It took over fifteen years from the time it was established as a unique branch of the U.S. Military for the United States Air Force to create its own version of the Good Conduct Medal, which was first introduced into the Armed Forces of the United States in 1869. Part of that delay was understandable, given that the Air Force was birthed from the United States Army Air Force and therefore employed many Army medals—including the Good Conduct Medal—during the first few years of its existence. Less clear is why almost three full years elapsed between the time that Congress authorized the USAF Good Conduct Medal to be designed and awarded and it was actually established by order of the Secretary of the Air Force on June 1, 1963.
The Air Force Good Conduct Medal (AFGCM) is awarded to enlisted personnel only for displaying “exemplary conduct” while on active military service. In Air Force Instruction 36-2803, the definition of “exemplary conduct” comprises behavior, efficiency, and fidelity, and specifically states that members must have demonstrated a positive attitude toward the Air Force. On the Air Force’s Good Conduct Medal Web site, however, the additional requirements of character and efficiency ratings of excellent or higher are also listed.
Servicemembers can earn an AFGCM by meeting these standards for an entire qualifying period, which is typically three years of service, although there are several conditions that allow the qualifying period to be reduced to more than one year but less than three for the initial awarding of the medal. The qualifying period is automatically reduced to twelve months whenever Congress actually declares war (which hasn’t happened since 1941).
Interestingly, award of the AFGCM is automatic unless a unit commander intervenes and denies the award due to conduct that is “less than exemplar.” For a three-year period (2006-2009), the Air Force Uniform Board ceased awarding AFGCM, reasoning that since good conduct was an expected baseline standard of behavior for all Airmen (as evidenced by the automatic awarding of the medal), it should not be considered an exceptional achievement or noteworthy achievement. The decision was highly unpopular and was reversed on February 11, 2009.