Service: Air Force
Criteria: Heroism involving voluntary risk of life under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an armed enemy
Devices: Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Notes: Derived from original design of the Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Authorized on August 10, 1956 and instituted on July 6, 1960, the authorizing directive was an amendment to the same order which created the Soldier’s Medal (prior to that time, USAF personnel qualifying for such an award were awarded the Soldier’s Medal). The medal’s name is also fashioned as a carryover from the Soldier’s Medal but does not make the casual observer aware of the medal’s significance and the acts required to earn the decoration. The Airman’s Medal is awarded for actions involving voluntary risk of life under conditions other than combat. A successful voluntary heroic act or the saving of a life is not essential to the award of this decoration. The first Airman’s Medal was awarded to Captain John Burger on July 21, 1960 at McDill Air Force Base, Florida for saving a fellow airman’s life by removing a live power line that laid across his body after having been severely shocked. Another example of the heroism required for the award was the bravery exhibited by Senior Airman Joe Sampson of Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina when he saved an Army jumpmaster’s life at the risk of his own aboard a C-141 aircraft carrying Army paratroopers. When the jumpmaster’s reserve parachute inadvertently deployed and threatened to pull him out of the aircraft, Sr. Airman Sampson, without hesitation, grabbed the jumpmaster and his chute and pulled him back into the aircraft despite the tremendous forces of the airstream.
The American bald eagle is depicted on the face of the medal along with the Greek god Hermes, herald and messenger of other gods. Around the edge of the medal is the curved inscription, “AIRMAN’S” on the left and “MEDAL” on the right. The reverse contains space for engraving just below the inscription, “FOR VALOR.” Additional awards of the Airman’s Medal are denoted by oakleaf clusters.
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