Air Force Cross (United States)

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Air Force Cross
TypeService cross medal
Awarded forExtraordinary heroism in combat
Presented byUnited States Department of the Air Force[1][2]
EligibilityUnited States Air Force airmen and United States Space Force guardians[3]
StatusCurrently awarded
EstablishedNovember 1, 1965, effective July 6, 1960[1]
First awardedJanuary 8, 1964[4]
Last awardedDecember 10, 2020[5]
Total awarded posthumously50
Total recipients198
Next (higher)Medal of Honor
EquivalentArmy: Distinguished Service Cross
Naval Service: Navy Cross
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Cross
Next (lower)Department of Defense: Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Department of Homeland Security: Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal

The Air Force Cross (AFC) is the United States Air Force and United States Space Force's second highest military decoration for airmen and guardians who distinguish themselves with extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force.[7] The medal is awarded to any person, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force or Space Force, who distinguish themselves by extraordinary heroism, not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor.

The Air Force Cross is equivalent to the U.S. Army's Distinguished Service Cross, Naval Service's Navy Cross, and Coast Guard Cross. Prior to July 6, 1960, members of the Air Force were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.


Originally entitled the "Distinguished Service Cross (Air Force)",[8] the Air Force Cross was first proposed in 1947 after the creation of the United States Air Force in September that year 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 U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.

The Air Force Cross was established by Public Law (PL) 86-593[9] on 6 July 1960 and made effective through an amendment to Title 10 USC, Section 8742;[1] July 6, 1960, by PL 86–593 in Chapter 857, Sections 8742, 8744 and 8745 of Title 10, USC to substitute "Air Force cross" for "Distinguished-service cross" and inserted "Air Force cross" in Sections 8748 and 8749.[10][11] Prior to July 6, 1960, United States Air Force airmen were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.[1]

Additional awards of the Air Force Cross are annotated by oak leaf clusters.[12]

Criteria for award[edit]

Title 10, Chapter 857, 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 or Space Force, distinguishes themselves by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor:[13]

  • 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.[13][14]

The medal is usually presented by the Secretary of the Air Force in a formal ceremony at the Pentagon.[1]


The medal consists of a bronze cross with an oxidized satin finish. Centered on the cross is a gold-plated American bald eagle, wings displayed against a cloud formation (from the crest of the Department of the Air Force Seal)[1][15] encircled by a laurel wreath finished in green enamel. The reverse side of the medal is blank and may be engraved in capital letters with the recipient's rank (abbreviated), first name, middle initial, last name and branch of service.[11]

The ribbon (and service ribbon) is brittany blue, edged with red, and bears a narrow white vertical stripe inside the red edges. The ribbon is almost identical to that of the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, except for the lighter blue center stripe, indicating the close connection of these awards.[11]


The first award of that Air Force Cross was made posthumously to Air Force Major Rudolf Anderson, an U-2 pilot, for extraordinary heroism during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[11]

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 in 1962. Three were retroactively awarded for actions in World War II.[16] One hundred eighty were awarded for heroism in the Vietnam War,[17] and four for heroism during the 1975 Mayagüez Incident immediately following (these are sometimes counted with the Vietnam War awards).[18] Two were awarded for the 1991 Gulf War; one, to USAF Pararescueman Timothy Wilkinson, for the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, and three were awarded for heroism during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002, two to USAF Pararescuemen Keary Miller and 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.[19] Another was awarded to USAF Pararescueman MSgt Ivan Ruiz for heroism in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2013.[20]

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.[21]

On April 20, 2017, SSgt Chris Baradat was presented with the Air Force Cross for his actions in the Sono Valley, Kunar province, on April 6, 2013, at the time serving as a QRF Combat Controller with the 21st Expeditionary Special Tactics Squadron.[22]

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 five 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. ^ a b c d e f "Air Force Manual 36-2806, 10 June 2019. p. 64" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 February 2022. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  2. ^ "DOD Instruction 1348.33, DoD Military Decorations and Awards Program" (PDF). Executive Services Directorate. March 29, 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 29, 2018. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  3. ^ "H.R.6395 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021". January 2021.
  4. ^ "Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr". Air Force Link (USAF). Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  5. ^ "'A tribute to persistence:' SecAF presents Air Force Cross to special tactics Airman". U.S. Air Force, News. Retrieved December 21, 2020.
  6. ^ Including 2 upgraded awards (2016)
  7. ^ Air Force Instruction 36-2803 Table 2.1: "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  8. ^ "Air Force Cross". Archived from the original on 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  9. ^ "86th US Congress, 6 Jul 1960, Public Law 86-593" (PDF). US Congress. 6 July 1960. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2022-01-18.
  10. ^ Title 10 U.S.C., Chapter 857, Section 8742. Amended 1960, PL 86–593, S 1(7), 6 July 1960, 74 Stat. 332. Air Force cross: Award
  11. ^ a b c d "Air Force Cross". Air Force Link (USAF). Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  12. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8744". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  13. ^ a b Title 10 U.S.C., Chapter 857, Section 8742. Air Force cross: Award
  14. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8742". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  15. ^ United States Air Force Seal, 3. Crest
  16. ^ "Air Force Cross (AC) -".
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Vietnam War and Mayagüez Incident Air Force Cross Recipients" (PDF).
  19. ^ Ramsey, John, "Airman Gets Medal For Valor", Fayetteville Observer, March 11, 2009, p. 1.
  20. ^ Maj. Craig Savage, AFSOC Public Affairs /"PJ’s extraordinary heroism earns Air Force Cross"/Published December 17, 2014
  21. ^ "SecAF awards Air Force Cross, 10 medals to Air Commandos". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  22. ^ "Christopher Baradat's Air Force Cross". Air Force Magazine. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  23. ^ USAF Air Force Cross Certificate for FLTLT Garry G. Cooper; actions 18 Aug 1968, signed 20 Mar 1981. Awarded 4 Dec 2021.

External links[edit]