star but before the Legion of Merit.


Additional awards are denoted by oak leaf clusters. Until 1998, additional awards to Coast Guard personnel were denoted by gold stars five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. In 1998 the Coast Guard authorized its members to wear oak leaf clusters on this decoration to denote subsequent awards; however, previously authorized gold stars could still be worn.


The design of the Defense Superior Service Medal was adapted from that of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, which was designed by Mildred Orloff and sculpted by Lewis J. King, Jr., both of the Army's Institute of Heraldry.


The first Defense Superior Service Medal was awarded to Brigadier General John G. Jones, U.S. Army, in March of 1976 for "exceptionally superior service as Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense from February of 1972 to July of 1975."



The Defense Superior Service Medal is silver in color and one and seven-eighths inches in overall height. It features a medium-blue enameled pentagon (point up) superimposed by a silver eagle with displayed (outspread) wings. The eagle's breast is charged with the shield of the United States, and the eagle is shown grasping three crossed arrows in its talons. The pentagon and eagle are enclosed within a silver pierced circle consisting in the upper half of thirteen stars and in the lower half of a wreath of laurel (on the left) and olive (on the right). At the top of the medal is a suspender composed of five graduated silver rays which extend above the stars.

The Defense Superior Service Medal is rich in symbolism: the eagle grasping the arrows is taken from the seal of the Secretary of Defense and is the American bald eagle, symbolic of the Nation. The pentagon in the background alludes to the five branches of the Armed Forces (the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard). It also alludes to the headquarters of the Department of Defense, which is housed in the Pentagon. The configuration of the eagle bearing the shield of the United States and grasping three arrows upon a medium of blue background together with an arc of thirteen stars and wreath of laurel and olive refers to the seal of the Department of Defense and indicates the award of the medal in the name of the Secretary of Defense. Additionally, the conjoined stars and silver rays signify unity and excellence in the performance of the mission of the Department of Defense on behalf of the United States. The thirteen stars represent the thirteen colonies, and through them, all of the states. The olive branch represents the goal of defense (peace) while the laurel branch represents achievement.


On the reverse of the pentagon in the center of the medal is the inscription FROM / THE SECRETARY / OF DEFENSE / TO, with space beneath for inscribing the recipient's name. On the reverse of the ring bearing the stars (and above the pentagon) is the inscription FOR SUPERIOR SERVICE.


The ribbon consists of a central stripe of red, flanked on either side by stripes of white, blue and gold.


Return to top of page
Department of Defense Decorations (Index Page)
Quick Reference: All Decorations
Home Page