Combat Action Medal
Combat Action Medal
TypeMedal (Service/Achievement)[1]
Awarded forActive participation in ground or air combat[1]
Presented byUnited States Department of the Air Force[2]
EligibilityAirmen and guardians in the grades of E-1 through O-6
StatusCurrently awarded
Established15 March 2007
First awarded12 June 2007 (retroactive to 11 September 2001)
Next (higher)Service achievement medals[3]
EquivalentNaval Service: Navy Combat Action Ribbon
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Combat Action Ribbon
Next (lower)Presidential Unit Citation[3]
RelatedCombat Infantryman Badge (U.S. Army Infantry and Special Forces equivalent)
Combat Medical Badge(U.S. Army Medical Department equivalent)
Combat Action Badge (U.S. Army other branch equivalent)

The Combat Action Medal (CAM)[4] is a decoration of the United States Air Force and United States Space Force to recognize airmen and guardians for active participation in ground or air combat.

The CAM was first awarded on June 12, 2007 as the Air Force Combat Action Medal, to six airmen who were engaged in air or ground combat off base in a combat zone during Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, October 7, 2001 – December 28, 2015) or Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq, March 19, 2003 – September 1, 2010).[5][6] The medal is retroactive from September 11, 2001 forward to a date to be determined and may be awarded posthumously.

On 16 November 2020, the Air Force Combat Action Medal was renamed to the Combat Action Medal by the Secretary of the Air Force.[7]


For an airman or guardian to wear the CAM, members must provide proper documentation to their commander which includes a narrative explanation of the airman or guardian's involvement in combat activities to the first O-6 (Colonel) in their operational chain of command on an AF Form 3994.[8] The application will be processed through the chain of command and eventually be approved or disapproved by the Commander of Air Force Forces (COMAFFOR).[9]

Nomination of the award of the CAM will be restricted to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who on or after September 11, 2001, were under any of the following conditions:[10]

Retroactive awards prior to September 11, 2001, are not authorized.

It is worn after the Air and Space Achievement Medal and before the Air Force Presidential Unit Citation.

The CAM may be awarded to members from the other Armed Forces and foreign military members serving in a U.S. Air Force or U.S. Space Force unit, provided they meet the criteria for the award.[1]

Ribbon devices

According to USAF Memo, June 25, 2015, Air Force Instruction 36–2803, December 18, 2013 (Change 1, June 22, 2015): AFCAM, Authorized Device: A gold star will be worn to recognize subsequent operations when approved by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force (, pages 148-49).[11] However, in AFI 36-2903, gold stars are not included in the AF list of authorized ribbon devices (11.4, page 224); service/campaign stars (316" bronze/silver star) are the only star devices authorized for wear. Also, no ribbon device is authorized for wear in AFI 36-2803 to denote subsequent awards of the CAM, which normally would be oak leaf clusters. The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard authorizes a 516" gold star to denote subsequent awards of specific decorations and a 316" bronze service star is worn on the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal to denote a subsequent operation.[12]

Medal design

Billy Mitchell's SPAD XVI he flew in World War I with a Lewis twin machine gun mounted in the rear cockpit. The aircraft is now located at the National Air and Space Museum.

In conjunction with the Army Institute of Heraldry, the medal was designed by Susan Gamble, a professional artist and Master Designer for the U.S. Mint, and wife of Mike Gamble, an Air Force colonel. She was quoted by The Washington Post as saying, "It was just a real pleasure to give this back to the Air Force that's been part of my life."[13]

Gamble based the silver medal's design and ribbon color (scarlet with ten yellow stripes) from the circular insignia[14] painted on planes which were piloted by Brigadier General William "Billy" Mitchell, including a French-built SPAD XVI (SPAD 16) fighter aircraft he piloted in France during World War I.[15] His SPAD 16 (single-engine, two-seat, reconnaissance and bomber aircraft) is currently displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.[16] Mitchell is generally known as the father of the U.S. Air Force.[17]

A laurel wreath surrounds the medal's eagle emblem executed in a simple, linear Art Deco style. The eagle with a national flag shield with thirteen perpendicular stripes on its breast faces right, over the right talon clutching arrows (represents the power of war), to reflect that this is a combat medal. The left talon clutches an olive branch (represents the power of peace). The eagle which symbolizes Mitchell's military rank insignia of colonel,[14] has above it a five-pointed star which represents Mitchell's wartime promotion to the temporary rank of brigadier general in October, 1918. The reverse side of the medal contains two rows of words written on a scroll at the center of the eagle, "U.S. Air Force" and "Combat Action".

The ribbon's diagonal stripes at first could not be manufactured in the United States; but military medals cannot be manufactured outside the U.S. This design problem was resolved when a mill in Bally, Pennsylvania, Bally Ribbon Mills, bought a new loom specifically to weave the diagonal stripe. A Rhode Island firm, Ira Green Inc. in Providence, made the metal parts.[13] The CAM is the only U.S. military award to have a diagonally patterned ribbon, much like the British Distinguished Flying Cross and Netherlands Airman's Cross. The CAM service ribbon has five stripes.

First recipients

First award - June 12, 2007

The CAM was presented for the first time to six airmen (five men and one woman) by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley (now retired), at the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia:[5][13]

Awards (posthumous)

The CAM was presented posthumously to:


  1. ^ a b c "Air Force Memorandum, AFCAM, pp. 148–49, 25 June 2015, Retrieved April 16, 2016" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 January 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  2. ^ "Production publication" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-27. Retrieved 2016-04-17.
  3. ^ a b "Awards and Decorations". Air Force Personnel Center Library. Air Force Personnel Center. Archived from the original on 23 January 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2013.
  4. ^ "Air Force Combat Action Medal, Air Force Personnel Center, posted 4 August 2010, last accessed 18 March 2013". Archived from the original on 16 June 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  5. ^ a b "Joint Base Andrews, airmen receive first AF Combat Action Medals, By the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs". June 12, 2007. Archived from the original on 2016-05-04.
  6. ^ "Congressional Research Service, U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts, February 27, 2015" (PDF). Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  7. ^ "Manual for Department of the Air Force Policy Directive" (PDF). Department of Air Force. 27 October 2021. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  8. ^ "AF Form 3994". Archived from the original (xld) on 2012-02-08. Retrieved 2012-08-11.[clarification needed]
  9. ^ "Air Force releases combat action medal criteria". April 9, 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-04-10.
  10. ^ "Air Force Memorandum, AFCAM, p. 148-49, 25 June 2015, Retrieved April 16, 2001" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 January 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  11. ^ "Air Force Memorandum, AFCAM, p. 148-49, 224, 25 June 2015, Retrieved April 16, 2016" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 January 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  12. ^ "Changes to the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal". Archived from the original on 2017-08-03. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "For Today's Air Force, a New Symbol of Valor" by John Kelly, June 13, 2007. The Washington Post, p. B03. Accessed June 13, 2007.
  14. ^ a b "Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell". Mitchell Gallery of Flight. Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  15. ^ "Billy Mitchell | This Day in Aviation". Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  16. ^ "Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, SPAD XVI". Archived from the original on 2014-04-15. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  17. ^ "William 'Billy' Mitchell -- 'The father of the United States Air Force'". Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  18. ^ "While you were sleeping . . . Commandos were in action". Retrieved 31 March 2023.
  19. ^ Lyle, Master Sgt Amaani; Affairs, Secretary of the Air Force Public. "They called her 'The Angel of Death'". The American Legion. Retrieved 31 March 2023.

Media related to Air Force Combat action Medal at Wikimedia Commons