Navy Award Pennants and Flags

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Prizes for competitions among ships have long been a central element of U.S. Navy training programs, with the awarding of the battle efficiency "E" dating back to 1906.  The first formal unit decoration for combat services, the Presidential Unit Citation, was introduced in 1942 to recognize extraordinary heroism in combat.  It took the form of a burgee-shaped pennant to be displayed by the unit receiving it as well as a ribbon to be worn permanently on the uniform by those who were members at the time the service was performed.  The same practice was subsequently followed for other unit commendations.  Later, beginning in the 1970s, additional award flags were added to recognize achievements in other areas on which the Secretary of the Navy wished to place special emphasis--environmental protection, energy conservation, safety, and so on.

The Navy Awards Manual (SecNavInst 1650.1F) provides for award pennants and flags awarded to ships to be flown from the fore truck (or, in one-masted ships, the main truck) from sunrise to sunset when not under way.  Shore commands, or fleet units based ashore, fly the pennant wherever the commanding officer considers appropriate, normally from the starboard arm of a flagmast with a crosstree. Replicas of unit citation pennants are also often painted on unit equipment. The principal pennants and flags are flown in the following order of priority: unit citations in the order of precedence shown below; Secretary of the Navy award flags in order of establishment of the award; battle efficiency pennant.

Presidential Unit Citation

Presidential Unit Citation PennantThe Presidential Unit Citation was established by Executive Order on February 6, 1942.  It is awarded in the name of the President for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy and is the equivalent for a unit of the Navy Cross awarded to an individual. The current authorization for the Presidential Unit Citation is Executive Order 10694 of January 10, 1957. Bronze-colored stars are placed on the yellow stripe for each additional citation, up to a maximum of five. A streamer affixed to the Navy Flag represents the PUCs awarded to Navy units over the years.

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Joint Meritorious Unit Award

Joint Meritorious Unit Award Pennant The Joint Meritorious Unit Award was established on January 23, 1979, and is awarded to joint activities of the Armed Forces that distinguish themselves by exceptionally meritorious achievement or service in pursuit of joint military missions of great significance.  For example, a joint task force conducting combat operations would be eligible to receive this award, and it would be displayed by each of the units making up the task force.  In the case of Marine Corps units, a streamer is attached to the battle color.  The image shown is approximate and is based on observation of this pennant flying aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in September 2000 at Norfolk, Virginia.

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Navy Unit Commendation

Navy Unit Commendation PennantThe Navy Unit Commendation, established by order of the Secretary of the Navy on December 18, 1944, is awarded by the Secretary of the Navy to units of the Navy or Marine Corps that have distinguished themselves by outstanding heroism in action or by extremely meritorious service in support of military operations.  It may also be awarded to units of the other Services or of friendly foreign nations.  The NUC is the unit equivalent of a Silver Star when awarded for heroism or the Legion of Merit when awarded for meritorious service.  Bronze-colored stars are placed on the green stripe for each additional citation, up to a maximum of five.  A streamer is also placed on the Navy flag.

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Meritorious Unit Commendation

Meritorious Unit CommendationThe Meritorious Unit Commendation, established by the Secretary of the Navy on July 17, 1967, is awarded for valorous or meritorious achievement under either combat or non-combat conditions. It is considered the unit equivalent of the Bronze Star Medal awarded to an individual. Bronze-colored stars are placed on the center for each additional citation, up to a maximum of five. A streamer on the Navy flag, inscribed with red numerals, indicates the number of awards of the MUC to Navy units over the years.

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Secretary of the Navy Environmental Awards

Environmental Award FlagPursuant to SecNavInst 5090.5F, the Department of the Navy Environmental Programs Manual, the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations cite a number of commands annually for achievements in such areas as environmental quality, environmental cleanup, natural resources conservation, cultural resources management, pollution prevention, and recycling.  The previous flag for environmental awards was green with the international environmental symbol (an oval with a horizontal bar across the center) in white.  It was replaced by this design in about 1995.  The image is based on a photograph provided by John Niggley.

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Secretary of the Navy Energy Conservation Award

Energy Conservation Award FlagThe Secretary of the Navy Energy Conservation Awards, created in the wake of the oil shortages of the 1970s, are presented annually to Navy and Marine Corps installations, ships, aircraft squadrons, industrial facilities, and other operational units pursuant to SecNavInst 4101.1 and OpNavInst 4100.7B.  Organizations winning the awards are entitled to display the award flag for a period of one year from the date of the announcement or until the next year's awards are announced.

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Safety Awards

Secretary of the Navy Award for Achievement in Safety Ashore

SecNavy Safety Award A Secretary of the Navy Safety Flag is authorized by SecNavInst 5100.15A for display by shore installations in recognition of winning the Secretary of the Navy Award for Achievement in Safety Ashore.  The flag is white with a green cross and the golden seal of the awards program on the center.

Green "S" Pennant for Safety Afloat

Safety Afloat PennantShips that win the annual type commanders' safety awards fly what is known as the Green "S" Pennant from a yardarm while not under way (ComNavSurfLant/PacInst 3502.2E). The pennant is so named because winners also paint a green letter "S" on the port and starboard bridge bulwarks alongside the letters for other efficiency competitions.

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Retention Excellence Award Pennant

Retention Excellence PennantThis pennant recognizes ships, aircraft squadrons, shore commands and other units and organizations for achieving high levels of personnel retention--getting sailors to reenlist and stay in the Navy at the end of their first, second, and later terms of enlistment.  It is awarded by the two fleet commanders in chief as well as by the commanders of other major commands.
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Submarine Warfare Excellence Flags

The Commanders of Submarine Forces Atlantic Fleet and Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet award the flags shown below to vessels under their cognizance whose officers and enlisted personnel meet established standards for percentages qualifying for the officers' gold submariners' dolphins and the enlisted silver submariners' dolphins. These flags date back at least to the 1960s. They are flown while not under way from a staff attached to the after edge of the submarine's sail (conning tower).

Gold (Officers) Pennant for Submarine Warfare Excellence

Gold Dolphin Pennant

Silver (Enlisted) Pennant for Submarine Warfare Excellence

Silver Dolphin Pennant

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Surface Warfare Excellence Pennants

In 1998, the naval surface forces of both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets jointly introduced two "pennants," actually rectangular flags, to recognize achievements in qualifying crew members as surface warfare officers and enlisted surface warfare specialists. Both pennants are blue with the officers and enlisted surface warfare breast insignia on the center. These flags are flown at the main when not under way, immediately above battle efficiency pennants. Since the merger of the Atlantic and Pacific surface forces into a single Naval Surface Force, the award of these pennants is governed by COMNAVSURFOR Instruction 3502.1D.

Gold Surface Warfare Excellence Pennant

Gold Surface Warfare PennantTo receive the "gold pennant," all of a ship's officers who have been aboard for 18 months or longer and are eligible for surface warfare qualification must be so qualified.

Silver Surface Warfare Excellence Pennant

Silver Surface Warfare PennantA ship may fly the "silver pennant" if all sailors in the grades of E-5 through E-9 who have been on board for 18 months or more are qualified as enlisted surface warfare specialists.

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Enlisted Air Warfare Excellence Pennant

Silver Air Warfare PennantThis pennant has recently been introduced for aircraft carriers whose sailors meet a specified standard of qualification as enlisted air warfare specialists.

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Commander in Chief's Award for Excellent Installations

Excellent Installation FlagThe Commander in Chief's Award for Installation Excellence was established by the President to reward outstanding overall management of military installations. Each military service selects one winning installation each year. OpNavInst 1650.23C authorizes installations that win the award to display the excellent installation flag for a period of one year from the date of receiving the award. The hoist of the flag is blue with the Presidential coat of arms in gold above numerals indicating the year for which the award is presented. The fly of the flag is red with two white blocks, forming a large letter "E" for excellence. This flag is flown along with other award flags from the left arm of the crosstree of the winning installation's flagmast.

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Battle Efficiency "E" Pennant

Battle Efficiency Pennant The battle efficiency pennant, or "meatball," (left) is flown at the truck of the foremast when not under way, beneath any citation pennants or Secretary of the Navy award flags, to signify a ship's winning of the annual fleetwide competition for sustained superior performance in an operational environment. In addition, the winning ship paints a large white "E" on the bridge bulwarks on both the port and starboard sides of the ship. A ship that wins five consecutive battle efficiency competitions replaces the white "E" with a gold one and is entitled to the special battle efficiency pennant (right). Besides the battle efficiency "E", ships also compete for a number of specialized awards signified by the painting of various letters and symbols on the ship.
Special Battle Efficiency Pennant
Battle Efficiency
Special Battle
Efficiency Pennant

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Copyright 2000, 2001 by Joseph McMillan