"A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon."
- — Napoleon Bonaparte, ca. M2
Astra Militarum Awards and Honours are awarded for all manner of heroic deeds or worthy actions by the Astra Militarum. These awards are given for acts of heroism and bravery, and there are three broad types. There are Imperial Honours, which are found throughout the Imperial Guard; Campaign Honours, which are given out for meritorious action in a given Imperial Crusade or planetary action; and Regimental Awards, which are unique to each regiment and are often awarded for specific engagements. As might be imagined, there are a great many honours and medals of merit available to the Imperial Guardsman throughout the galaxy. Many are specific to particular worlds or campaigns, while others are Imperium-wide.
Given that the galaxy of the late 41st Millennium is riven with war, and that the Astra Militarum is embroiled in a constant state of conflict, ribbons, medals and other honours are often awarded to recognise the conduct which might raise an individual trooper above his fellows so that he comes to be recognised, by his comrades and by his superiors, as a leader of soldiers. Having been hailed as an archetype for others to follow, the individual might be rewarded for his deeds with all manner of medals, citations, and awards, but in truth many, often the most worthy care the least for such things.
Most true leaders act in the way they do out of duty to their comrades and faith in the Emperor, often uncaring or even resentful of the multitudinous layers in between. While the exemplar might know his regiment's commanding officer by name he is unlikely to have spoken to him before, until the mantle of leadership is conferred, formally or otherwise. Then the unwilling hero might find himself required to attend parades where he must carry the regimental banner at the head of rank upon rank of his fellow troopers. He might be expected to attend the officer's mess as a guest of honour, to dine upon delicacies the likes of which he has never tasted and to sip wines so rare he could never hope to purchase a single bottle.
They are decorated with glittering medals and flowing ribbons, most of which they were unaware of before earning them and have no wish to wear in front of their comrades. In short, most such heroes are unwilling ones, their status often used to the advantage of the commanding officers as just another tool to manipulate the troops' morale. Only in those regiments drawn from cultures where matters of class and status are entirely irrelevant are these leaders allowed to continue their existence as before, and such regiments are often few and far between.
Notable Astra Militarum Imperial Honours
Imperial Honours are commendations that are recognised, in one form or another, throughout the Imperium of Man. There are many different commendation systems that vary by segmentum, sector, Crusade, campaign, regiment, and company, some with traditions dating back thousands of standard years. However, the honours presented below are some of the most commonly used and widely recognized throughout the Imperium:
|Star of Terra||The Star of Terra is the highest possible award that an Imperial soldier can obtain in his or her own lifetime. It is awarded by the High Lords of Terra to a select few individuals for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty. Notable recipients of the Star of Terra are Sergeant Lukas Bastonne of Cadia and Sly Marbo of the Catachan Jungle Fighters, who is a multiple recipient.|
|Order of Ollanius Pius||The Order of Ollanius Pius represents the very highest honour a mortal man can earn in the service of the Imperium. This most esteemed of honours is only awarded by the High Lords of Terra themselves, for an individual's display of epic leadership as well as personal courage, above and beyond the call of duty. This award takes the form of a winged medal that bears the golden face of an angelic youth, laurel leaves arrayed across his noble brow. The youth depicted is none other than Ollanius Pius, an Imperial Saint and mythological figure within the Imperial Creed. Ollanius Pius is said to have sacrificed his life to save the Emperor Himself, during the Siege of Terra. Intricate scrollwork beneath the beatific visage bears the inscription, "Amid the weeping and the woe, accursed daemon remain and rot, I know thee filthy as thou art, I know." These ominous words speak of things few men are allowed to know, except by those of very esteemed rank -- the knowledge that denizens of the Empyrean exist, and that only through prayer and eternal vigilance of the God-Emperor are they kept at bay.|
|Honourifica Imperialis||The Honourifica Imperialis covers a broad class of gallantry medals. These are bestowed within each segmentum so this example would be more properly called the Obscuras Honourifica. The bearer of an Honourifica is a genuine hero of the Imperium and will enjoy the highest regard of his comrades and superiors.|
|The Macharian Cross||The Macharian Cross here is much prized by rising officers as it is issued in recognition of intelligent application of the tenets of the Tactica Imperialis. Courage alone will not win this medal and the bearer of one is likely to be recruited into the general staff during future campaigns or Crusades when his talents can be developed.|
|Medallion Crimson||Less prestigious than an Honourifica but more common amongst veterans of the Imperial Guard is the Medallion Crimson. This is issued to soldiers who have continued to do their duty despite the most terrible injuries. Often the bearers will also have bionic replacements to show for their courage as well as the Medallion. Most, however, are awarded posthumously.|
|The Eagle Ordinary||Issued to Imperial Guardsmen and other associated military personnel (Imperial Navy ranks, Officio Medicae, etc.) for acts of valour beyond what is required (but not considered extraordinary). A common jest amongst the bearers of the medal is that they are the "boring heroes" of a regiment due to the fact that they are not dead. However, those who do not possess the Eagle Ordinary respect it as a symbol of courage.|
|The Order of the Scarlet Wing||A lesser medal from the same group as the Order of the Eagle's Claw, the Scarlet Wing signifies that the bearer has been injured in (but survived) a battle where he has participated in some manner of airborne assault. Injuries in such actions are commonplace, however, and hardened drop troops refer to receiving this medal as "getting his wings."|
|The Winged Skull||The Winged Skull is a traditional badge of ancient origin. Classical convention is to represent the skull with an iron device (which has been adopted by the Adeptus Astartes as the insignia for a Sergeant). It is usually displayed on the shoulder guards of armour and is most commonly awarded for inspirational leadership leading to righteous victory.|
|The Triple Skull||This medal is awarded to the survivors of actions in which their units have suffered at least 66% casualties. Regrettably, several units of the Cadian 91st received such an honour for their valorous sacrifices during the campaign on Medusa V. It is considered in every way inferior to the Golden Skull, which is issued posthumously to those who fall in such engagements, although doubtless the recipients view it a little more favourably.|
|Imperialis||The Imperialis symbol, a winged skull, dates back to the Horus Heresy when it was used by the Loyalist Space Marine Legions and the Imperial Army troopers in recognition of bravery and loss. Later, it became a badge of honour borne by Loyalist units during the Heresy. The wings of the skull represent the wings of the Aquila, the double-headed eagle that is the official symbol of the Imperium, while the skull is a common motif in Imperial iconography which represents the sacrifice of the Emperor of Mankind for humanity's salvation.|
|The Ribbon Intrinsic||Taking the form of an etched brass strip with a tripartite ribbon hanging beneath, the Ribbon Intrinsic is awarded to units rather than individuals. It is given only to squads that have proven to be the linchpin for a victorious battlefront, where it held the line fast and turned what could have easily been a defeat into a victory by determination alone. Despite its low material value, the Ribbon Intrinsic is said to forge a great bond between members of a platoon and ensure they go from strength to strength. In practice, the Ribbon is usually awarded to a handful of individuals at a time, the tattered and desperate survivors of battles they would rather forget.|
|The Merit of Terra||The Merit of Terra is awarded to Cadian soldiers who have voluntarily postponed their own demobilisation. A bittersweet award, the Merit of Terra signifies that the bearer will be required to serve much longer than expected. However, it is a well-known sign of steadfast loyalty toward the Golden Throne. All Imperial military personnel respect those bearing the Merit, and it is reported that even the Adeptus Astartes acknowledge the diligence and self-sacrifice that the award represents.|
Regimental Awards and Honours
There are countless medals pinned to the uniforms of Imperial Guardsmen across the galaxy, and the examples presented here do not even begin to scratch the surface. Many unique awards are created to recognise the engagements in which a specific regiment has fought. In the Cadian Shock Trooper regiments, individuals granted heroic status are notable by the medals they wear, for Cadia is a supremely militaristic culture and maintains decorations for countless deeds. By way of contrast, the Catachan Jungle Fighters both value and reward those who exhibit archetypical heroic qualities, but at the same time they rarely accept any official honours that might be bestowed upon them. Thus, a mighty and charismatic leader who has won many victories, slaughtered many foes, or rescued many of his comrades might decline every promotion offered to him, remaining with his unit where he himself believes he can best serve.
The amount of commendations, accolades, and medals garnered by the Scintillan Fusiliers regiment is, while certainly impressive, not commensurate with the amount of actual combat the regiment has seen. Though the soldiers of the regiment are quite competent, their training extends only to what is laid down in the Uplifting Primer. Further, their training consists mostly of deep-underhive hunts targetting the wretched creatures in the depths of Scintilla's forgotten pits, and their experience has largely been in low-intensity conflicts where the regiment could bathe themselves in the greatest amount of glory for the least amount of risk. This has led many in the Spinward Front to look askance at the so-called achievements of the Scintillian Fusiliers 17th, Commander-General Pailus' pet regiment.
The warriors of the Death Korps of Krieg are notorious for their lack of individual identity, and this carries forward the regard they show to those that in any other regiment would be regarded as born leaders of their fellow soldiers. It is left to the ranks to recognise and reward their own. Even if the officers refuse to recognise their deeds, the troopers themselves certainly do, honouring with stoic dignity those in their midst who have performed great service to the regiment and to the Emperor.
Notable Cadian Medusa V Campaign Honours
Below are examples of Regimental Awards that are awarded to the Cadian Shock Troops Regiments:
|Ward of Cadia||One of the highest honours awarded to a member of Cadia's military forces, this esteemed award is given in recognition of extraordinary courage, valour and intrepidity in the face of overwhelming odds and extreme danger. When granted this award the bearer is thereafter referred to by the official title of "Warden" or "Bearer of the Ward." A notable recipient of this award is Warden-Colonel Parmenion Thade of the Cadian 88th Regiment, for his actions during the opening days of the 13th Black Crusade, when he led a company of Imperial Guard troopers into the tunnels of Cadia and killed several Chaos Space Marines, as well as for his notable actions in the destruction of a Chaos Titan.|
|Merit of the High Lords||To be awarded a Merit of the High Lords is a rare honour indeed, bestowed upon the greatest of Cadian commanders whose valour is such that his name has been mentioned in the Chamber of the High Lords. It is nicknamed the "double-edged sword," as it inevitably means the individual who receives it will be under particular scrutiny from his superiors from that point onwards. He can expect to be assigned to the most horrific battlefronts by jealous superiors in order to pass on his wisdom and courage first hand.|
|The Steel Aquila||A golden half-circle bearing a simple steel Imperial Eagle is one of the most prestigious medals awarded to combat personnel. Often referred to as the "lunatic's eagle," the Steel Aquila is awarded to soldiers who, in the face of great personal danger, have triumphed over the enemy and returned in a condition fit for further active duty. This award is never issued without good cause, and only the most spectacularly violent and impressive feats of personal valour will earn it.|
|The Order of the Eagle's Claw||Awarded to Cadian soldiers who have made planetfall in the most perilous of landing zones and triumphed. Only those who have proven victorious against overwhelming odds in a fashion that has been witnessed by their superiors or Imperial Navy observers can earn this award. Bearers of the Order of the Eagle's Claw will receive increased respect from Imperial Navy personnel, regardless of the soldier's service arm. It is rare for soldiers outside of Drop Troop regiments to receive this award, but it has occasionally been issued to Imperial units that have participated in mass orbital deployments (under fire). The Cadian 91st was one such regiment that earned this esteemed award during the campaign on Medusa V.|
|Knight of Medusa||A medal and honorific title awarded to Cadian officers of the rank of Colonel and above who have led their regiments in thirty or more consecutive days of active combat during the campaign on Medusa V.|
|The Medusan Laureate||An award born out of the Medusan Schism, the Laureate indicates a Cadian soldier who has effectively "won his laurels." Acts of valour leading to great victory are recognised with the Medusan Laureate. Only soldiers who have won a laurel may bear the unit/regimental colours.|
|The Order of the Storm||A campaign badge awarded to Cadian soldiers who have been wounded in battle during the Medusan campaign and have returned to their units. The Order of the Storm depicts a pair of crossed lighting bolts over an Imperial Eagle. Earning a "double storm" or "triple storm" denotes a soldier who has been wounded several times and these soldiers are seen as particularly lucky (in that they are still alive).|
|The Crimson Skull||Most commonly seen worn by Officio Cadian Medicae personnel, this medal bears a single crimson ruby. The Crimson Skull is given to soldiers who, whilst directly involved in a combat situation, have successfully administered medical aid to wounded personnel. Veteran field medics are never seen without this medal, however it is not uncommon for particularly valorous soldiers to earn one by saving the lives of injured comrades.|
|The Valoris Imperator||Taking the form of a soaring two-headed eagle, the Valoris Imperator is awarded only to soldiers who have served in a Cadian Shock Troops regiment for twenty years or more. It is technically awarded in recognition of long service, but is in fact it is only awarded posthumously to veterans who have been in particularly unpleasant circumstances.|
|The Administratum Medal||Depicting a scroll entwined around a single skull, the Administratum awards this medal to those Cadian soldiers who have fought to protect personnel or property belonging to that august body.|
|Medusa Star||The Medusa Star was the Imperial Guard's general service medal, which denoted active military service during the Medusa V Campaign. It was awarded to all Cadian ranks, though officers received a gold version. This is the most basic honour a Guardsman could be awarded in this campaign and has little intrinsic value except to those soldiers newly transferred to the regiment.|
Notable Spinward Front Regimental Honours
Each front of the Imperial war effort has its own, unique command structure, its own battlefield conditions and foes to fight. To reflect this, each Strategic High Command has been authorized to award campaign and sector-specific awards for Imperial Guard troopers of particular skill, heroism, or stubborn tenacity. These medals and honours are a tradition of the Periphery Sub-sector of the Calixis Sector, and represent meritorious service against the main foes of the Spinward Front: the arrayed forces of the Severan Dominate, the Ork horde of WAAAGH! Grimtoof, the Dark Eldar Cabals operating in the area, those Chaos warbands that call the Spinward Front their home, and the Kroot mercenary Kindred active in the area. Additionally, there are informal awards, marks of reputation rather than formal commendation, given by regimental command. These honours are recognised by a given regimental commander to acknowledge a squad's skill and history fighting one of Mankind's many foes.
Included below are those Regimental Honours unique to the Spinward Front:
|Kill Markers (Informal Regimental Awards)||For many Guardsmen, each victory is accompanied by a simple ritual: a notch on a weapon or a chalk tally on the side of a tank, a mark for every enemy killed in service to the Imperium of Mankind. These simple marks add up over time, to eventually become a full-fledged part of the soldier's identity, fully incorporated in a squad's heraldry or regimental markings. As the squad moves through the ranks, their reputations as favoured fighters of a given enemy grows, eventually adding to the fearsome reputation of the regiment as a whole. These markings are collectively known as Kill Markers. These are informal honours, which means that most regiments will not award the squad a medal or perform a ceremony when they reach a new threshold. Kill Markers are a part of the reputation of a squad, and are more a measure of the squad's respect and status, both within the Imperium and among its enemies, than an adornment for a Guardsman's uniform. Each regiment records their Kill Markers differently. Markers may be stencilled onto tanks, painted onto a helmet, notched into weapons, represented with elaborate body scars or tattoos, or displayed as a myriad of trophies hanging from banners, vehicles, or armour.|
|The Shield of Sacrous||The Shield of Sacrous is a regimental award for the 19th Brontonian Longknives for having seen service on the planet Sacrous. It was awarded to all Brontonian ranks, though officers received a gold version. This is the most basic award a Guardsman could be awarded and has little intrinsic value.|
The Imperial Guard is unimaginably vast, and many awards and citations are unique to a given region of space or a given Imperial Crusade or campaign. Distinguished Service Medals are gallantry medals awarded by Campaign Command for service to the Imperial Guard "above and beyond the call of duty." Considering how much Strategic Command often expects out of the average Guardsman, receipt of one of these commendations is a rare honour, indeed. These medals are considered very important, and their titles are long-winded. For example, the full title of the Cannonade Breachman's Medal would be, "For Distinguished Service, Against the Severan Rebellion, Cannonade Breachman's Medal." Distinguished Service Medals are usually very large and ostentatious, though there is considerable variance in this regard. Receipt of these medals does not go unnoticed by the common soldiery. Distinguished Service Medals are always awarded for specific feats of bravery and skill; each one is accompanied by a scar and a story. Their fellow Guardsmen will often ask the bearers to recount their tales of bygone battles, partly out of curiosity and a sense of camaraderie, but also in the hopes that they might pick up a few helpful pointers along the way.
Notable Spinward Front Campaign Honours
The following are a sampling of Imperial Guard Honours used in the campaigns and Crusades of the Spinward Front:
|Trenchman's Long Service Medal||Described as two crossed spades, hanging from a triangular grey ribbon, the Trenchman's Long Service Medal was a commendation first given to veterans of the Third Burgs' War, a conflict that saw vicious trench fighting and lasted for over 150 standard years. Only the hardiest and most tenacious Guardsmen survived that conflict for any length of time. As many Burgs' War veterans became commanders in their own right, these medals eventually saw widespread usage throughout the sub-sector.|
|The Order of St. Kark||A brass medal in the shape of a Bolter shell hanging from a crimson ribbon, this is a Commissariat Commendation, awarded for maintaining discipline above and beyond the call of duty. This medal honours St. Kark, a particularly brutal and effective Commissar of the Angevin Crusade, venerated throughout the Calixis Sector.|
|Drusian Laurels||Described as a gold-etched Aquila flanked by laurels, Drusian Laurels are awarded for defending high-ranking members of the Ecclesiarchy of the Calixis Sector, or participating in actions to protect particularly valuable or venerated shrines or artefacts.|
|Cog of Het||This award appears in the form of a Cog Mechanicum, with three circles worked into the design above the skull. The Cog of Het is an example of one of the very rare Calixis Sector Adeptus Mechanicus commendations, given by representatives of the masters of the Lathe Worlds for properly venerating the Machine Spirits of vehicles and equipment being used on the field of battle.|
Against the Severan Rebellion
These commendations are newly minted, appearing only after the conflict with the Severan Dominate began in force. Campaign commanders award these honours to Guardsmen who have proved themselves lynchpins in the battle against the Severan Dominate. There are those within the Periphery Sub-sector High Command who believe that the fight against the Severan Dominate is the most crucial in the Sub-sector; that without the resources gained by bringing the Dominate back into Compliance with Imperial mandate, the rest of the battlefronts of the Periphery Sub-sector are doomed to failure. These commanders hold honourees of these medals in the highest esteem. These awards include the following:
|Cannonade Breachman's Medal||A silver medallion with a bronze circle stamped in its centre, the Cannonade Breachman's Medal is an honour given to those heroes of the Imperium who have made their way past enemy lines and into the true heart of Dominate formations to take out one of their most fearsome and devastating weapons—lined artillery formations. A Guardsman showing this medal can expect respect and appreciation from the ground infantry in a campaign, as they are usually the most affected by massed artillery barrages.|
|Commandant's Commendation||A bronze star, inlaid with a teardrop-shaped ruby, this Distinguished Service Medal is awarded for spearheading an operation to capture or kill one of the heads of the Dominate's armies. Dominate Generals are heavily relied upon by the Dominate rank-and-file, and their loss is a devastating blow to the enemy.|
Against the Ork Menace
These commendations are awarded for exemplary service against the green tide that threatens to engulf the Spinward Front. Awards given for service in fighting against WAAAGH! Grimtoof are seen as some of the Periphery Sub-sector's most prestigious, as many in Strategic Command consider the Ork menace the truest threat in the Spinward Front. These awards include the following:
|Frontsman's Honours||A gold medallion, inlaid with iron, the Frontsman's Honour badge is a great credit to the will of those Guardsmen who have earned it. This particular Distinguished Service Medal is awarded to those who have held a pass, fortification, or entrenchment against an Ork horde of at least 100 for 24 solar hours or longer. The vast majority of fortifications in the way of WAAAGH! Grimtoof have been definitively overrun. This honour shows that these soldiers defend their battle line no matter the costs, as they held their ground in the face of the great Ork horde and lived to tell the tale.|
|Champion's Commendation||A silver star with gold inlay, held by a green ribbon, the Champion's Commendation is awarded for eliminating one of the leaders of the WAAAGH! The Warbosses of Grimtoof are the fuel that keeps the fires of the Ork horde moving. Without a Warboss driving them forward, the Ork menace becomes disorganised and loses its momentum.|
Against Xenos Designate Eldar
Officially, there is no distinction in the commendations awarded for fighting any type of Eldar. Veterans might notice some differences between Dark Eldar and their Craftworld cousins if they have the misfortune of fighting both, but in the eyes of the Imperial Guard as a body, all Eldar are the same. These awards include the following:
|Liberator's Honourium||A platinum medallion encrusted with gemstones, this Distinguished Service Medal is awarded for saving an important Imperial official, cleric, or noble from the clutches of the Dark Eldar. The Dark Eldar are endlessly cruel, and falling into their clutches is a terrible fate indeed. This medal came about after the rescue of a particularly influential sector noble, who personally funded the creation of the honour to thank his rescuers.|
|Warden's Commendation||A platinum cross with gold inlay, this award is given for vanquishing one of the Dark Eldar's most elite warriors such as an Archon, Succubus, Haemonculus, or Incubus Klaivex in melee combat. Those who receive this medal have beaten the odds and survived such a deathmatch, acquiring their victory through tenacity, stubbornness, or self-sacrifice.|
Against Xenos Designate Kroot
These commendations are slightly rarer than the other types of Distinguished Service Medals common in the Spinward Front, as the Kroot are usually not considered as pressing a threat as the other enemies of the Imperium active in the Periphery Sub-sector. There are a few campaign commanders, however, who have, for whatever reason, taken a particular dislike to the Kroot. These commanders have created service medals for victory over Kroot forces, and a few other campaign commanders have followed suit. These awards include the following:
|Star of Vigilance||A bronze star with silver filigree, this Distinguished Service Medal is awarded for destroying a group of Kroot infiltrating into Imperial territory. Kroot are known to operate under the Imperial radar, and many times a commander will not be aware of their presence until they have already taken out a valuable Imperial target. This medal was created in the hopes that Guardsmen in service even in theatres where Kroot were not known to be operating would keep an eye out for their threat.|
|Vanguard's Commendation||A square silver medal, embossed with bronze, the Vanguard's Commendation is awarded for killing a Kroot Shaper. Many Imperial rumours surround the Kroot Shaper. It is believed by numerous frontline soldiers and officers alike that Kroot Shapers wield dark magics, and many Adeptus Ministorum priests and Imperial Commissars alike have found it difficult to suppress such superstitions, even if they border on heresy. This medal is meant to remind all who see it that these creatures are mortal, and can be slain with discipline, righteousness, and copious gunfire.|
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pg. 59
- Codex: Imperial Guard (3rd Edition, 2nd Codex), pg. 14
- Imperial Munitorum Manual by Graham McNeill, pp. 80-84
- Tactica Imperialis - A History of the Later Imperial Crusades (4th Edition) by Dan Abnett & Andy Hoare, pg. 28
- Only War: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 294-295
- Only War: Enemies of the Imperium (RPG), "Medals and Honours of the Front," pp. 139-143
- Only War: Hammer of the Emperor (RPG), pp. 26, 64-65
- The Horus Heresy - Book Four: Conquest by Alan Bligh, pg. 95
- Cadian Blood (Novel) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
- Rogue Star (Novel) by Andy Hoare, pg. 13
- Dawn of War II - Retribution (PC Game), The Last Stand - Duelist Honors (Wargear Selection Screen)