ARLINGTON, Va. — Confusion persists among Marines over the wearing of service ribbons and how to verify service records, prompting Corps leaders to tackle the issue on many fronts.

They’ve upgraded technology that now makes checking records as easy as a few computer keyboard strokes, and recently issued an information bulletin that spells out problem areas and solutions.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls. … This has gotten a lot of visibility, and I took advantage of it,” said Col. Mark Dudenhefer, the head of the Corps’ Awards Branch in Quantico, Va.

The visibility arose out of news stories in January in which Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee said he stopped wearing some of his ribbons because he could not find documentation in his service record to back up rating them.

While the Awards Branch as been working on some of the changes for months — and some for years — Dudenhefer said the “interest in making sure the changes happen has increased dramatically” since Hagee made a pledge in January to make the system more user-friendly.

Marine Administration message 082/03 outlines for Marines how they can check their record, and clarifies some plaguing misconceptions, he said.

For example, the Combat Action Ribbon and Humanitarian Service Medal are two of the “most erroneously worn awards,” according to the message bulletin.

The Combat Action Ribbon and the Humanitarian Service Medal are individual decorations, not unit decorations, and cannot be worn without Marines’ names appearing in an approval letter.

Each year, the Corps processes about 18,000 personal awards — and that’s during peacetime, Dudenhefer said. “We’ll see a lot more of it this year because of combat missions.”

A “major, major modification” has been made to the computerized data system for personal awards, an effort that now means records never have to hit paper or be mailed through the postal system, Dudenhefer said. Instead, records are generated on a computer and electronically sent to the recording center, “just like an e-mail.”

“In the past, the Marine would have to make sure that a hard copy of the citation made it into the record. Now, that’s not a concern of his. It automatically occurs.”

However, he was quick to remind Marines they still are responsible for ensuring their records are accurate because errors can occur.

“Marines are reminded that they are responsible for the accuracy of their individual record and no award or decoration should be worn on their uniform that is not authorized and documented in their Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) and/or the Marine Corps Total Force System (MCTFS),” the MARADMIN reads.

The OMPF is a digital database that stores all supporting documents pertaining to Marines’ military careers. The MCTFS is an electronic master personnel and pay record.

Dudenhefer and staffers are tackling upgrades to record-keeping systems for unit citations, which sometimes are awarded years after Marines move on to other units.

“We’re working to fix the problems,” he said.

Checking your records

A copy of a Marine’s Official Military Personnel File can be obtained in one of the following ways:

• By visiting the Manpower and Reserve Affairs Web site at and selecting the personnel management icon, then the support branch icon and following the instructions.

• By visiting and selecting “how to order your OMPF and master brief sheet” or by e-mailing requests to

• By mailing a request to Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps, Personnel Management Support Branch, 2008 Elliot Road, Quantico, VA 22134-5103.

Marines also can view their personal information online by registering with Marine OnLine at or can verify information by calling (816) 926-5916 or DSN (312) 465-5916.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up