Almost every branch of service has a commendation medal, the exceptions being the Marine Corps which presents the Navy Commendation Medal since the Marine Corps is a part of the Navy, and the U.S. Space Force which currently uses the Air Force Commendation Medal to recognize Guardians who go above and beyond.
The Air Force, established in 1947, did not have its own commendation medal for more than 10 years until it finally created the Air Force Commendation Medal in 1958.
The Air Force Commendation Medal was authorized by the Secretary of the Air Force on March 28, 1958, for award to members of the armed forces of the United States who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force after March 24, 1958, shall have distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement and service. The degree of merit must be distinctive, though it need not be unique. Acts of courage which do not involve the voluntary risk of life required for the Airman's Medal may be considered for the Air Force Commendation Medal.
The Air Force Commendation Medal is a bronze hexagon, with one point up, centered upon which is the seal of the Air Force, an eagle with wings spread, facing left and perched upon a baton. There are clouds in the background. Below the seal is a shield bearing a pair of flyer's wings and a vertical baton with an eagle’s claw at either end; behind the shield are eight lightning bolts.
Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat “C”, Remote “R” and Valor “V” Devices are all authorized devices for the Air Force Commendation Medal.
ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR COMBAT “C” DEVICE
The “C” device was established to distinguish an award (like the Air Force Commendation Medal) earned for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement performed under combat conditions on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).
The device is only authorized if the service or achievement was performed while the service member was personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action:
- While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States
- While engaged in military ops 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
The use of the “C” device is determined solely on the specific circumstances under which the service or achievement was performed. The award is not determined by geographic location. The fact the service was performed in a combat zone, a combat zone tax exclusion area, or an area designated for imminent danger pay, hardship duty pay, or hostile fire pay is not sufficient to qualify for the “C” device. The service member must have been personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action.
Rank/Grade will not be a factor in determining whether the “C” device is warranted, nor will any quotas, official or unofficial, be established limiting the number of “C” devices authorized for a given combat engagement, a given operation, or cumulatively within a given expanse of area or time.
ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR REMOTE “R” DEVICE
The “R” device was established to distinguish an award earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapon system that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat operation or other military operation, for example, the outcome of an engagement or specific effects on a target. Other military operations include Title 10, U.S. Code, support of non-Title 10 operations, and operations authorized by an approved execute order.
The action must have been performed through any domain and in circumstances that did not expose the individual to personal hostile action, or place him or her at significant risk of personal exposure to hostile action:
- While engaged in military operations against an enemy of the United States; or
- While engaged in military ops involving conflict against an opposing foreign force; or
- While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in military operations with an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party
The "R" device is only authorized for a specific achievement (impact awards) and will not be authorized for sustained performance or service (end-of-tour, separation or retirement decorations)
The “R” device recognizes direct and immediate impact and shall be based on the merit of the individual's actions, the basic criteria of the decoration, and the “R” device criteria.
Performance of a normal duty or accumulation of minor acts will not justify the “R” device. The act must have been: performed in a manner significantly above that normally expected and sufficient to distinguish the individual above members performing similar acts.
A decoration should only be recommended in cases where the event clearly merits special recognition of the action (achieving a strategic objective or saving of lives on the ground).
ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA FOR VALOR “V” DEVICE
The “V” device is worn on decorations to denote valor, an act or acts of heroism by an individual above what is normally expected while engaged in direct combat with an enemy of the United States, or an opposing foreign or armed force, with exposure to enemy hostilities and personal risk.
Effective Jan. 7, 2016, the “V” device is authorized on the Air Force Commendation Medal.
The Air Force Commendation Medal has a weighted airman promoted system point value of three.
The Air Force Commendation Medal is ordinarily managed by the awards and decorations section of the human resources team. It can be submitted by any supervisor or nominator through personnel systems.
The Air Force Commendation Medal can be approved by a colonel (O-6) or higher and the Air Force Commendation Medal can be presented to members of a foreign military service. In all cases, it is never presented to anyone in the rank of colonel or higher.