There were several compelling reasons the United States Air Force decided to establish an Achievement Medal in October, 1980. One was the paucity of decorations that could be earned by young Airmen coming into the service, particularly compared to the number of medals and awards that had been available as a result of the Vietnam War. A second, closely related argument for a new medal was that, in order to compensate for the lack of awards that could be given to junior officers and enlisted Airmen, awarding authorities were issuing Air Force Commendation Medals on a more frequent basis than seemed plausible, thus diminishing its prestige. Finally, it would bring the Air Force in line with the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, all of which had Achievement Medals designed specifically to recognize meritorious service or outstanding achievements by junior officers and enlisted personnel.
Thanks to the well-considered regulations regarding the Air Force Achievement Medal (AFAM), its establishment did indeed address all these issues. Awarded to Air Force personnel for outstanding achievement or meritorious service that rendered on behalf of the Air Force that do not rise to the requirements spelled out for the Air Force Commendation Medal, it can be awarded only to enlisted personnel and officers at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel or below.
The United States Air Force Personnel Center’s Web page for the AFAM states that IT “may also be awarded for acts of courage lesser than for award of the Air Force Commendation Medal (AFCM).” However, this would seem to contradict the guidelines for the AFAM found in Air Force Guidance Memorandum 2016-01, which was published to clarify the award standards in AFI36-2803 The Air Force Military Awards and Decorations Program. The notes regarding the AFAM explicitly read, “Do not award for heroism or act of courage.”
Other restrictions on the AFAM include a prohibition on it being awarded to the same recipient more than once in a twelve-month period (except under extraordinary circumstances), for aerial achievement (there is a distinct award for that), or simply for retirement.
Authorized devices for wear with the AFAM are Oak Leaf Clusters (for additional awards beyond the initial AFAM) and the “V” device for acts of valor in a contingency deployment.