|  Original Navy Good Conduct Medal|
| Transitional Navy Good Conduct Medal|
| Current Navy Good Conduct Medal|
| Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal|
| Army Good Conduct Medal|
| Air Force Good Conduct Medal|
| Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal|
Reserve Good Conduct Medals
| Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal (Obsolete)|
| Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal|
| Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal|
| Coast Guard Reserve Good Conduct Medal|
Reserve Medals for Service
The use of "good conduct" medals in America actually originated in Great Britain, which instituted an Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1830 to be awarded to certain discharged enlisted soldiers. The following year, in August of 1831, the British govern-ment established a Naval Long Service Medal. The Order in Council that created the Naval Long Service Medal also specified that it was to be awarded to petty officers or seamen, or to non-commissioned officers and privates of Marines who, "having served above twenty-one years and behaved invariably well and be, in the captain's opinion, in every way deserving." This initiative set the precedent for awarding good conduct medals to enlisted members of the British Armed Forces for a set period of honorable and sober service.
American good conduct medals started out as a simple piece of paper: a Navy discharge document given to a sailor by his captain upon the expiration of his enlistment. Its purpose was to show that the sailor had served his enlistment and had received the wages he was due. If a sailor wanted to re-enlist, he was required to produce this discharge certificate to prove his experience. More formal recognition for good conduct in the United States Navy started in 1865 when all enlisted men in the grade of petty officer or below who received an honorable discharge were authorized to wear a fouled anchor two and a half inches in length on the left sleeve of the jacket (or frock) above the elbow. If the uniform was blue, the anchor was to be white; if the uniform was white, the anchor was to be blue. This was known as the honorable discharge badge, and for every additional honorable discharge a star and an inch in diameter would be added to the patch.
In 1870 Commodore Melancthon Smith, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment and Recruiting, suggested that a medal be issued to accompany the discharge certificate and that it be used in lieu of the anchor worn on the sleeve. At Commodore Smith's suggestion, this medal took the shape of a nickel Maltese cross 31mm in diameter. In the center of the front side it had a circular medallion with the words, FIDELITY ZEAL OBEDIENCE around the edge, and the letters U.S.N. in the center.
By linking the medal with a discharge certificate, the Navy's first Good Conduct "badges" served quite a different purpose than those issued to members of the Royal Navy. American sailors were issued one such medal for each discharge with good conduct, and the medal (along with the sailor's discharge papers) had to be shown to the recruiting officer to prove the quality of his previous enlistment, obtain any re-enlistment bonus, and to receive credit for continuous service. In time the Navy Good conduct Medal ceased to be a discharge record and its design has changed over the years. The other branches of the Armed Forces later established good conduct medals of their own, and in recent years similar medals have been established for the reserve components of the Armed Forces.
The period of time an enlisted member must serve to quality for a good conduct medal has varied over time, usually based on the nature of the individual's enlistment and other circumstances. There are, however, provisions for awarding a Good Conduct Medal for service below the minimum number of years normally required. For example, the Marine Corps authorizes award of its Good Conduct Medal for less than three years of service for individuals who are killed in action or who die as a result of wounds received in action, or who die in the line of duty where the death occurred against an enemy and who otherwise meet the requirements for the medal. Requirements for the first award of the Army Good Conduct Medal for wartime service is generally shorter (usually one year) than in peacetime.
have been established for members of the reserve components of the Armed
Forces, primarily to reward and encourage sustained participation. These
medals are important for another reason: Reservists do not generally have
the opportunity to earn the medals awarded to their active duty counterparts,
and it is possible to serve for many years in a reserve program without
recognition in the form of a medal. Reserve service is essentially voluntary
and often imposes a burden on those who participate. The creation of reserve
medals was intended to offset the inconvenience and acknowledge the sacrifices
made by reservists.