Air Force Cross (United States)

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Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross Medal.svg
TypeMilitary medal (Decoration)
Awarded for"Extraordinary heroism not justifying the Medal of Honor while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."
Presented bythe Department of the Air Force[1]
EligibilityPersons serving in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force
StatusCurrently awarded
EstablishedJuly 6, 1960
First awardedJanuary 8, 1964[2]
Last awardedMay 6, 2015[3]
Total awarded posthumously50
Total recipients197
Air Force Cross ribbon.svg
Next (higher)Medal of Honor
EquivalentArmy: Distinguished Service Cross
Navy and Marine Corps: Navy Cross
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Cross
Next (lower)Distinguished Service Medals: Department of Defense
Air Force
Coast Guard

The Air Force Cross is the United States Air Force and United States Space Force's second highest military award for valor in combat.[5] The medal is equivalent to the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy and Marine Corps' Navy Cross, and the Coast Guard Cross.

The Air Force Cross is awarded for extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of the Medal of Honor. It may be awarded to any individual who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force or Space Force, distinguishes him or herself by extraordinary heroism in combat.


Originally entitled the "Distinguished Service Cross (Air Force)",[6] the Air Force Cross was first proposed in 1947 after the creation of the United States Air Force as an independent armed service. The medal was designed by Eleanor Cox, an employee of the Air Force, and was sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones of the Institute of Heraldry. The Air Force Cross was established by Congress in Public Law 88-593 on July 6, 1960, amending Section 8742 of Title 10, U.S. Code to change the designation of "Distinguished Service Cross" to "Air Force Cross" in case of awards made by the Department of the Air Force.[7]

Additional awards of the Air Force Cross are annotated by oak leaf clusters,[8] and the reverse of every Air Force Cross is engraved with the recipient's name.

Criteria for award[edit]

Title 10, Section 8742. Air Force Cross: Award

"The President may award an Air Force Cross of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor:

  • while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
  • while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
  • while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party."[9]


The Air Force Cross consists of a bronze cross with an oxidized satin finish. Centered on the obverse of the cross is a gold-plated American bald eagle, wings displayed against a cloud formation, (as used on the seal of the Department of the Air Force). This design is encircled by a laurel wreath in green enamel, edged in gold. The reverse of the cross is blank and suitable for engraving.[7]

The service ribbon has a very wide center stripe of Brittany blue with narrow stripes of white and red at the edges. The ribbon is almost identical to that of the Distinguished Service Cross, except for the lighter blue center stripe, indicating the close connection of these awards.[7]


The first award of that Air Force Cross was made posthumously to Major Rudolf Anderson, a U-2 pilot, for extraordinary heroism during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[7]

As of October 2017, there have been 202 awards of the Air Force Cross to 197 individuals. One award, the first made, was for actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Three were retroactively awarded for actions in World War II.[10] One hundred eighty were awarded for heroism in the Vietnam War,[11] and four for heroism during the 1975 Mayagüez Incident immediately following (these are sometimes counted with the Vietnam War awards).[12] Two were awarded for the 1991 Gulf War; one, to USAF Pararescueman Timothy Wilkinson, for the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, and two were awarded for heroism during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002, one to USAF Pararescueman Jason Cunningham and one to special tactics Technical Sergeant John Chapman, a Combat Controller. One was awarded to combat controller Zachary Rhyner for actions in the Shok Valley, Afghanistan on April 6, 2008.[13] Another was awarded to USAF Pararescueman MSgt Ivan Ruiz for heroism in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2013.[14] On October 17, 2017, the Air Force Cross was awarded to Staff Sergeant Richard Hunter, for actions against the Taliban in Kunduz province Afghanistan on November 2, 2016.[15] SSgt Chris Baradat, a Combat Controller[16]

Fifty awards have been posthumous, including 30 to members missing in action. Twenty-four have been awarded to enlisted personnel, including 12 Pararescuemen. Seventeen graduates of the United States Air Force Academy have been presented the award, and 13 were awarded for conduct while a prisoner of war.

There have been four multiple recipients:

Notable recipients[edit]

SSgt Zachary Rhyner receiving the Air Force Cross from Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "DOD Instruction 1348.33, DoD Military Decorations and Awards Program" (PDF). Executive Services Directorate. March 29, 2018. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  2. ^ "Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr". Air Force Link (USAF). Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  3. ^ "Special tactics officer receives AF Cross". Air Force Times. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
  4. ^ Including 2 upgraded awards
  5. ^ Air Force Instruction 36-2803 Table 2.1: "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  6. ^ "Air Force Cross". Archived from the original on 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  7. ^ a b c d "Air Force Cross". Air Force Link (USAF). Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  8. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8744". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  9. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8742". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  10. ^ "Air Force Cross (AC) -".
  11. ^ There were actually 182 awards during the Vietnam War, but two, to Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, and Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger were later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
  12. ^ "Vietnam War and Mayagüez Incident Air Force Cross Recipients" (PDF).
  13. ^ Ramsey, John, "Airman Gets Medal For Valor", Fayetteville Observer, March 11, 2009, p. 1.
  14. ^ Maj. Craig Savage, AFSOC Public Affairs /"PJ’s extraordinary heroism earns Air Force Cross"/Published December 17, 2014
  15. ^ "SecAF awards Air Force Cross, 10 medals to Air Commandos". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  16. ^ "Christopher Baradat's Air Force Cross". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 24 August 2019.

External links[edit]