Marine officials hope to speed the awards process for the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal by giving commanders more leeway to recognize heroism, valor or outstanding achievement in their ranks.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller authorized a new policy removing long-standing quotas that restricted the number of Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals that Marine leaders could award each year.

Removing the quota is not intended to open the floodgates for more awards, said Lee Freund, the head of Manpower and Reserve Affairs' Military Awards Branch. Rather, it is intended to speed the process by eliminating general-officer approval for awards recognizing combat valor, significant contributions to unit operations in garrison or heroism when not deployed.

The details are outlined in Marine administrative message 491/15, signed Oct. 5.

Here is what you every Marine should know about new NMCCM policies:

Quotas. Commanders were previously limited to awarding one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for every 50 Marines or sailors under their command each year. That meant a colonel commanding a regiment of 4,800 Marines was limited to 96 NMCCMs per year.

Additional recommendations for the NMCCM required approval by a general officer, according to manpower officials. Now commanders are free to award them as they see fit.

That doesn't mean the award standards have been loosened though.

"This change should not be interpreted as a relaxing of criteria, standards, eligibility requirements, or level of achievement required to earn the distinction of the NMCCM," the message states.

Faster processing. The new rules will also reduce the amount of time it takes to approve a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal award, Freund said.

That could be welcome news for Marines who have criticized the Defense Department's award system for denying or downgrading recommendations and slowly approving those that pass the review process. The debate was reignited by quick awards given by the French government to U.S. service members who foiled a terrorist attack on a Paris train in August.

New authorities. Colonels now have permanent authority to issue the NMCCM, which was first authorized in 2005. Lieutenant colonels who are acting commanders also now have the authority to issue the award.

Prior to 2005, brigadier generals had to approve the award. Three years earlier, awarding an NMCCM required a three-star general.

The new rules will be added to the next revision of the Navy and Marine Corps Awards Manual.

Recognizing exceptionalism. The NMCCM is awarded for a diverse set of achievements, from valor in battle to significant contributions to unit operations.

"This change is intended to allow commanders appropriate freedom of maneuver to appropriately recognize members under their command for heroism or valor, exceptionally meritorious service, or outstanding achievement and other acts of services which are above and beyond what is normally expected, and which distinguish an individual among those performing similar acts or services," the MARADMIN states.

Ongoing medals review. The Pentagon is wrapping up a much broader, two-year review of the military's awards system. A final report has been presented to Defense Secretary Ash Carter for review.

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