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Military Service Medals: How To Tell Where A Veteran Has Served

There are hundreds of awards and decorations that U.S. military service members can wear on their uniform. Some of these ribbons, medals and badges are earned by attending and successfully completing a military training school, while others are earned for personal achievement or bravery.

Military service medals, however, are medals that can be earned by participating in a campaign or serving in a particular theater. Military service medals were created to recognize the military service of U.S. military members during American military campaigns and key moments in American history.

These military service medals also tell those who recognize them on a veteran’s uniform where a veteran has served and the history they may have witnessed and lived.

History of Military Service Medals
The first U.S. military service medal was the Army Civil War Campaign Medal which was authorized in 1905 and established two years later. The blue and gray ribbon pays homage to the uniform colors of the U.S. and Confederate troops. There was an Army and a Navy version. Those who served in the Army between April 15, 1861 and August 20, 1866 were eligible. Those who served between April 15, 1861 and April 9, 1865 were eligible for the Navy medal.

At the same time the Civil War Campaign Medal was created, so was the Indian Campaign Medal. Soldiers participating in one of the 14 campaigns against Native American tribes were eligible to wear this award that recognized service dating back to 1790. The last campaign recognized with this award was Wounded Knee in 1891.

Two years after the creation of the military service medals recognizing the Civil War and the Indian Wars, the Spanish Campaign Medal was introduced to recognize U.S. military personnel who served in the Spanish American War. There was an Army and Navy version of the award.

To be eligible, service personnel must have served in Cuba, the Philippines, or Puerto Rico between May 11, 1898 to August 16, 1898. For those who were in the military during this time, but did not serve directly in those geographical areas, the Spanish War Service Medal was created. The Navy also created several military service medals during this time to recognize service in different parts of the globe.

Also related to the Spanish American War were two U.S. government military service medals that recognized service in Cuba, the Army of Cuban Occupation Medal and the Army of Cuban Pacification Medal. There are also military service medals presented for campaigns in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, China, the Mexican border and World War I.

Military Service Medals 1940s to 1950s
World War II saw a plethora of awards created, and justifiably so, to recognize the war service of the Greatest Generation. World War II military service medals include the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern-Campaign Medal. The World War II military service medals specified those who served in particular geographical regions were eligible for the military service awards if they served during a particular time frame.

During the Korean War, the U.S. government issued several military service medals. The Korean Service Medal was created to recognize members of the U.S. armed forces who served in the Korean War between June 27, 1950 - July 27, 1954. This is not to be confused with the Republic of Korea War Service Medal which was presented by the South Korean government to U.S. military members.

The National Defense Service Medal (NDSM) was also presented to those who served during the Korean War, but the award is extended to those who did not actually serve in Korea, but served during the Korean War.

The NDSM is presented to recognize all military members who have served in active duty during a declared “national emergency.” To be eligible, members must have served honorably during the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and the War on Terrorism.

Military Service Medals Vietnam Era
The most widely recognized military service medal from the Vietnam era is the Vietnam Service Medal (VSM). The VSM is presented to personnel of any branch of the U.S. military who performed military service in the Vietnam War. The VSM replaced the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal which was awarded for service in Vietnam from 1961 to 1965.

The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal was created in 1961 and it is earned by U.S. military personnel for their involvement in “any military campaign of the United States for which no other service medal is authorized.” This includes the Cuban Missile Crisis, actions in Lebanon, Taiwan, the Congo, Quemoy and Matsu, and for participation in Berlin between 1961 and 1963, initial operations in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, Panama, Grenada, Libya, Operation Earnest Will, peacekeeping and sanction missions against Iraq, Operation Northern Watch, Operation Southern Watch, Operation Vigilant Sentinel, and United Nations action, including Bosnia and Somalia.

The Antarctica Service Medal is earned by a select few. It is presented to U.S. military members who serve between 15 and 30 days while stationed on the Antarctic continent. Flight crews may be eligible. The award was established on July 7, 1960 and it replaced several commemorative awards that were issued for Antarctica expeditions from 1928 to 1941.

Cold War Era Military Service Medals
The Humanitarian Service Medal was created in 1977 and it is an award presented to any member of the U.S. military who has demonstrated commendable conduct in humanitarian military acts or operations. Military acts that the U.S. Department of Defense has authorized for this medal include natural disaster relief, humanitarian support of refugees or evacuation of non-combatants from a hostile area.

The Korea Defense Service Medal was created to recognize a new generation of American service personnel who served in South Korea post Korean War.

1990s Military Service Medals
In 1996, the Armed Forces Service Medal (AFSM) was created and is presented to personnel who partake in “significant activity” for which no other service or campaign medal is accredited. The award has been presented for participation in operations in Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, Hungary, and Italy. The AFSM was also given for service in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita relief efforts.

The Kosovo Campaign Medal is a military service medal presented to individuals who served in Kosovo from 1999 to a date yet to be determined. Members must have served in support of Operation Allied Force, Operation Allied Harbor, Operation Shining Hope, Operation Noble Anvil, Operation Joint Guardian, Task Force Hawk, Task Force Saber, Task Force Falcon or Task Force Hunter.

The Southwest Asia Service Medal was the primary military service medal awarded to U.S. military personnel who served during the Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm/Desert Shield). The award is presented to recognize military members who served within designated geographical regions during the Persian Gulf War. The Kuwait Liberation of Kuwait Service Medal and the Saudi Arabian Medal for the Liberation of Kuwait were also awarded to U.S. military personnel who qualified. They were presented by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Post 9/11 Military Service Medals
American service personnel who served in the U.S. military in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks are eligible for many U.S. military service medals, including many which have been previously mentioned in this post; others are for service in overseas locations.

For example, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal  (ACM) is a military service medal awarded to U.S. military personnel for serving within the borders of Afghanistan. This award is retroactive to October 24, 2001.

The ACM replaces the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (GWOTEM) for personnel who served in Afghanistan. If personnel have previously received the GWOTEM, they may choose whether or not they want to exchange their medal for the ACM. These two medals cannot be awarded for the same period of service in Afghanistan.

The GWOTEM is a military service medal that was established in 2003 to recognize service members of the U.S. military who deployed abroad for service in the war on terrorism on or after 9/11 to a date to be determined. The GWOTEM is only awarded once per named operation, regardless of the number of deployments and periods of service supporting that operation.

The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal is a military service medal created in 2003 that is presented to U.S. military members who have served in the war on terror from September 11, 2001 to a yet to be determined date. To be eligible, service members must have served within an authorized anti-terrorism campaign to include airport security operations, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Noble Eagle and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal is generally awarded for service within the United States.

The Iraq Campaign Medal is an award presented by the United States to personnel who served within Iraq or surrounding waters between March 19, 2003 to a date yet to be determined. This medal replaces GWOTEM awarded prior to June 2005 for service in Iraq. Recipients of the GWOTEM may choose to exchange their GWOTEM for the Iraqi Campaign Medal.

The Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal provides recognition to those service members who have served in Iraq, Syria, or contiguous waters or airspace on or after June 15, 2014 to a date to be determined.

The Ultimate Guide To BDUs: Know Your Uniform

The Battle Dress Uniform, known more widely as the BDU, was worn by millions of U.S. military personnel while it was in active service as a combat uniform for the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps. The U.S. Coast Guard also wore it. It replaced the tired, but true, mono-colored uniforms that were well-known in the U.S. military for decades.

The History of the BDU
Warfare in the 1800 and 1900s was much different than it is today. During the 1800s, opposing infantry would line up and face each other, firing directly at their enemy who was usually dressed in a uniform that included bright brass buttons and even blue jackets. In the early 1900s, the mindset of a battlefield uniform began to change along with warfighting tactics.

During World War I, the U.S. Army started using earth tones on their uniforms to help soldiers blend in with their surroundings and avoid snipers. Cover and concealment became part of the tactics taught to soldiers as they stepped onto the stage of the World War I.

The era of olive drab slowly came into existence in World War II and camouflage patterns were introduced into some U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps units. In the Pacific theater, some Marines were issued “frog” pattern coveralls and helmet covers. Similarly, in the European theater, airborne units used camouflage to help conceal themselves once they hit the ground.

While the value of camouflage was apparent to military planners, the science was still unrefined and as an every day uniform, camouflage uniforms or “cammies” didn’t really gain traction with the rank and file. Fatigues, as they were known, were tried and true. However, olive drab and brown did have value and those colors stuck with U.S. military ground forces for many years until Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, the “tiger stripe” camouflage pattern was developed and became the uniform of choice by special operators in several branches. Post-Vietnam, the Cold War heated up and war on European battlefields seemed likely, so the services changed their focus from fighting in jungles, to fighting in Europe which had varying terrain features. Enter the M81 woodland pattern which was designed to conceal soldiers in the dense European foliage.

The M81 was thoroughly tested and retested and slowly it made its way with modifications into the ranks eventually becoming the four-colored BDU. It debuted in September 1981 in the U.S. Army. The BDU was printed using Near Infrared Signature Management Technology to prevent detection by infrared devices. The technology allowed the uniform wearers to blend in more with the surrounding terrain and avoid detection. But that kind of capability came with stipulations and limits.

Naturally, in the spit and polish world of the garrison military, those limits didn’t go over well with military leaders obsessed with “military image” and looking sharp. Starched, ironed or dry cleaned BDUs were ineffective in the field. The infrared coating on the BDU was rendered useless when a BDU was ironed or starched. The workaround, for most in the barracks, became to own one set of inspection BDUs and multiple sets for the field and everyday use.

U.S. Army BDU
In 1981, the U.S. Army began issuing the BDU to its troops replacing the OG-107 uniforms which had been a part of the Army for decades. Along with the new uniform trousers and blouse, soldiers were issued brown t-shirts and a black web belt with a brass black buckle. Leather boots remained, although a lucky few were issued jungle boots. Since its first issue, the BDU has had numerous updates and improvements to make the uniform more user friendly. For example, earlier versions of the BDU included waist adjustment tabs which were obstructive when wearing a web belt. Eventually, those tabs were discontinued.

The BDU was initially only issued in a NyCo blend (50 percent nylon/50 percent cotton), but personnel serving in hot weather environments led the charge for the creation of the cotton Hot Weather BDU in 1983 as well as the first sets of ripstop which made the uniforms lighter, more breathable and more durable. For those who operated in places like Panama, Korea or the Philippines, they were a welcomed upgrade.

By 1989, the Army had successfully issued the BDU to all of its soldiers and the green olive drab uniforms became a part of history.

During the 1980s, the Army developed a six-color, desert uniform, nicknamed the “chocolate chip” BDU and that would be issued to those deploying to Southwest Asia for Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the 1990s. Those too would eventually find their way into the history books and newer, updated desert uniforms would start being issued in the aftermath of Somalia.

The Army issued the BDU from 1981 to 2008.

U.S. Marine Corps BDU
In 1977, the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Lab BDU pattern was introduced to the U.S. Marine Corps, but it was not issued until 1981 and the battle uniform the Corps had worn since the 1950s was phased out. Initially, nametapes were not worn with the Marine Corps BDU, but in 1991 Marines began wearing nametapes on their BDUs in order to comply with North Atlantic Treaty Organization policies.

What separated BDUs worn by the Marine Corps from other branches of service was the Eagle, Globe and Anchor (EGA) that was ironed on the left chest pocket of the uniform. Earlier Marine Corps BDUs featured “USMC” below the EGA, but that was discontinued. Upon completion of recruit training, recruits were given the privilege to iron on the EGA onto their BDUs. This rite of passage represented that the recruits had earned the right to be called U.S. Marines.

The Marine Corps issued the BDU from 1981 to 2005. It was the first branch of service to move away from the BDU and research and implement uniform camouflage patterns more specific to the Marine Corps mission.

U.S. Air Force BDU
Given the lack of combat ground forces, the U.S. Air Force didn’t have a mass need for BDUs like the Army and Marine Corps. With a relatively small group of personnel in the pararescue, combat controller, weather operator, and security police (now security forces) career fields, the Air Force was selective in its issuance of the BDU.

Nonetheless, as early as 1981, select Air Force units began to use the BDU and by 1987, the service began to issue the BDU to all its members. In 1988 it was the standard duty uniform across the U.S. Air Force.

The BDU was issued in the Air Force from 1981–2011.

U.S. Navy BDU
Hard to believe, but the U.S. Navy started issuing the BDU in 1981 along with other branches. It seems to make little sense given there is no woodland terrain to blend into on ships, but the uniforms saw limited issue to land-based and special purpose units mostly.

The Navy and its cousin, the U.S. Coast Guard, issued the BDU from 1981–2012, surprisingly one of the longest issue periods of all branches.

BDU Today
The BDU is no longer in service and there are entire generations of U.S. warfighters who have never worn it or even know what it is. Each branch has moved on from the BDU and each now has their own version of a combat uniform. However, the BDU left its indelible mark on current military combat uniforms. Many of the positive features included in the design of the current combat uniforms come from some of the not-so-popular features of the BDU.

For example, the current Air Force combat uniform enables airmen to easily remove patches and name and service tapes since they are not sewn on. Boots don’t have to be polished which saves valuable time.

And the BDU lives on in the civilian world. Like other useful products created out of military need, the BDU has transitioned to many paramilitary professions like law enforcement, security and paramedicine. These professionals wear BDU-like uniforms because of their durability and utility. They might not be camouflaged, and many are maybe black, blue or brown, but the many pockets and reinforced areas at the joints prove valuable in many agile professions.

Veteran organizations and junior military organizations have found the BDU useful in their organizations as have outdoorsmen and sportsmen alike. What civilians are now learning is that the BDU is a more than suitable garment that withstands the rigors of many activities.

It might be gone from the ranks, but the BDU isn’t fading into history.

The History Of Boonie Hats In The U.S. Military

History of Boonie Hats
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military introduced “boonie hats” to its troops as a way to provide a cool, yet functional uniform hat to replace the baseball cap-like field hat that had been used since the 1940s. The southeast Asian jungles were intensely hot and military personnel needed protection from the sun. Boonie hats kept the sun off the faces and necks of soldiers and also kept their temperatures cooler than the traditional field cap.

Initially, it was U.S. Army Special Forces personnel who were the first to wear boonie hats. The hats not only were operationally more functional, but they provided opportunity for camouflage. The tiger stripes and leopard spots, two popular patterns available to forces at that time, blended in well with the jungle foliage especially when shrubbery was added to the hat. They were instantly popular.

Early boonie hats were made of cotton and included an insect net. Cotton was a better material than the synthetics being created at the time. Cotton proved to be more breathable and lightweight because it was a natural product, but because it was natural it was prone to fading, shrinkage and it wasn’t as durable.

Prior to the 1960s, boonie hats were not in the U.S. military uniform inventory, but the U.S. military had taken notice that their allies were rocking some smart headgear in hot climates. For example, Australian forces wore pre-cursors to boonie hats that later were modified and became affectionately known as “giggle hats” because they had a comical appearance.   

British forces had a bush hat that influenced the design of U.S. boonie hats and those were used during World War II and through the 1960s. Both the Aussie and British hot climate headgear certainly influenced the development of American boonie hats. American military leaders took notes and started developing their own style of hot weather headgear.

What are Boonie Hats?
Simply put, boonie hats (the most common spelling) or “booney” hats are a military hat with a wide brim used by military forces in hot climates. They tend to replace the standard patrol cap in most cases because of the protection they offer the wearer in the elements. In particular, boonie hats tend to do a really great job shielding the wearer from the sun.

The current occupational camouflage pattern (OCP) boonie hats are made of 50 percent nylon and 50 percent cotton, so they are durable, but lightweight and breathable, and they have adjustable chin straps with brass vent screens to keep the person wearing it cool. The best part? They are machine washable, so after a rigorous outing, just drop the boonie hats in the wash and they are good to go.

Boonie hats are distinguishable by their very wide brim which goes around the entire hat and provides shade to the wearer’s face and neck and protects their eyes from the sun as well. The crowns of boonie hats have metal or brass (brass is preferred because it does not rust) vents or grates to help keep individuals cool. Those vents allow heat and moisture to leave the top of a person’s head.

Around the base of the crown, boonie hats have branch loops to allow the wearers to add local vegetation as camouflage. Although boonie hats do a great job breaking up a person’s head shape in foliage, adding branches and grasses assists tremendously for those serving as snipers or on recon.

Boonie hats got their fun name, legend has it, from a Tagalog word “bundok,” which means mountain. The term “boondocks” started getting used by U.S. service personnel during the Philippine American War which started in 1899 when Filipinos rose up to fight for their independence rather than be ruled by another colonial leader. Boondocks was used as military slang for Filipinos from the mountains. The term evolved to mean anything associated with the jungle or remote wilderness. Over the years it became “boonie” for short.

During the three-years long conflict in the Philippines, U.S. military personnel wore a hat that was a cross between a fedora and a cowboy hat. The hat had a wide brim, but was formed in such a way that the backside of the brim was curved upward over the neck, and the front brim was formed downward to protect the face and eyes from the sun. The hat was very flexible, pliable and it could be that this campaign saw a precursor to what would become boonie hats.

Boonie Hats Today
The design of boonie hats has changed very little since they were first introduced and boonie hats have been used in many of the U.S. military’s most recent conflicts including, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and other operations. In most cases, boonie hats were issued as part of the packing list for deployment and many personnel kept their boonie hats upon their return.  

Boonie hats have been issued in a multitude of camouflage patterns including the tiger stripe jungle fatigues, the woodland battle dress uniform, the Desert Camouflage Uniform (DCU/chocolate chips), the newer DCUs of the early 2000s, the various digitized uniforms of every branch, the multi-cam occupational camouflage pattern, the airman battle uniform, and others.

The wearers’ ranks are ordinarily pinned or sewn onto the front of the boonie hats. Most boonie hats today include ripstop reinforcement. They are made of a NyCo blend (nylon/cotton) in most cases.

Boonie hats, like boots, are one of the few things U.S. military personnel are allowed to keep upon return from deployment. Since they are considered a personal item and can’t really be reused, military personnel keep them and they are a source of pride because of what military personnel endure during deployments. Many U.S. military personnel get very attached to their boonie hats for a variety of reasons.

Operators, for example, might get attached to them because of the number of or nature of the operations they have been on while wearing their boonie hats. A supply soldier might be attached to their boonie hat because of the number of miles logged in bad guy country; their boonie hats in tow in their cargo pocket while they are on convoy. Others might get attached to them because it is a physical reminder of something they survived and how they were a part of something greater.

Whatever the reason for the attachment, boonie hats usually become highly regarded memorabilia for war veterans. Then again, boonie hats can also find post-military function as fishing hats or to ward off the sun while cutting the grass. Their durability and flexibility make them ideal for whatever a person does.

These days, most boonie hats are reserved for deployment to hot weather locations. It was not uncommon to see boonie hats worn in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Africa or other hot weather locations. They are also used in hot weather training environments.

Mostly, boonie hats are popular because of their comfort and functionality, but they are also popular because they are a part of a significant life event in the lives of just about every Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Guardian, and Airman who has deployed or trained to fight.

3 Types Of Military Hats And Their Uses

Hats, covers, lids; whatever you want to call them, head gear has been a part of military uniforms in the American military since the Continental Army was formed. Over the years the headwear of U.S. military personnel has changed considerably. From the cocked and round hat of the 1700 and 1800s, to today’s patrol cap, boonie hat and berets, they all are a part of the U.S. military lineage.

Because hats vary with each service branch, this post will focus on the three types of military hats that can be worn with the Army Combat Uniform. While the hats worn in other branches of service, like the Air Force, are similar to the types of military hats worn in the Army, some of the information in this blog post could be applicable to other branches.

Patrol Cap
The patrol cap is one of those types of military hats that is easy to wear. Easy to don and with a brim to protect a person from the sun, it's easy to like. According to a U.S. Army historical survey, the patrol cap, once known as the M-1951 field cap, made its appearance in 1943.

The cap had a slightly longer visor with rows of reinforced stitching. When the temps got frigid, the cap had a flannel-lined fold-down flap that covered the ears and the back of the head. As the cap was developed, some officers considered the M-1951 to be too sloppy to present a proper military image. To make their soldiers look sharper, some commanders mandated the use of cardboard to be worn in the cap to keep it straight and crisp.

In 1953, professional appearance became a priority within the Army ranks and the Army’s Chief of Staff Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway issued a policy directing troops to improve their soldierly image. Commercially manufactured stiffened and blocked models of these types of military hats were sold through the post exchanges and these types of military hats were standard issue throughout the 1950s. They were known as the “Ridgeway Cap.”

In 1958, the Army established a headgear study group to find a replacement for the Ridgeway Cap. As any soldier who has served during peacetime knows, without a war to train for, priorities in garrison tend to shift and a greater emphasis was placed on appearances and military bearing.

A new cap design was released in 1962. These types of military hats were known as “Cap, Field, Hot Weather.” What made the hat a hot weather item is that it lacked cold weather earflaps.

These new types of military hats were baseball style caps in olive green shade 106. Constructed of polyester and rayon blend, they had soft visors and rounded crowns, constructed of six triangular segments meeting at the top. These types of military hats also had a ventilation eyelet in each segment.

Initially, soldiers hated the cap, according to the Army historical survey. The polyester and rayon proved to be too hot in tropical climates, and soldiers did not like the look of the high front panel. After considerable pushback from troops in the field, a newer version of these types of military hats started getting issued at the end of the Vietnam era.

These types of military hats continued in use until they were replaced in 1985 when the M-1951 field cap, now referred to as a patrol cap, was reintroduced as part of the Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) in woodland and desert camouflage patterns. These types of military hats were also issued as part of the Army Combat Uniform in universal digital camouflage pattern.

Today, the Army Combat Uniform in occupational camouflage pattern (OCP) requires the wear of the patrol cap unless otherwise directed by higher-level commanders.

Boonie Hats
These types of military hats with their broad brims were introduced in Vietnam. Since their introduction, they are a fan favorite amongst soldiers because of their comfort and ease of wear.

Boonies were used as a substitute for the patrol cap in Vietnam, but high-ranking commanders did not like their crumpled, unkept appearance. These types of military hats did not give off the proper military image many officers expected of their troops.

Nonetheless, function prevailed over form, in the case of these types of military hats scoring a victory for the rank and file. Variations of the boonie hat were introduced over the years to accompany the Desert Camouflage Uniform (known unofficially as the “chocolate chip” desert uniforms). These were used during the 1990s during Desert Shield/Storm.

As the Army entered the Global War on Terrorism, desert camouflage uniforms changed and so did the boonie hats along with them. The Army said goodbye to the BDU and as the Army entered its digital Army Combat Uniform phase, boonie hats also were adjusted to match the futuristic, and often maligned, digital ACUs.

What has changed along with caps and uniforms since the 1950s is that senior leaders have recognized that when the force speaks, they should be heard and the boonie hat has remained a part of any deploying soldier’s packing list. In the arid, desert climates which American forces have fought in for the past several decades, the boonie has provided a cool, comfortable headgear for military personnel downrange. Soldiers and leaders love them alike, so they are likely to be around for a long time.

Where did the name “boonie” hat come from? There are various war stories depending on the veteran that you ask, but even military historians are stumped.

In 2001, on the Army’s birthday, the black beret was authorized for wear with the Army’s utility uniforms including the BDU, maternity BDU, aviation BDU, desert BDU, hospital duty uniform, food service uniform, flight uniform, combat vehicle crewman uniform and cold weather uniform, as well as the service uniforms (class A and B uniforms).

The move by then Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army’s chief of staff, sparked considerable controversy especially because Army Rangers had been wearing black berets since the Vietnam War. It was their distinctive headgear. With Shinseki’s well-intentioned, but unwelcomed directive, every soldier would wear the black beret not just with their service uniforms, but also in utility uniforms.

Soldiers instantly hated the beret. These types of military hats have to be shaved, cut, and formed over the course of many weeks, months and sometimes years. They don’t breathe at all, so personnel assigned in hot weather climates are normally uncomfortable when they wear the beret.

Not to mention, while they were introduced to help give the U.S. Army a more professional look, it actually ended up making many soldiers look less than professional because the soldiers did not know how to properly form and wear the berets. Many soldiers ended up looking like pastry chefs.

When the Army Combat Uniform was introduced, the beret was the mandatory headgear for those in garrison. If they deployed, the boonie or patrol cap were the options, but the beret remained.

Today, berets are worn by Airborne, Special Forces and Ranger units with the Army Combat Uniform. Other Army units wear the OCP pattern patrol cap with their ACUs.

What Is Ripstop Fabric & Why Is It Important For Tactical Gear?

What is ripstop fabric?
If you’ve served for even a few days in the U.S. military, odds are you’ve heard the word “ripstop.” Ripstop is a type of fabric with multiple applications in the military; it is used on everything from uniforms to parachutes and hovercraft skirts. Some field gear also uses ripstop fabrics.

But what is ripstop fabric? Ripstop is actually a fabric stitching method and not really a fabric type. For example, ripstop can come in various nylon fabrics and natural fibers like cotton too. What makes it ripstop is the interwoven reinforced threads that are used in a grid-like pattern. The ripstop weave integrates coarse fibers into the fabric in a grid pattern that reinforces the fabric while keeping it lightweight.

The key to increased durability is that the fabrics use heavier reinforcement yarns that are interwoven at set intervals in a boxed pattern. The woven fabric uses a reinforced weave pattern designed for strength and sturdiness and it is stitched with such granularity that the fabric is less susceptible to tears and if it does tear, the rip does not spread, or at least spread of the tear is minimized. Hence the name, ripstop.

Who invented ripstop?
We’ve answered the question, what is ripstop fabric? But who invented it? That history is a little murky. It is common knowledge that in the early days of airborne operations, the U.S. Army explored the use of other fabrics to replace silk parachutes. Ripstop weaving was introduced in a research capacity during the 1940s because it increased fabric durability without sacrificing the porosity of the fabric.

However, in April of 1960, inventors Louis Weiner and Harold H. Brandt filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office titling their filing as “Parachute Fabric Containing Stretch and Non-Stretch Type Ripstops.” Since, the weaving technique has been used globally by many militaries and also has commercial applications. Many hot air balloons, recreational camping tents and clothing use the ripstop weave.

Ripstop in the U.S. Military
There isn’t a person who’s served in the U.S. military that hasn’t outwardly asked, what is ripstop fabric? In fact, most veterans have memories of asking someone in basic training, what is ripstop fabric? Or maybe they reported to their first assignment and they asked the supply sergeant, what is ripstop fabric? If they didn’t ask someone, they were certainly thinking, what is ripstop fabric?

Ripstop, sometimes mistakenly called “rip stock” by the uninitiated for some unknown reason, is in a lot of things that U.S. military personnel use. Ripstop can be used in ponchos and in combat unforms for almost all branches of service. It’s been used in parachutes, tentage, on ships and in various other manners.

What is ripstop fabric nylon?
Ripstop nylon is a non-natural material that is lightweight and uses the ripstop weave to strengthen the nylon fabric. Most popularly, it is used in many military and paramilitary uniform applications. The density of ripstop nylons allow it to be used in heavy, medium and light manners designed to be fire resistant, water resistant or waterproof.

Nylon was created in 1939 by Wallace H. Carothers after roughly ten years of development. It is known as the world’s first synthetic textile fiber.

What is ripstop fabric cotton?
During the Cold War, cotton ripstop fabric was highly sought after by U.S. military personnel serving in hot weather environments because of its breathability and lightweight feel. Not to mention, starched cotton uniforms looked really sharp for inspections.

However, cotton uniforms, made of natural fibers, were prone to shrinkage, fading and wrinkling compared to synthetic fabric uniforms. Nonetheless, for comfort while on duty they were the go-to uniform for military men and women working in the heat and although they might need frequent replacement or reissue, for many service personnel it was worth it.

What is ripstop fabric NyCo?
Imagine if you had the flexibility and strength of nylon with the comfort of cotton? Say hello to NyCo, a fabric that is 50 percent nylon and 50 percent cotton, hence the term “NyCo.” The blended fabric is slightly heavier than cotton, but it is resistant to the fading, shrinking and wrinkling known to cotton uniforms.

If you’re on a budget and looking to get some mileage out of your uniforms, NyCo is a good option because they will last longer. If you work in climates that are more moderate, the NyCo fabric might be a good pick since it is a bit heavier than natural cotton uniforms.

What is ripstop fabric polyester?
In 1926, Carothers started learning that mixing certain chemicals could create synthetic fibers. That work was halted for several years and in 1946, the American company DuPont purchased legal rights to chemical work that had been done in Europe. In 1950, the company produced the first polyester in the United States. Polyester is a synthetic fiber created by using air, petroleum, water and coal. It is formed by a chemical reaction.

Polyester uniforms are more durable and they are less likely to fade and shrink. Because they are synthetic fibers, they are cooler to wear because of their breathability. In addition, they dry quicker which is a great feature for someone like an infantryman who might get wet while on an operation. And because they are synthetic, they last longer and can be more comfortable to wear.

Remember, ripstop is a fabric strengthening weave sewn onto various materials like nylon, cotton, polyester and others to make them stronger. Given the robust nature of military service, it is no wonder why ripstop is a large part of the military culture.

Military Appreciation Month: Honoring America's Heroes

History of Military Appreciation Month
In 1999, the month of May was officially designated by the U.S. Congress as Military Appreciation Month. The legislation, introduced by the late Sen. John McCain, passed unanimously on Capitol Hill, took only two months to pass and it had no amendments.

The resolution requests that the president of the United States “issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to recognize and honor the dedication and commitment of the members of the United States Armed Forces and to observe the month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

According to congressional records, the resolution for Military Appreciation Month was introduced because leaders felt it was important to preserve and foster the honor and respect that the U.S. military deserves for vital service on behalf of the United States. Creating Military Appreciation Month made it appropriate to emphasize the importance of the U.S. military to all persons in the United States.

Particularly, American elected leaders believed creating Military Appreciation Month was important to instill in the youth of the United States the significance of the contributions that members of the U.S. military have made in securing and protecting the freedoms that U.S. citizens enjoy. The resolution also states that “…it is appropriate to underscore the vital support and encouragement that families of members of the United States Armed Forces lend to the strength and commitment of those members.”

Furthermore, American leaders believed Military Appreciation Month was important to inspire greater love for the United States and encourage greater support for the role of the U.S. military in maintaining the superiority of the United States as a nation and in contributing to world peace. Military Appreciation Month, they believed, was appropriate to recognize the importance of maintaining a strong, equipped, well-educated, well-trained military for the United States to safeguard freedoms, humanitarianism, and peacekeeping efforts around the world.

Military Appreciation Month Today
For more than 20 years, the president has issued a proclamation reminding Americans of the need to celebrate Military Appreciation Month as a tribute to those who have sacrificed to defend the nation. Current military members, including members of the Guard and Reserve, veterans and military families are honored during Military Appreciation Month.

The original resolution stipulates that “freedom and security that United States citizens enjoy today are results of the vigilant commitment of the United States Armed Forces in preserving the freedom and security. … it is appropriate to promote national awareness of the sacrifices that members of the United States Armed Forces have made in the past and continue to make every day in order to support the Constitution and to preserve the freedoms and liberties that enrich the Nation.”

The entire month of May is designated as Military Appreciation Month, but within the month of May there are various military-themed recognition days that should not be overlooked. For example, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Military Spouse Appreciation Day (the Friday before Mother’s Day), VE Day, and Loyalty Day are all opportunities to pause and remember the sacrifices of the nation’s fallen as well as the continued service of those in uniform and those who support them on the home front.

In short, Military Appreciation Month gives greater recognition for the dedication and sacrifices of individuals who serve in the U.S. military have made and continue to make on behalf of the United States. Military Appreciation Month serves as a vehicle that enables Americans to display the proper honor and pride United States citizens feel towards members of the uniformed services for their service. It enables Americans to reflect upon the sacrifices made by members of the U.S. military and to show appreciation for such service and recognize, honor, and encourage the dedication and commitment of members of the U.S. armed forces in serving the nation.

Ways to Celebrate Military Appreciation Month
1. If you have a friend or family member who is serving or is a veteran, consider reaching out to them during Military Appreciation Month and send them a token of your appreciation for their service.
2. Veterans are living history. If you’re an educator or know one, consider having a veteran share tales of military service with students during Military Appreciation Month.
3. Fly the U.S. flag or the POW MIA flag during Military Appreciation Month, or consider putting a bumper sticker or patriotic emblem on your car during Military Appreciation Month.
4. During Military Appreciation Month, use hashtags like #MilitaryAppreciationMonth and share positive stories about the U.S. military on social media.
5. Reach out to a local National Guard or Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps Reserve unit. Odds are great that they will help you develop a way that you can honor their members and families during Military Appreciation Month.
6. Donate your time or treasure to a verified military charity.
7. If you own a business, consider offering a discount to military personnel and veterans and if you are short-staffed, consider hiring a military veteran or a member of a military family.
8. Find a nearby recruiting office and stop in with some coffee, doughnuts or some bagels.
9. At your workplace, ensure you call out the veterans in your organization and thank them for their service. Encourage them to share their stories of service.
10. Find a way to send a care package to someone overseas.


Steve Alvarez is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the author of Selling War, published by Potomac Books, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press.

10 Military Gifts for Veterans and Active Duty Soldiers

Gifts for the people in our lives are hard to buy. Sure, your friend may like Mexican food, but is a gift card to her often-visited taco stand, a good gift? You could drive in the safe lane and get them something like gift cards to businesses they normally patronize, or you could go with the mother-of-all generic gifts; a Visa or Mastercard gift card that they can use anywhere.

Gift givers might think that they will run into unique challenges when they are gift shopping for veterans or active military personnel. But veterans, active duty and Guard and reserve personnel, aren’t really difficult to shop for with a little thought. Their adventurous, on-the-go lifestyle can offer a wide array of choices for military gifts.

To help you pick great military gifts for that special military person or veteran in your life, we’ve created our top 10 military gifts guide, with items listed in no particular order, to help find a great gift for someone who is celebrating a birthday, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Christmas—you name it.

10 Military Gifts

No matter the military occupational specialty, a knife or multipurpose tool is a must-have item for any service member or veteran. These days mostly everyone in every branch does time in the field training and even though the war on terror has drawn down, troops still continue to deploy.

A knife of a multipurpose tool is one of the great military gifts because of its wide applicability. It can not only be used on duty, but also for fishing, hunting, camping or even as an emergency tool in their vehicle.

2. Battle Mug
The military culture loves its coffee and there is no better way to drink a steaming hot cup of joe than in a Battle Mug. The Battle Mug is machined from a 10.5 pound solid bar of 6061 T6 billet aluminum into a 2 pound sculpted American made work of art.

The Battle Mug’s Picatinny rails allow optional handles, one of which can be fitted with an optional lid, and other tactical gear to be attached. Battle Mug features a M1913 Picatinny 3-rail interface system which allows the operator to mount a standard issue M4 carry handle, tactical light, laser device, holographic sight, or any tactical device imaginable for your operations. Why not? This is one of those sturdy military gifts that a person can use for the rest of their lives and hand down as a family memento.

3. Service Pride Clothing
Whether your gift recipient served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force or Coast Guard, there are tons of wearable military gifts that allow them to show their service pride, everything from hats to hoodies.

The key here is to ensure you are buying the right size. Hats can be easy if you look for one-size-fits-most, adjustable hats. Shirts and hoodies can be a little trickier, but there are ample ways to learn a person’s size without them knowing what you are up to.

4. Shadow Boxes or Display Cases
Most military personnel and veterans are pretty humble and likely have their military medals and badges tucked away in a box somewhere. Shadow boxes and display cases make great military gifts because they allow the service member or veteran to organize and display their military awards and decorations.

Even if they insist that they won’t mount them up on the wall, these military gifts are a great choice because they enable the person to at the very least organize their military awards and mementos into an appropriate storage container that can become a part of a family’s heirlooms.

5. Field Gear
Much like knives, field gear makes great military gifts because of its diverse applicability. Equipment can be used while out in the field during training, but off duty it can also be used while hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

Items like hydration backpacks, compasses, ponchos, meal kits, binoculars, and tactical backpacks make terrific military gifts for someone who is active and loves the outdoors.

6. Tactical Gear
Along those lines, if you have an avid rifle and gun sports enthusiast you are shopping for, tactical gear can make great military gifts.

They key is to ensure you know what you are shopping for. Makes no sense to buy someone a holster when they don’t own a pistol, so get informed before you go shopping, especially when you are talking about firearm accessories.

Things like holsters and slings can be pretty specific to the model of weapon owned, so maybe it is safer to purchase something like targets, eyewear or even ear protection.

7. Gifts for the Home Office
With many Americans working from home these days a lot of investment has gone into improving home offices. If you have a veteran in your life with a home office, there are a lot of military gifts that can make their home offices have a nice touch of military culture.

Lamps, paperweights, posters, and drinkware can all bring a nice service pride touch into any home office, as can custom plaques.

8. Golf Gifts
There are a lot of military bases and many of these installations have golf courses. Odds are pretty good that the person you are shopping for is either an avid golfer or likes to hack at a ball every few months.

That’s what makes golf gifts one of the best military gifts. Balls stamped with unit insignias, golf attire, and golf towels are all great military gifts.

9. Gamer Gifts
Got a gamer in your life that you’re looking to give a gift to? USAMM has some great controller wraps in just about every camo pattern and design you can think of. These durable covers are easy to put on most controllers and they make great military gifts.

The snarling tooth wrap, reminiscent of an A-10, is a staff favorite.

10. Gift Cards
If all else fails, and you can’t find a gift that you’re 100 percent jazzed up about, consider a gift card that will allow your military loved one to pick whatever military gifts they want.

If they are still on active, Guard or reserve duty, they can possibly purchase themselves a much needed uniform item, like a new ribbon rack, or maybe they can use it to get themselves some service pride stickers for their car or truck.

The most important thing to remember is that you actually remembered to get that special military person in your life a gift and no matter what you purchase, it is sure to make them happy.

Navy Combat Action Ribbon: A History and Overview

Navy Combat Action Ribbon History
The Combat Action Ribbon is an award for Navy and Marine Corps personnel who render satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface engagement. The ribbon is also presented to Coast Guard members who are mobilized under U.S. Navy control.

Created in February 1969, it was originally retroactive to March 1, 1961 to personnel who met the requirements. However, the eligibility was changed to include participants of Word War II. Personnel dating back to December 7th, 1941 can be eligible for the award.

Navy Combat Action Ribbon Eligibility
The Navy Combat Action Ribbon is awarded to members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (when the Coast Guard, or units thereof, operate under the control of the Navy) in the grade of captain/colonel and junior thereto, who have actively participated in ground or surface combat.

The principal eligibility criterion is, regardless of military occupational specialty or rating, the individual must have rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface engagement. Neither service in a combat area nor being awarded the Purple Heart Medal automatically makes a service member eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.

In 2006, the secretary of the Navy added additional guidance in establishing eligibility. Personnel with direct exposure to the detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) used by an enemy, with or without the immediate presence of enemy forces, constitutes active participation in a ground or surface engagement. Eligibility under this criterion is retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001.

Personnel who serve in clandestine or special operations, who by the nature of their mission, are restricted in their ability to return fire, and who are operating in conditions where the risk of enemy fire was great and expected to be encountered, may be eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.

The Combat Action Ribbon will not be awarded to personnel for aerial combat, since the Air Medal provides recognition for aerial combat exposure; however, a pilot or crewmember forced to escape or evade, after being forced down, may be eligible for the award.

Current U.S. Navy personnel who were formerly in the U.S. Army and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge or Combat Medical Badge, upon submission of official military documentation to their commanding officer, may be authorized to wear the Combat Action Badge.

Award of the Combat Action Ribbon
Only one award of the Combat Action Ribbon is authorized per operation. Additional awards of the Combat Action Ribbon are represented by wearing a gold or silver, 5/16th inch stars on the service ribbon.

Other branches of services outside of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are not eligible to receive the Combat Action Ribbon.

Award of the Combat Action Ribbon, unlike other personal awards, is not subject to time limits.

Additional Eligibility for the Combat Action Ribbon
In addition to those eligible from 1941 to a date to be determined, the following criteria also apply:

  • Personnel in riverine and coastal operations, assaults, patrols, sweeps, ambushes, convoys, amphibious landings, and similar activities who have participated in firefights are eligible.
  • Personnel assigned to areas subjected to sustained mortar, missile, and artillery attacks who actively participate in retaliatory or offensive actions are eligible.
  • Personnel aboard a ship are eligible when the safety of the ship and the crew was endangered by enemy attack, such as a ship hit by a mine or a ship engaged by shore, surface, air, or sub-surface elements.
  • Personnel serving in peacekeeping missions, if not eligible by other criteria, are eligible to receive the award when all of the following criteria are met:
    • The member was subject to hostile, direct fire;
    • Based on the mission and the tactical situation, not returning fire was the best course of action; and
    • The member was in compliance with the rules of engagement and his orders by not returning fire.

Eligible Operations for the Combat Action Ribbon
Check with your Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard chain of command of service specific human resources office for guidance about which operations are considered eligible.

What Are The 3 Types of Medals of Honor? A Guide

The Medal of Honor is the highest decoration awarded by the United States to members of the armed forces for combat valor. It is presented by the president of the United States in the name of Congress. To date, as of Jan. 12, 2022, there have been 3,530 medals awarded in the medal’s 160-year existence.

The medal was first authorized in 1861 for sailors and Marines, and then in 1862, soldiers were authorized to receive it. But the medal almost did not come to fruition, rejected in the early years of the Civil War by Army Gen. Winfield Scott, however, the Navy recognized the value of recognizing valor in battle and a public resolution was passed containing a provision for the Navy Medal of Valor which President Abraham Lincoln signed into law on Dec. 21, 1861. The medal would be bestowed to petty officers, seamen, landsmen and Marines who distinguished themselves by their gallantry in war.

About seven months later in 1862, the Army got their own version of the valor award, but the Army called it the Medal of Honor and in 1862 it was approved and signed into law to be awarded to noncommissioned officers and privates who distinguish themselves by gallantry in action. Although it was created for the Civil War, Congress made the Medal of Honor a permanent decoration in 1863.

Types of Medals of Honor
As previously mentioned, the Navy and Army created their Medals of Honor during the Civil War. Today, however, there are three types of Medals of Honor because the Air Force was created in 1947 as a separate branch of service.

The Army Medal of Honor is one of the types of Medals of Honor. The Navy, which awards Medals of Honor to Navy personnel, but also the Marine Corps (a part of the Department of the Navy) and Coast Guard (during federalized active-duty service with the Navy) personnel is one of the other types of Medals of Honor. Lastly, the Air Force is one of the final types of Medals of Honor which for now is also presented to Space Force Guardians.

Army’s Medal of Honor
The Army version of the Medal of Honor has a bust of the Roman goddess Minerva, the helmeted goddess of wisdom and war in the center of the medal. The medal itself is a gold star with the words “United States of America” surrounding Minerva. The star and Minerva are surrounded by laurel leaves, a symbol of victory. Dark green oak leaves highlight the points of strength on the star.

Over the star is a rectangle with the word “Valor” that acts as a perch for an eagle, a national symbol, to sit atop it. A light blue ribbon, a variant of blue, a color representing valor, has 13 stars that represent the 13 original colonies. This is one of three types of Medals of Honor.

The first recipients of the Army Medal of Honor were recognized for their daring acts of bravery deep behind enemy lines in April 1862 when they destroyed enemy bridges and railroad tracks.

Navy’s Medal of Honor
The Navy’s version of the Medal of Honor also uses a star shaped medal, but in the middle of the medal is a full body of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, and she is depicted warding off discord clutching snakes. The shield in Minerva’s hand is representative of the United States. The owl perched on Minerva’s helmet is representative of wisdom.

There are 34 stars encircling Minerva. These represent the number of stars on the U.S. flag in 1862 when the medal was created. Clusters of laurel and oak leaves located on each of the star’s five points represent victory and strength. And rather than an eagle holding the medal from the ribbon, the Navy version uses an anchor to hold the medal on the ribbon. It represents the sea services. This is the second of three types of Medals of Honor.

There has been only one U.S. Coast Guard Medal of Honor recipient. He was Signalman 1st Class Douglas Munro. Munro earned his Medal of Honor during World War II at Guadalcanal on September 27, 1942 where 500 Marines had been dropped off to establish an inland patrol base, but were at risk of being overrun not long after landing. Hearing that the Marines were under attack by a huge enemy force, Munro volunteered to evacuate the battalion. Munro saved more than 500 men by positioning his boat between Japanese gunfire and the Marines. He also helped ferry Marines back to safety. He was killed in action and his last words were “Did they get off?”

Air Force’s Medal of Honor
The Air Force version of the Medal of Honor has the Statue of Liberty centered in the medal. There are dark green oak clusters located in each of the star’s five points that represent strength and like the Navy’s design, there are 34 stars encircling the Lady Liberty that represent the number of stars on the U.S. Flag in 1862.

The wreath of laurel leaves, a symbol of victory, was carried over from the Army’s Medal of Honor design. The medal’s ribbon is the same as the Army and Navy’s medal, but the lightning bolts at the top of the medal are borrowed from the Air Force’s coat of arms. This is the third of three types of Medals of Honor.

Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker was the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor in 1918. He received it from the U.S. Army (the Air Force did not yet exist) for his heroic actions during World War I as a member of the 94th Aero Squadron where he became an ace with 26 kills. But his Medal of Honor was earned for his actions on September 25, 1918, when he spotted seven enemy aircraft and aggressively shot down two while flying a solo patrol.

The Army has awarded more than 2,400 of its types of Medals of Honor, the most of any branch. More than half of the Army types of Medals of Honor were awarded during the Civil War with 1,522 recipients, including the only woman to ever receive the Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Walker, a Civil War physician recognized for her medical service during the war.

Air Force Commendation Medal: How Is It Awarded?

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.

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. 

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 may be awarded to Airmen who, during the period of the act, served in the remotely piloted aircraft; cyber; space; or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance career fields on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).

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).

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.