Air Medal

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Air Medal
Air Medal front.jpg
Awarded by the United States Armed Forces
Type Military medal
Awarded for Meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight
Status Currently awarded
Established Executive Order 9158, May 11, 1942 (as amended by E.O. 9242-A, September 11, 1942)
Next (higher) Meritorious Service Medals:
Joint Service, Branch Service
Next (lower) Air Force: Aerial Achievement Medal
Army, Navy & Marine Corps: Commendation Medals
Air Medal Ribbon

Air Medal back.jpg
Air Medal ribbon (above) - Reverse side of medal (below)

The Air Medal is a military decoration of the United States Military. The medal was created in 1942 and is awarded for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.[1]


The Air Medal was established by Executive Order 9158, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 11 May 1942. The Air Medal was awarded retroactive to 8 September 1939. The medal is awarded to anyone who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguishes himself or herself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.[1][2][3]

During World War II the medal's award criteria varied widely depending on the theater of operations, the aircraft flown, and the missions accomplished. In Europe some bomber crewmembers received it for five sorties; elsewhere, the Pacific and CBI much higher criteria were used.[4] The Distinguished Flying Cross would be given to a commissioned officer where the Air Medal would be awarded to an enlisted man.

The Air Force uses the aircraft sortie designation as a tool. A members individual flight management records will list the sorties that are eligible for the award. These sorties are designated combat, combat support, or operational (Active Air Defense or Hostile Reconnaissance). Only the first sortie of the day counts. Armed aircraft crews require ten sorties, while all others require twenty sorties.

The Air Medal may also be awarded to recognize single acts of merit or heroism, or for meritorious service. Award of the Air Medal is primarily intended to recognize those personnel who are on current crew member or non-crew member flying status which requires them to participate in aerial flight on a regular and frequent basis in the performance of their primary duties. However, it may also be awarded to certain other individuals whose combat duties require regular and frequent flying in other than a passenger status, or individuals who perform a particularly noteworthy act while performing the function of a crew member but who are not on flying status. These individuals must make a discernible contribution to the operational land combat mission or to the mission of the aircraft in flight.[5]

Examples of personnel whose combat duties require them to fly include those in the attack elements of units involved in air-land assaults against an armed enemy and those directly involved in airborne command and control of combat operations. Also to include personnel performing "Dustoff" Medevac operations. Awards will not be made to individuals who use air transportation solely for the purpose of moving from point to point in a combat zone.

Subsequent awards of the Air Medal are denoted in the U.S. Army by award numerals displayed on the medal and ribbon. The Army originally used oak leaf clusters (OLCs). If there were more than four OLC devices (like the 10th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 18th and 20th awards), extra ribbons were issued to wear the extra OLCs (although only one Air Medal was awarded); they were usually earned by aircrew with extensive flight time and long meritorious service records. However this was changed to numerals in September, 1968 during the Vietnam War, when the number of Air Medals awarded became too large to be annotated on a single ribbon.

During the Vietnam War the US Army awarded the Air Medal to Warrant Officer pilots and enlisted aircrews for every 24 "flight hours" logged.[6] Regardless of the flight's actual length, a simplified set time was awarded depending on the type of mission.[6] Administrative or VIP flights counted for 1/4 hour, regular duties (Visual Reconnaissance, Resupply) counted for 1/2 hour, and hazardous duties (Combat Assaults, Extractions) counted for 1 hour. Pilots and Aircrew could log over 1,000 "flight hours" a year and earn a 40 or higher numeral on their Air Medal ribbon.

The Army and the Air Force also awards the Air Medal with the "V" Device for acts of heroism. The Secretary of the Air Force approved the "V" device for Air Medals awarded for heroism effective 21 Oct 2004. This applies to all Air Force members (Active Duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard), retirees, and veterans. It is not authorized for wear on the medal for an earlier date.

The Air Force does not utilize numerals on the Air Medal. Subsequent awards are annotated with the traditional oak leaf clusters. Enlisted members are also awarded three points toward promotion.

The award of the medal is sometimes denoted on a member's gravestone with the abbreviation "AM" followed by an ampersand and the number of oak leaf clusters or "OLC." For example, "AM&5 OLC" means Air Medal and 5 oak leaf clusters.[7]


Air Medal Device Arrangements.png

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps have two types of Air Medal awards: "Individual" for singular meritorious acts and "Strike/Flight" for participation in sustained aerial flight operations.

As of September 27, 2006, gold numerals are used to denote the number of "Individual" Air Medals. This is a return to the standard used before November 22, 1989. In the interval between November 22, 1989 and September 27, 2006, bronze, gold, and silver 5/16 inch stars denoted the number of "Individual" Air Medals awarded. A bronze star was used to denote a first award and gold stars were used for the second through the fifth awards, seventh through tenth awards, and so on. Silver stars were used in lieu of five gold stars, and denote the sixth and eleventh (and so on) awards. For "Individual" Air Medals, the Combat "V" may be authorized.

Bronze Strike/Flight numerals denote the number of Strike/Flight awards.

The United States Coast Guard also awards the Air Medal but not the Strike/Flight Award. Gold and silver 5/16 inch stars are authorized for wear to denote additional Air Medal awards. The gold star denotes the second through fifth award of the Air Medal. The Coast Guard is not authorized any other military device[8] for the Air Medal.

During World War II, the Air Medal was also awarded to members of the Civil Air Patrol that had been participants in that organization's anti-submarine patrol program.


The medal's design is prescribed by law.

Description: A Bronze compass rose 1 11/16 inches circumscribing diameter and charged with an eagle volant carrying two lightning flashes in its talons. A fleur-de-lis at the top point holds the suspension ring. The points of the compass rose on the reverse are modeled with the central portion plain for engraving the name of the recipient.

Ribbon: The ribbon is 1 3/8 inches wide and consists of the following stripes:

  1. 1/8 inch Ultramarine Blue 67118;
  2. 1/4 inch Golden Orange 67109;
  3. center 5/8 inch Ultramarine Blue;
  4. 1/4 inch Golden Orange; and
  5. 1/8 inch Ultramarine Blue.

Components: The following are authorized components of the Air Medal and the applicable specifications for each:

  • a. Decoration (regular size): MIL-D-3943/23. NSN for decoration set is 8455-00-269-5747. For replacement medal NSN 8455-00-246-3837.
  • b. Decoration (miniature size): MIL-D-3943/23. NSN 8455-00-996-5002.
  • c. Ribbon: MIL-R-11589/7. NSN 8455-00-252-9963.
  • d. Lapel Button: MIL-L-11484/17. NSN 8455-00-257-4308.

Designer: Walker Hancock. Hancock had competed for the medal design as a civilian, but prior to the award of the competition had been inducted into the army.[1]

Notable recipients[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Factsheets:Air Medal". Airforce Personnel Center. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  2. ^ "Executive Orders Disposition Tables". National Archives. 9258. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  3. ^ "Executive Orders Disposition Tables". National Archives. 9242-a. Retrieved 22 March 2011. 
  4. ^ Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal Criteria in the Army Air Forces in World War II
  5. ^ 578.19 Air Medal
  6. ^ a b Rottman, Gordon L. US Helicopter Pilot in Vietnam Osprey Publishing (2008), pp.44-45
  7. ^
  8. ^ DoD Award Manual, 2010, 1348.33, V3, P. 1 (2), lists service devices
  9. ^ Rees Shapiro, T. (2011-01-15). "Bill Bower, last surviving bomber pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, dies at 93". Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  10. ^ "Combat pilot in two wars led Blue Angels". Los Angeles Times. 2007-12-07. Archived from the original on 2008-01-11. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 

External links[edit]