The Air Force will begin awarding a new Combat Action Medal in April.
The Air Force Combat Action Medal may be awarded to Airmen that have directly participated in active combat, either in the air or on the ground, as part of their official duty. Airmen serving as a crew member on a C130 providing key support to Coalition forces or Airmen servicing as a convoy escort operation that takes fire, for instance, would be eligible to apply for the award.
Airmen can apply for the award to recognize participation in combat activities dating back as far as Sept. 11, 2001.
In order for an Airman to wear the AFCAM, a narrative explanation of the Airman's involvement in combat activities must be submitted by a person with first-hand knowledge of the incident. The application will be processed through the chain of command and eventually be approved or disapproved by the Commander of Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR).
"This is for people who are in combat as a part of their duty," General Roger A. Brady, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, told the Air Force News Service. "If you are walking across the base at Balad and you are injured by a mortar, you will likely get the Purple Heart. You may even get a Bronze Star, depending on your performance in your duties. But that scenario would not lead to the award of the AFCAM."
Since the Air Force started manning convoy operations in support of the war on terror, more Airmen have had an opportunity to put their rifle training to use in real-world scenarios.
Today, explosive ordnance disposal and security forces Airmen, along with those performing in-lieu-of taskings, have joined battlefield Airmen working "outside the wire" in Iraq and Afghanistan and are regularly involved in combat situations as part of their duty.
"We are a warfighting Air Force," said Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. T. Michael Moseley. "Our Airmen are doing amazing things in combat operations every single day, both within their core competencies as Airmen, delivering those effects from the air and now on the surface as part of the joint fight."
It is for those Airmen involved in combat operations, on the ground and in the air, that the Air Force has created the Air Force Combat Action Medal, said Gen. Brady.
"There are people coming under enemy fire, but we do not have an Air Force way to recognize the reality of their experience," General Brady said. "So General Moseley has asked us to develop an appropriate recognition, a combat medal, and we have done that."
To develop criteria for the award and to get a better understanding of what Airmen were looking for in combat recognition, the Air Force consulted with combat-experienced Airmen.
"We gathered feedback from Airmen; active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve members who've been in combat (in the air and on the surface) -- some who've received combat recognition from other services, and some who haven't," said Maj. Randall Smith, chief of the Air Force uniforms and recognition branch. "Their feedback was critical in ensuring the recognition we developed met General Moseley's requirements. We also heard from Air Force senior leadership, both officer and enlisted."
General Brady said the AFCAM will be unveiled sometime in April. Then, as part of the unveiling ceremony, some Airmen will be awarded the new medal. At that time, the Air Force will begin to process additional applications for the award.
The AFCAM will be the highest-level Air Force individual award to not earn points under the Weighted Airmen Promotion System, said Major Smith.
"There was a strong consensus that this recognition should not be tied to promotion points, but should be tied to a meaning greater than that," the major said.
Airman will wear the AFCAM on the mess dress uniform. The ribbon for the AFCAM can be worn on the blue or service dress uniform. These uniforms are usually worn for ceremonies or other duties where it is appropriate to highlight individual achievements. There will be no patch or badge equivalent for wear on the utility uniforms worn for daily duties and deployments; the emphasis in these cases is better placed on the mission and the team, above self.