Established in 1980 to recognize the completion of an overseas tour by a member of the active-duty Air Force, Air Force Reserve, or Air National Guard, the Air Force Overseas Ribbon was originally conceived of as a one-time commemorative award. Before January 6, 1986, members of those three services who successfully completed an overseas tour was awarded a ribbon, with no devices to indicate how many overseas tours they had completed in total or to indicate the length of tour that was involved.
Given the sacrifices involved in overseas tours and the wildly varying degrees of “challenges” posed by the different types of operational environments, it soon became clear that some sort of change in the design or award criteria was necessary for the medal to serve its original purpose: recognize the commitment and devotion to duty that are part and parcel of successfully completing overseas tours. Consequently, the regulations were changed so that, beginning on January 6, 1986, the Overseas Ribbon came in two versions—Long Tour and Short Tour—that could each be augmented with the addition of an oak-leaf cluster device for each subsequent completion of an overseas tour.
No person can be awarded more than one version of either the Short Tour or Long Tour version of the Overseas Ribbon (no need, since additional awards are represented by the oak-leaf cluster devices). Personnel who have earned a Long and Short Tour Overseas Ribbon need to remember that, when worn together, the Short Tour ribbon takes precedence over the Long Tour version.
While the Long Tour generally is at least two years in length, there are so many factors that can alter the final necessary tour length that it’s almost impossible to quote a bedrock number as the minimum tour length necessary to earn the Long Tour version of the Overseas Ribbon. Complete information on all the issues and factors that can affect the actual deployment length of a Long Tour are found AFI36-2110, Assignments.