In the likely event that the Senate confirms Gen. David Petraeus as the CIA's next director in the coming months, he'll retire from the military and start wearing civvies to work. * This will mean hanging up one of the most decorated uniforms currently in active service. What do all those medals, ribbons, and badges mean? Hover over the highlighted sections of the photographs below to find out.
Petraeus' decorations are a mix of awards and insignia from the U.S. military, the State Department, international organizations like the United Nations and NATO, and even foreign governments. Some simply indicate affiliation with an organizational unit; some were bestowed upon Petraeus after he completed key training courses; some recognize service in particular military campaigns; and some were awarded for specific accomplishments or acts of heroism.
While the military publishes the general criteria required to earn its awards and badges, it is difficult—and sometimes impossible—to determine the specific reasons active-duty personnel have received a particular decoration. (You can, however, file Freedom of Information Act requests for veterans' military records and award citations.)
These photographs were taken in March and April of 2011.
OBSCURED BY LAPEL/NOT PICTURED:
• Joint Service Commendation Medal. Less prestigious than a Meritorious Service Medal but more prestigious than an Achievement Medal. The full medal depicts a gold-colored metal eagle, clutching three arrows and superimposed upon four conjoined green hexagons, which represent the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.
• Army Achievement Medal. Less prestigious than a Commendation Medal and generally awarded only to junior personnel. Full medal is a bronze octagon superimposed with an Army plaque and "1775."
• Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, for support duty inside the United States for Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
• Army Overseas Service Ribbon is presented to Army members who complete an overseas tour of duty. The numeral 3 is attached to Petraeus' ribbon to indicate three additional overseas tours.
• Expert Infantryman Badge, awarded upon completion of a rigorous infantry course.
• State Department Secretary's Distinguished Service Award. Then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented this award to Petraeus in December 2008 for his work as the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
• State Department Superior Honor Award. Like the State Department's Distinguished Service Award, but less prestigious. The eligibility requirements are broad but generally recognize contributions to the department's goals. You can even get it for "[i]nnovation and creativity in accomplishing long-term tasks or projects" or "[c]ontributions that resulted in increased productivity and efficiency, and economy of operations at agency level."
• Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic (1st Grade)
• Polish Iraq Star. Awarded to Polish participants in the Iraq War, as well as non-Polish citizens who have collaborated with the Polish forces there.
• Polish Army Medal (Gold)
• Romanian Emblem of Honor
• Commander of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland
• British Army Parachutist Badge (Junior level)
• German Parachutist Badge (Bronze)
Correction, May 20, 2011: The interactive feature on this page originally stated that Gen. Petraeus earned his three National Defense Service Medals for service in Operation Desert Spring, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Rather, he earned them for active service during the Vietnam War, Gulf War, and the Global War on Terrorism. National Defense Service Medals were not issued for service during Operation Desert Spring.