Distinguished Service Medal


This decoration, established by Congress on July 6, 1960, is awarded to members of the United States Air Force who distinguished themselves by exceptionally meritorious service to the government in a duty of great responsibility, in combat or otherwise.



The Air Force Distinguished Service Medal was designed by Frank Alston of the Institute of Heraldry. The sunburst design is one of the most striking examples of the medalist's art and is a radical departure from the designs used in the Distinguished Service Medals of the other services. The obverse design has a sunburst of thirteen gold rays separated by thirteen white enameled stars, with a semiprecious blue stone in the center. The reverse of the medal is plain and suitable for engraving. The star is suspended from the ribbon by a wide slotted bar which consists of stylized wings symbolic of the Air Force.



The ribbon has a wide center stripe of white flanked on either side by a thin stripe of old gold, a wide stripe of ultramarine blue and a narrow stripe of old gold at the edges. The blue stone in the center represents the vault of the heavens; the thirteen stars represent the original colonies and man's chain of achievements. The sunburst represents the glory that accompanies great achievements, and the rays depict man's quest for light and knowledge.



Oak Leaf Cluster and Combat “C” Device



The "C" device was established to distinguish an award earned for exceptionally meritorious service or achievement performed under combat conditions on or after Jan. 7, 2016 (this is not retroactive prior to this date).


The device is only authorized if the service or achievement was performed while the service member was personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action:

  • While engaged in action against an enemy of the United States

  • While engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or

  • While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party

The use of the "C" device is determined solely on the specific circumstances under which the service or achievement was performed. The award is not determined by geographic location. The fact the service was performed in a combat zone, a combat zone tax exclusion area, or an area designated for imminent danger pay, hardship duty pay, or hostile fire pay is not sufficient to qualify for the "C" device. The service member must have been personally exposed to hostile action or under significant risk of hostile action.


Rank/Grade will not be a factor in determining whether the "C" device is warranted, nor will any quotas, official or unofficial, be established limiting the number of "C" devices authorized for a given combat engagement, a given operation, or cumulatively within a given expanse of area or time.