Authorization for the Airman’s Medal is found Section 8750, Title 10 of the United States Code, which was created with the passage of Public Law 86-593 in 1960.
But that law did not create the award out of whole cloth; instead, it changed the wording of the statute establishing the Soldier’s Medal
(Section 3750, Title 10) so the Air Force could have its own unique version of that medal. (Congress had used the same approach when creating the Navy and Marine Corps Medal
Like its counterparts in the other branches of the U.S. military, the Airman’s Medal is an award for distinguishing acts of heroism undertaken while not involved in actual conflict with an enemy. It is open to any person serving in any capacity with Air Force, including Air Force Reserve who are not in duty status.
It is worth noting that the awarding of the Airman’s Medal is not based upon the outcome of the heroic act, but rather on the candidate’s voluntary risk of life. But even that is not enough to garner the award if the person’s normal duties entail such actions (Firefighters and Pararescue, for example).
Recommendations for the Airman’s Medal are processed through the chain of command and submitted to the Air Force Personnel Center. In addition to all the requisite documentation necessary to process the submission, recommendations require some type of third-party account of the incident, such as a police or fire department report, safety report, newspaper article, or witness statements.
A recent recipient of the Airman’s Medal is Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who along with two other Americans helped subdue a terrorist wielding an AK-47, a 9mm pistol, and a boxcutter on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Brussels on August 21, 2015. One of Stone’s companions, Army National Guard Specialist Alek Sarkatos, received the Soldier’s Medal
for his role in disarming the man, who was also carrying a bottle of gasoline.