Eligibility Requirements for the Combat Action Ribbon
08 August 1991
14. Combat Action Ribbon
a. Eligibility Requirements
(1) Awarded to members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard: (When the Coast Guard or units thereof operate under the control of the Navy) in the grade of captain/colonel and junior thereto, who have actively participated in ground or surface combat. Upon submission of evidence to their commanding officer, personnel who earned the Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Medical Badge while a member of the U.S. Army may be authorized to wear the Combat Action Ribbon.
(2) The principal eligibility criterion is that the individual must have participated in a bona fide ground or surface combat fire or action during which he was under enemy fire and his performance while under fire was satisfactory. The following amplifying remarks are furnished as guidance.
(a) Personnel in riverine and coastal operations, assaults, patrols, sweeps, ambushes, convoys, amphibious landings, and similar activities who have participated in fire fights are eligible.
(b) Personnel assigned to areas subjected to sustained mortar, missile, and artillery attacks actively participate in retaliatory or offensive actions are eligible.
(c) Personnel in clandestine of special operations such as reconnaissance and SEAL teams are eligible when the risk of enemy fire was great and was expected to be encountered.
(d) Personnel aboard a ship are eligible when the safety of the ship and the crew were endangered by enemy attack, such as a ship hit by a mine or a ship engaged by shore, surface, air or sub-surface elements.
(e) Personnel eligible for the award of the Purple Heart would not necessarily qualify for the Combat Action Ribbon.
(f) The Combat Action Ribbon will not be awarded to personnel for aerial combat since the Strike/Flight Air Medal provides recognition for aerial combat exposure; however, a pilot or crewmember forced to escape or evade after being forced down could be eligible for the award.

Bill Salisbury, CDR (SEAL), USN-RET
Any member of the Navy who engaged the enemy during the Vietnam War in a ground action -- often referred to as a "firefight" -- qualified for and would have been awarded a Combat Action Ribbon. The Navy would also have awarded the ribbon to any member who was in an area where a firefight was likely. Lack of a Combat Action Ribbon, therefore, signifies that a sailor such as Jim Janos never was in a firefight or served in an area where he would likely engage in a firefight.
More on eligibility requirements for the Combat Action Ribbon