Authorized by Secretary of the Air Force Eugene M. Zuckert in 1962 with an effective date of January 1, 1963, the Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon (SAEMR) replaced the service’s Small Arms Marksmanship Certificate of Achievement and provided more recognition for Air Force personnel who had put in the practice and study to become superior marksmen with the standard-issue small arms.
The SAEMR can be earned by both active-duty Air Force Personnel as well as Reservists (regardless of their duty status) by achieving an “Expert” score while qualifying with either the M-16 rifle (this classification also encompasses M-4 and GAU-5 carbines) or their issue handgun. This is typically done through the Air Force Qualification Course, but there are also orientation courses that are prescribed in other Air Force Instructions that meet the award’s standard; other paths to earning the award include successfully completing a Sister Service’s qualification program or completing the Air Force’s Combat Rifle Program.
For nearly a decade after the SAEMR was authorized, those who earned Expert score for both rifle and handgun qualification received the same ribbon as those who qualified with only one type of weapon. The regulations were changed so that, after 22 June 1972, Air Force personnel who achieved Expert scores in both categories would be authorized to wear a bronze service star on the SAEMR ribbon.
SAEMR awardees receive just one ribbon regardless of how many times they achieve the Expert qualification, and they also are awarded a single bronze star no matter how often they earn Expert scores for both rifle and handgun categories. To learn the exact procedures, standards, and rules associated with SAEMR qualification, please consult Air Force Manual 36-2655, USAF Small Arms And Light Weapons Qualification Programs.