USAF MISSILE OPERATIONS BADGE
In the rapidly evolving world of the United States Air Force, it’s very rare that any item makes a return appearance—but that’s precisely what happened in the case of the Missile Operations badge.
With the arrival of intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads in the late 1950s, the Cold War suddenly had acquired the capacity to become hot—very hot—in very short order. In seeking out Airmen to serve at operational ICBM units, familiarly called silos, the Air Force employed intense psychological screening to ensure that the officers would do their duty if the command ever came down to initiate a missile launch.
It was a brave and strange new world, and in the mid-1960s the Missile badge was created for members of crews who worked with the Atlas, Minutemen, Peacekeeper, and Titan missiles that fell under the bailiwick of Strategic Air Command, as well as Tactical Air Command Airmen who worked with Matador, Mace, and GLCM cruise missiles (which could be armed with conventional or nuclear warheads). The badge featured a rocket soaring vertically upward with two stars on either side of the nose, and was awarded to both missile crewmembers with operational capabilities as well as Airmen performing missile maintenance.
In the late 1980s, this original badge was designated for maintenance personnel only, and a new Missile Operations badge was designed that featured the same image only encircled by an oak leaf. This bifurcated badge system was in place until 2004, when a new Space and Missile badge was introduced that was awarded not just to ICBM operators and their maintainers, but to several other AFSCs as well.
This setup was short-lived, however, because in 2008 the decision was made to reintroduced the oak-wreathed Missile Operations badge for ICBM crews. Specifically, the Missile Operations badge is awarded to any officer who currently is or ever has been combat-mission ready as a missile crewmember at a site where an ICBM was operational. And the Space and Missile badge? It was replaced with a streamlined Space badge with a design that takes its cue from Aviator rating badges.