It is ironic that the Air Force Overseas Ribbon was approved by Air Force Chief of Staff General Lew Allen: for all his other achievements, the four-star general had never served in an overseas assignment. While the establishment date was 12 October 1980, the ribbon was authorized to be awarded any members of the active-duty Air Force, Air Force National Guard, or Air Force Reserve who had completed an overseas tour on or after 1 September 1980. In 1986, the award was tweaked to differentiate between Long and Short Tours and to authorized the wearing of an oak-leaf cluster for each subsequent award of the ribbon.
Generally speaking, the Short Tour Ribbon is awarded for completing a permanent duty assignment deployment lasting 365 days. Following the launch of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in 2003, however, Short Tour Ribbons were awarded for temporary duty overseas assignments of 181 consecutive days. At the time, the decision seemed sound since the average deployment time for Air Expeditionary Forces up to that time had been 120 days. When the average deployment time increased during the GWOT by nearly fifty percent to 179, the justification for the exception to the rule was far less pronounced.
Beginning on February 10, 2002, members of the three branches of the United States Air Force who serve at Thule Air Base in Greenland, the Air Force’s northernmost base, and meet the other standards of the Short Tour Ribbon are authorized to wear the Arctic “A” device on the ribbon. Only one “A” device may be worn, regardless of how many Arctic tours the recipient may have completed. However, oak-leaf clusters may be worn on the ribbon, with each cluster representing a successful completion of a Shot Tour.
For personnel who have earned both Long Tour and Short Tour versions of the Overseas Ribbon, the Short Tour version takes precedence when the two ribbons are worn at the same time.