Air Force ribbons are proudly displayed on the service uniform.
Often, military ribbons serve as an alternative in the event the airman is unable to display the full medal directly on the uniform.
Therefore, recognizing the colors and patterns, along with the purpose of each Air Force ribbon, goes a long way.
Learn more about the 20 most common United States Air Force ribbons, below.
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20 U.S. Air Force Ribbons Explained
The United States Air Force (USAF) acts as the air service branch of the Armed Forces.
The service branch has been around for a shorter period of time compared to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Furthermore, the U.S. Air Force has undergone some recent changes incorporating the newly established Space Force.
Be that as it may, the Air Force continues to foster a strong reputation, indicated by its numerous service ribbons.
These service ribbons are proudly displayed on the service uniform and featured in a variety of colors and patterns.
Learn more about 20 common U.S. Air Force service ribbons below:
#1. Air Force Cross
- Established: 1960
- Design: Red / White / Light Blue
The Air Force Cross (AFC) is the second highest honor members of the Air Force can receive during a military career, only surpassed by the Medal of Honor.
For this reason, the Air Force Cross is a highly distinguished military decoration.
It represents those in service that have become distinguished due to extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force.
The Air Force Cross is the equivalent of the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross.
Prior to the military award being created in 1960, airmen received the Distinguished Service Cross as a supplement.
The Air Force ribbon very much resembles the Army’s version of the military decoration, aside from the lighter blue center stripe.
Meanwhile, additional awards are represented by oak leaf clusters.
The Air Force Cross is awarded by the U.S. President and presented at the Pentagon during a special ceremony.
#2. Air Force Distinguished Service Ribbon
- Established: 1960
- Design: Gold / Navy Blue / White
The Air Force Distinguished Service Ribbon, like many USAF military decorations, has been extended to include members of U.S. Space Force.
Currently, guardians and airmen are recognized for “distinguished and exceptionally meritorious service” to the country while “serving in a duty or position of great responsibility.”
The ribbon and award were established the same year as the Air Force Cross and were first awarded in 1965.
The Distinguished Service Medal is also presented to members of the other service branches.
Traditionally, only airmen in high ranks (usually rank of major general or higher) are eligible for the military award.
Recipients of multiple awards display oak leaf clusters on the ribbon (just like the Air Force Cross).
Finally, the Air Force Distinguished Service Award is also frequently awarded upon retirement, even to lower military ranks.
#3. Airman’s Medal
- Established: 1960
- Design: Light Blue / Gold / Navy Blue
The Airman’s Medal is another proud Air Force decoration.
It’s a military award that is geared toward personnel who distinguish themselves by heroism involving “voluntary risk of their life not involving actual combat with an armed enemy.”
The Airman’s Medal was also established in 1960, like the Air Force Cross and Distinguished Service Ribbon.
Accordingly, this trio defines some of the most recognizable Air Force service ribbons.
The Airman’s Medal is sometimes awarded to members of a friendly nation that produce the same heroism.
It is the equivalent of the U.S. Army Soldier’s Medal and Coast Guard Medal.
The Air Force ribbon is accompanied by one of the more unique service medals, which does not feature the traditional octagonal shape.
Once again, oak leaf clusters designate additional awards.
#4. Air Force Aerial Achievement Ribbon
- Established: 1988
- Design: Navy Blue / Gold / Light Blue
The Aerial Achievement Medal (AAM) is another important Air Force ribbon.
It is a far more recent military distinction that did not come into existence until 1988.
However, the Aerial Achievement Medal is a noteworthy military decoration intended to recognize the contributions of aircrew members.
In general, the recipients of these awards are passed up for the higher-ranking Air Medal military award.
Nevertheless, it acknowledges those who “sustained meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”
Those who are eligible for the accomplishment usually do something considered “above and beyond that normally expected of professional airmen.”
Interestingly enough, the award was recently expanded to also include operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Lastly, those that are familiar with the Air Crew Europe Star will notice the military ribbon looks oddly familiar to the Aerial Achievement ribbon.
#5. Air & Space Commendation Ribbon
- Established: 1958
- Design: Blue / Yellow
The former Air Force Commendation Medal was recently changed to reflect the new inclusion of Space Force.
Therefore, many Air Force ribbons that were previously reserved for airmen have been expanded to include guardians, the designated members of U.S. Space Force.
The stylish ribbon is noteworthy for its appearance.
Additionally, more service members earn it compared to the aforementioned awards.
For this reason, the Air & Space Commendation Medal is considered a mid-level military decoration.
The award is presented for “sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.”
It’s worth mentioning that, like some of the Air Force ribbons on this list, the award is not exclusive to the service branch.
Thus, the Commendation Medal is also offered in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Nevertheless, each service branch provides its own design, which makes the service ribbon the most distinguishable feature of the medal.
Related Article – 12 USMC Ribbons Explained
#6. Air & Space Achievement Ribbon
- Established: 1980
- Design: Dark Blue / Gray
The Air & Space Achievement Ribbon is another combined service ribbon.
It was established in 1980 and features a noteworthy gray and dark blue pattern on the ribbon.
In general, the Air & Space Achievement Ribbon is designated for military personnel that performs “outstanding achievement or meritorious service.”
The only specific requirement is that the service is rendered while representing the U.S. Air Force.
The Achievement Medal is awarded in every service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, including a fifth variant for joint military activity.
Ultimately, local commanders have broad discretion for determining what conduct merits the award.
#7. Air Force Combat Action Ribbon
- Established: 2007
- Design: Yellow / Red
The Air Force Combat Action Ribbon is a relatively new military decoration.
Consequently, those knowledgeable about military ribbons will notice how distinct the design is for an Air Force ribbon.
For starters, the ribbon does not follow the traditional white/blue/gray/gold color pattern common in Air Force ribbons.
Rather, the Air Force Combat Action Ribbon is presented in bold red and yellow diagonal stripes.
The service award is presented to military personnel that has been under direct and hostile fire while operating in unsecured space.”
Generally, “unsecured space” refers to space outside the defended perimeter.
Furthermore, the military decoration is presented to those “physically engaging hostile forces with direct and lethal fire.”
In the past, the award is commonly presented to airmen that provided service during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The first recipients were six airmen engaged in air-to-ground combat in Afghanistan.
Today, the medal is retroactive from September 11, 2001, to the present.
It’s also awarded posthumously, like some other Air Force ribbons on the list.
#8. Air & Space Outstanding Unit Award
- Established: 1954
- Design: Red / White / Dark Blue
Interestingly enough, military awards are not just reserved for individual achievement.
In fact, service members can also earn a service ribbon performing together as a unit.
The Air & Space Outstanding Unit Award (ASOUA) is one such distinction.
It is presented to Air Force units distinguished by “exceptionally meritorious service or outstanding achievement that clearly sets the unit above and apart from similar units.”
The award covers a wide range of military services, including performance in combat operations along with matters of national or international significance.
The service ribbon has a long tradition dating back to 1954.
Until then, the U.S. Air Force did not have any military decorations specific to the service branch.
Prior to it, airmen generally were presented with the same ribbons and medals as Army personnel.
Finally, the Air Reserve has an equivalent to this distinction, known as the Air Reserve Forces Outstanding Unit Award and ribbon.
#9. Air & Space Organizational Excellence Award
- Established: 1969
- Design: Blue / White / Red
The Air Force Organizational Excellence Award exists for a specific reason.
The award is presented to internal organizations of the U.S. Air Force and Space Force.
Generally, these are organizations that are entities within larger organizations, such as:
- MAJCOM Headquarters
- Field Operating Agencies
- Direct Reporting Units
The purpose of these internal organizations is to perform functions normally performed by specialist groups or squadrons.
It was created in 1969 and is unique among Air Force awards in that there is no medal, only a service ribbon.
Lastly, additional awards (like most Air Force ribbons) are denoted with bronze oak leaf clusters.
Some military ribbons are presented with a “V” device, which usually recognizes support during combat operations.
#10. Air Force Combat Readiness Medal
- Established: 1964
- Design: Red / Light Blue / Dark Blue
The Combat Readiness Medal also has been merged between the Air Force and Space Force.
Its origins date back to the early 1960s, when the original award served as a senior recognition among Air Force personnel.
Since then, eligibility has been revised to include any member of the United States Air Force, along with guardians of the Space Force.
Generally, the award is designated for personnel that “accomplished sustained individual combat mission readiness in a USAF weapon system.”
Additionally, the award expands to include anyone preparing for direct weapon-system employment within the military branch.
It’s not uncommon for those that receive the earn to also qualify for other military distinctions, such as the Air Medal or Aerial Achievement Medal.
Lastly, those who completed the Blue to Green program may wear the ribbon, but the order of precedence is different on the ribbon rack.
#11. Air Force Good Conduct Ribbon
- Established: 1960
- Design: Light Blue / Red / White / Dark Blue
Impressively, the Good Conduct Medal ranks as one of the oldest military awards in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The original Navy variant was created in 1869; however, the Air Force version is far more recent (1963).
Notwithstanding, the Good Conduct Medal and adjoining ribbon are historic achievements.
Currently, active duty enlisted airmen are presented with the Air Force Good Conduct ribbon after completing 3 years of “honorable and faithful service.”
The usual implication is that the airmen have not suffered any:
- Judicial Punishment
- Disciplinary Infractions
- Court Martial Offenses
During that 3-year service period.
If not, the period “resets” which implies the airmen will need to complete an additional 3 years of “good conduct” before earning back the ribbon.
However, there are a few exceptions, such as the time period being upgraded to 1 year during times of war for “faithful service.”
Lastly, the service award is also provided posthumously to any enlisted member that met the above qualifications.
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#12. Outstanding Airmen of the Year Ribbon
- Established: 1968
- Design: Blue / Red / Dark Blue / White
The Outstanding Airman of the Year Ribbon is exclusive to the service branch.
The ribbon was devised in 1968 as a method to recognize the 12 participants selected each year for the Outstanding Airmen of the Year Program.
The program recognizes 12 enlisted service members from a diverse section of Air Force careers.
The nominated personnel compete in the following categories:
- Non-commissioned Officer
- Senior Non-commissioned Officer
The nominations are determined by performance as well as achievement recognized the previous year by Major Command, Field Operating Agency, or Direct Reporting Unit.
Today, it represents the highest personal ribbon award a member of the Air Force can receive.
#13. Air & Space Recognition Ribbon
- Established: 1980
- Design: Red / White / Light Blue
The Air & Space Recognition Ribbon (ASRR) is a military award shared by the two branches.
It was established in 1980, originally as the Air Force Recognition Ribbon.
However, the presentation of the ribbon has not been altered since incorporating the newly conceived Space Force.
The purpose of the ribbon is to designate certain military trophies, plaques, or awards that cannot be displayed on a service uniform.
The U.S. Air Force has specific guidelines as to what military awards merit an Air & Space Recognition Ribbon.
Service members represent additional awards with an oak leaf cluster.
Related Article – Army Achievement Medal (AAM): 6 Things To Know
#14. Air & Space Campaign Ribbon
- Established: 2002
- Design: Grey / Red / Dark Blue / Light Blue / White
The Air & Space Campaign Medal (ASCM) is another noteworthy service award.
It was recently created in 2002 by order of the Secretary of the Air Force.
The Air & Space Campaign Medal and ribbon are designed to recognize service members that were involved in qualifying campaigns.
Often, this involves service members that performed “direct support” of a military operation for at least 30 consecutive days (or 60 non-consecutive days).
The service branch makes determinations on what defines “direct support”, but this expansive list includes personnel involved in:
- Sortie Generation
The Air & Space Campaign Medal is only available to service members involved in conflicts after March 24, 1999.
The ribbon presents additional honors of the award with service stars.
#15. Air Force Overseas Tour Ribbons
- Established: 1968
- Design: Light Blue / White / Dark Blue
The United States Air Force, like all service branches, recognizes those that spend time overseas.
First, a ribbon is reserved for those that were serving the country during a “short tour.”
Additionally, there is a service ribbon reserved for military personnel that was overseas during a “long tour.”
The distinction between a short and long tour is determined by:
- Air & Space Overseas (Short Tourt) Ribbon = less than 2 years of overseas duty.
- Air & Space Overseas (Long Tour) Ribbon = more than 2 years of overseas duty.
However, there are other stipulations that may determine which ribbon is applicable for the situation.
Traditionally, the short tour version is presented for a permanent duty assignment of at least 300 days (within 18 months of service).
The long tour version designates additional awards with oak leaf clusters.
#16. Air & Space Expeditionary Service Ribbon
- Established: 2004
- Design: Red / Gold / Dark Blue / White / Light Blue
The Air & Space Expeditionary Service Ribbon (AFESR) has been established within the past couple of decades.
The ribbon is presented to any service member of the Air Force or Space Force that completes a standard contingency deployment.
In general, the length requires are as follows:
- 45 consecutive days (deployment status)
- 90 non-consecutive days (deployment status)
Furthermore, temporary duty orders may qualify for the AFESR ribbon.
The Air & Space Expeditionary Service Ribbon is sometimes distinguished by a gold frame.
The “gold frame” is a border that aligns the perimeter of some AFESR ribbons.
Its purpose is to recognize military personnel involved that served in combat operations.
Moreover, the gold frame is also recognized to those that served in areas where the service member was under hostile fire pay and support combat operations.
Finally, the gold frame may attribute those that were involved in “over-the-horizon” combat assignments.
Related Article – Army Service Ribbon (ASR): 5 Things To Know
#17. Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon
- Established: 1957
- Design: Dark Blue / Light Blue
The Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon lives up to the title of the name.
The military award has been around since 1957, proving its longevity.
Furthermore, it presents the length of time a service member has been in the Air Force (or Space Force).
Thus, the Air Force Longevity Service Ribbon acts as an equivalent to the service stripes most branches in the Armed Forces utilize to denote years of service.
Accordingly, the number of Longevity Service ribbons will equal the years the airman has been in the service branch.
#18. Air Force Special Duty Ribbon
- Established: 2014
- Design: Dark Blue / White / Blue / White / Red
The Air Force Special Duty Ribbon (DSDR) is a new military decoration established in 2014.
The service ribbon is exclusive to the United States Air Force (USAF).
In general, recipients completed a special duty assignment or were awarded a special duty USAF Specialty Code.
The DSDR ribbon is not like most Air Force ribbons in that it cannot be retroactively awarded.
Consequently, it’s only available to airmen that served after September 2014.
The military ribbon features a distinct design and color pattern.
Once again, oak leaf clusters designate subsequent awards.
#19. Air Force Training Ribbons
- Established: 1980 – 1998
- Design: Varies
The U.S. Air Force, like other military branches, awards ribbons for completing basic training.
In general, these ribbons are presented to both recruits that finish basic training, along with a ribbon reserved for boot camp instructors.
Therefore, a few different ribbons exist for airmen:
- Air & Space Training Ribbon
- Air Force Basic Military Training (Honor Graduate) Ribbon
- Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor Ribbon
The performance of a recruit (along with personal conduct) will determine what type of ribbon he or she receives upon completion of basic training.
You’ll find an equivalent to these military distinctions in other service branches.
#20. Air Force Recruiter Ribbon
- Established: 2000
- Design: Dark Blue / Red
Lastly, the Air Force Recruiter Ribbon is provided for those that serve the military in that capacity.
Military recruiters play a unique role in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Thus, they are also recognized for their service with a military award.
The service ribbon acknowledges the military recruiter for their time at one of the U.S. Military Recruiting Commands.
Related Article – 12 Military Recruiter Lies
There is more to Air Force ribbons than some people outside military service may realize.
Nevertheless, it’s not uncommon for civilians to encounter military personnel while they are in uniform.
As a result, it doesn’t hurt to understand some of the more important military distinctions, often reflected by the service ribbons on the uniform.
Air Force personnel work hard for their ribbons and are honored to display them.
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