U.S. ARMY ACHIEVEMENT MEDAL

Partly inspired by the Navy’s establishment of a medal in the 1960s to recognize noteworthy achievements and meritorious serious, discussions of an Army equivalent did not begin to gain momentum until the conclusion of the Vietnam War, in part because there was hesitancy to add another medal to the awards system.

But gradually it became realized that some sort of award or medal was needed to acknowledge the contributions of the vast number of Army personnel— particularly junior soldiers—who had contributed to the war effort in the Army in non-combat roles. Rather than increasing the number of Meritorious Service Medal or Army Commendation Medals awarded, which might tend to diminish the esteem held for those medals, the decision was made to establish the Army Achievement Medal to recognize achievements that were certainly significant, but which did not rise to the level necessary to qualify for the Army Commendation Medal.

As the title indicates, the Army Achievement Medal was originally intended to honor achievement as opposed to service, but from its authorization date of 10 April 1981, there was some confusion as to precisely what would qualify a soldier or officer for the award. (Note: General Officers are excluded from eligibility.) According to U.S. Army historian Fred L. Borch, some commanders issued the medal to soldiers who achieved a perfect score on the Army Physical Fitness Test; others recipients were chosen because of extracurricular volunteer work, such as a serving as a coach in a young athletic league.

Today, the wording of the regulations for the Army Achievement Medal makes it plain that the honor is being bestowed for meritorious service or achievement to a lesser degree than that needed for the Army Commendation Medal. The medal is not limited to Army personnel: Servicemembers from any branch of the U.S. Armed Force are eligible for the award, as are members of the armed forces of a foreign nation.

Following the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the regulations regarding the AAM were further modified to allow awarding the medal to eligible candidates in a combat theater for meritorious noncombat achievement and services as part of the Global War on Terror. And in 2016, the Department of Defense further diluted the “noncombat” aspect of the medal by announcing that two new attachments—the “C” Combat Conditions and “R” Remote Impact letter devices—were authorized for wear with it. (At the same time these two new devices were authorized for the Achievement Medal, however, the DoD removed authorization for the award to be issued with the "V" Valor device.)

According to MILPER 17-095, the Army has interpreted the DoD guidance for the “C” device to mean that its issuance is authorized only if the “service or achievement was performed under combat conditions (while the Soldier was personally exposed to hostile action or in an area where other Soldiers were actively engaged.” The “R” device, on the other hand, requires a Soldier to have a “direct and immediate impact” on combat or military operations through the use of weapon system or other warfighting activity at a location where they are not exposed to—or run the risk of exposure to—hostile action.
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