Because of the fluid nature of combat operations in many of the areas where the Global War on Terror is being prosecuted, the duties of many Air Force personnel have necessarily been expanded to place them in areas where they can be exposed to enemy fire and contact. In short, more and more members of Airmen and Air Force officers were finding themselves in combat situations as part of the performance of their official duties. To recognize those Air Force personnel from the paygrade of Airman Basic up to Colonel (O-6) who actively participate in air or ground combat, the Secretary of the Air Force authorized the Air Force Combat Action Medal (AFCAM) on March 15, 2007.
The AFCAM is awarded to personnel for taking part in combat actions on or after September 11, 2001 that meet certain eligibility requirements. Intentionally entering the enemy’s domain (the regulations employ the term “outside the wire” to denote both ground and airspace considered enemy territory) in order to conduct official duties, for example, coming under enemy fire from lethal weapons that pose a risk of grave danger is one AFCAM qualification.
A second type of qualifying action is not necessarily related to an official duty, but rather to the common task of base defense; personnel inside or on the wire who come under fire and engage the enemy with direct, lethal fire and are at the risk of grave danger are also eligible for the AFCAM. Lastly, personnel taking part in ground operations who are actively engaging the enemy with direct, lethal fires may qualify even if they take no direct fire, provided the risk of grave danger was authentic and other criteria are met.
Though originally established to reflect the increasing combat duties of Air Force personnel, the AFCAM is not limited only to members of the Air Force, and in fact some of the documentation for awards they received in Sister Services (Army Combat Action Badge, Navy Combat Action Badge, etc.) may be used to document eligibility for the AFCAM.
And documentation is a critical aspect in the AFCAM approval process for Armed Forces Servicemembers who have met the other criteria for the decoration. At the very least, this documentation must contain a narrative detailing the relevant circumstances and details (location, time and date, description of event, record of other Servicemember who could corroborate details, etc.) that is written by someone with first-hand knowledge of the incident (from the commander to the first colonel in the operational chain), who then submits the narrative to the approving official. This narrative must have details on how the AFCAM candidate was in “grave danger,” including details such as blast radii, types of enemy fires, enemy actions, closeness to weapons fire, and much more.
The accuracy of the narrative and other information is extremely important in determining that eligible Servicemembers receive recognition for their actions in defense of their fellow Servicemembers, their unit's mission, and the safety of their country. Please refer to Section 5.3.1 of Air Force Instruction 36-2803, Air Force Military Awards and Decorations Program, for details on the requisite information that must be included when submitting an application for this Medal. You can also refer to the Air Force’s Web site devoted to the Air Force Combat Action Medal (http://www.afpc.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/421918/air-force-combat-action-medal).