Ribbons provide an insight into the shifting priorities of the Cadet Program, and American society. It's impossible to consider ribbons and awards without contemplating how little bits of cloth went from an afterthought to the all-important external symbols of accomplishment.
Encampment Ribbon, 1954:
Encampments have been part of the cadet program since the summer of 1944, but an indicator for completion was not introduced until 1949. The first recognition for encampment completion was a round patch worn on the lower half of the left sleeve. The patch was discontinued when the encampment ribbon was released in 1954. The first encampment ribbon had stripes of green, white, blue, and red. A bronze triangular clasp was added to indicate subsequent awards.
Certificate of Proficiency Ribbon, 1956:
CAP introduced the Certificate of Proficiency in 1949 to recognize cadets who completed the training objectives of the cadet program. See COP for full details. The first COP was awarded in 1950. Initially cadets only received a certificate signed by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and the Commander of CAP. The ribbon was introduced in 1956.
The order of precedence was red, white, blue, encampment, and COP.
Certificate of Proficiency and Encampment Ribbon, triangle indicates subsequent encampments
The First Activity Ribbons, 1956:
Three ribbons were introduced in 1956 which again demonstrates the lag between inception of an aspect of the cadet program and release of the ribbon associated with it. The International Air Cadet Exchange (IACE), International Drill Competition, and National Drill Competition were all first held in 1948. When compared to the modern cadet program, these ribbons were quite difficult to earn.
IACE, International Drill Competition, National Drill Competition
Merit Ribbons change to Achievement Ribbons, 1957:
A new cadet program was implemented in 1957 which featured multiple achievement levels, instead of large blocks of training. Completion of achievements made cadets eligible for promotion, one stripe per achievement. The red, white, and blue merit ribbons became achievement ribbons. The program had nine achievements, therefore bronze triangular clasps were attached to the ribbons to denote the additional achievements. The progression was red, red with clasp, white, white with clasp, etc. In the cadet program that was in effect from 1957-64, the COP was required for promotion to the officer grades. (Remember in early cadet programs promotion was not guaranteed at any level. You could see an Airman and a Lieutenant with all five ribbons.) Bronze triangular clasps were added to the COP for achievements 7-9.
While cadets could earn a total of 8 ribbons from 1956-61, the typical number for an advanced cadet was still 5 or 6.
The chart below is retyped from the 1957 cadet handbook.
Ribbons worn by a high achieving cadet who "maxed out" the cadet program, circa 1965. Cadet Advisory Council, National Flight Encampment, IACE, COP, Encampment, Cadet Recruiter; Blue, White, Red Achievement Ribbons. These are the plastic covered "Everclean" ribbons.
Section VIII – Cadet Awards and Decorations
19. General. You can earn the following CAP cadet awards and decorations by successfully completing the training requirements:
a. Cadet Ribbons Requirements
Red Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement One of the Phase II cadet training program.
Clasp for Red Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Two of the Phase II cadet training program.
White Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Three of the Phase II cadet training program.
Clasp for White Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Four of the Phase II cadet training program.
Blue Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Five of the Phase II cadet training program.
Clasp for Blue Training Ribbon You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Six of the Phase II cadet training program.
Summer Encampment Ribbon This ribbon is awarded when you have satisfactorily completed a summer encampment.
and Clasp A clasp to the encampment ribbon is awarded for each additional satisfactory encampment attendance.
Certificate of Proficiency This ribbon is awarded when you have earned the Certificate of Proficiency.
First Bronze Clasp for the You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Seven of the Phase III cadet training program.
Certificate of Proficiency Ribbon
Second Bronze Clasp for the You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Eight of the Phase III cadet training program.
Certificate of Proficiency Ribbon
Third Bronze Clasp for the You must satisfactorily complete Achievement Nine of the Phase III cadet training program.
Certificate of Proficiency Ribbon
b. Certificates Requirements
Certificate of Accomplishment This certificate may be presented to you by the cadet squadron commander (commandant of cadets) for completion of training courses such as the Phase III training program or other projects deemed worthy of special recognition.
Certificate of Proficiency This highest CAP cadet award is presented to you by National Headquarters upon successful completion of the following:
1. The Phase II training program 2. A CAP cadet summer encampment
(This award authorizes you to enter USAF an airman third class.)
From the 1957 Cadet Handbook:
Cadet Merit Ribbons, 1949-57:
Ribbons were certainly not a priority for early CAP. After all, the world was at war. Adult members risked their lives during coastal patrol and gave CAP time, money, and valuable resources. Even they were only able to earn three little ribbons shaped like triangles. Cadet ribbons were first introduced in a CAP News Bulletin in November 1945. However, the plans to introduce the ribbons and other member awards were put on hold when all military support was withdrawn in March 1946. Cadet merit ribbons then reappear in the March 1949 edition of C.A.P. News. This was followed by the publication of the Civil Air Patrol Manual in August 1949.
Oddly, the manual did not outline the criteria for awarding the merit ribbons. According to the March newspaper article, the cadet merit ribbons were red, white, and blue, in order of precendence. It further stated the red ribbon was awarded to cadets who attained a 90% score in the Basic Training program. White was for attaining a 90% score in the Secondary Program. The blue ribbon was awarded to "Cadets who distinguish themselves by exceptionally meritorious service to the Cadet Program or by extraordinary acts of heroism under unusually hazardous conditions."
It's unknown exactly when, but the criteria for the ribbons changed and they became longevity awards with each ribbon representing one year of service up to three years. (Bear in mind at this time cadets were fortunate to achieve three years in the cadet program since the age limit was 15-18 until 1954, and 15-20 until 1957.)