Air Force Cross (United States)

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Air Force Cross
Air Force Cross Medal.svg
U.S. Air Force Cross
Awarded by the Department of the Air Force[1]
TypeMilitary medal (Decoration)
EligibilityPersons serving in the U.S. Air Force
Awarded for"Extraordinary heroism not justifying the Medal of Honor while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."
StatusCurrently awarded
EstablishedJuly 6, 1960
First awardedJanuary 8, 1964[2]
Last awardedMay 6, 2015[3]
Total awarded202[4]
Next (higher)Medal of Honor
EquivalentArmy: Distinguished Service Cross
Navy and Marine Corps: Navy Cross
Coast Guard: Coast Guard Cross
Next (lower)Distinguished Service Medals: Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard
Air Force Cross ribbon.svg
Service ribbon

The Air Force Cross is the second highest military award that can be given to a member of the United States Air Force.[5] The Air Force Cross is the Air Force decoration equivalent to the Distinguished Service Cross (Army), the Navy Cross (Navy and Marine Corps), and the Coast Guard Cross (Coast Guard).

The Air Force Cross is awarded for extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of the Medal of Honor. It may be awarded to any individual who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Air Force, distinguishes him or herself by extraordinary heroism in combat.


Originally entitled the "Distinguished Service Cross (Air Force)",[6] the Air Force Cross was first proposed in 1947 after the creation of the United States Air Force as a separate armed service. The medal was designed by Eleanor Cox, an employee of the Air Force, and was sculpted by Thomas Hudson Jones of the Institute of Heraldry. The Air Force Cross was established by Congress in Public Law 88-593 on July 6, 1960, amending Section 8742 of Title 10, U.S. Code to change the designation of "Distinguished Service Cross" to "Air Force Cross" in case of awards made under Air Force Authority.[7]

Additional awards of the Air Force Cross are annotated by oak leaf clusters,[8] and the reverse of every Air Force Cross is engraved with the recipient's name.

Criteria for award[edit]

Title 10, Section 8742. Air Force Cross: Award

"The President may award an Air Force Cross of appropriate design, with ribbons and appurtenances, to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the Air Force, distinguishes himself by extraordinary heroism not justifying the award of a Medal of Honor:

  • while engaged in an 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."[9]


The Air Force Cross consists of a bronze cross with an oxidized satin finish. Centered on the obverse of the cross is a gold-plated American bald eagle, wings displayed against a cloud formation, (as used on the seal of the Air Force). This design is encircled by a laurel wreath in green enamel, edged in gold. The reverse of the cross is blank and suitable for engraving.[7]

The service ribbon has a very wide center stripe of Brittany blue with narrow stripes of white and red at the edges. The ribbon is almost identical to that of the Distinguished Service Cross, except for the lighter blue center stripe, indicating the close connection of these awards.[7]


The first award of that Air Force Cross was made posthumously to Major Rudolf Anderson, a U-2 pilot, for extraordinary heroism during the Cuban Missile Crisis.[7]

As of October 2017, there have been 202 awards of the Air Force Cross to 197 individuals. One award, the first made, was for actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Three were retroactively awarded for actions in World War II. [10] One hundred eighty were awarded for heroism in the Vietnam War,[11] and four for heroism during the 1975 Mayagüez Incident immediately following (these are sometimes counted with the Vietnam War awards). [12] Two were awarded for the 1991 Gulf War; one, to USAF Pararescueman Timothy Wilkinson, for the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, and two were awarded for heroism during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan in 2002, one to USAF Pararescueman Jason Cunningham and one to special tactics Technical Sergeant John Chapman. One was awarded to combat controller Zachary Rhyner for actions in the Shok Valley, Afghanistan on April 6, 2008.[13] Another was awarded to USAF Pararescueman MSgt Ivan Ruiz for heroism in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Dec. 10, 2013.[14] On October 17, 2017, the Air Force Cross was awarded to Staff Sergeant Richard Hunter, for actions against the Taliban in Kunduz province Afghanistan on November 2, 2016.[15]

Fifty awards have been posthumous, including 30 to members missing in action. Twenty-four have been awarded to enlisted personnel, including 12 Pararescuemen. Seventeen graduates of the United States Air Force Academy have been presented the award, and 13 were awarded for conduct while a prisoner of war.

There have been four multiple recipients:

Notable recipients[edit]

SSgt Zachary Rhyner receiving the Air Force Cross from Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley.

Recent recipients[edit]

Since the Vietnam War, as of May 2015, only twelve Air Force Crosses have been awarded—two during Operation Desert Storm, one during the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, and nine during Operation Enduring Freedom. No Air Force Crosses were awarded for actions in the Iraq War.[16]

  Lavender background and   indicates that the Air Force Cross was awarded posthumously

Name Rank Unit Date of action Occupation Notes
Paul T. Johnson Captain 354th Tactical Fighter Wing Jan 21, 1991 A-10 Pilot Led search for downed U.S. pilot deep inside enemy territory allowing for the pilot to be successfully rescued.[17]
William F. Andrews Captain 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron Feb 27, 1991 F-16 Pilot After being shot down by air defenses near Basra, Iraq he directed friendly air forces to utilize flares preventing them from being shot down by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles.[18]
Timothy A. Wilkinson Technical Sergeant 24th Special Tactics Squadron Oct 3–4, 1993 Pararescue Saved the lives of multiple rangers despite significant self risk during the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993.[19]
John A. Chapman  Technical Sergeant 24th Special Tactics Squadron March 4, 2002 Combat Control Gallantry near Gardez, in the eastern highlands of Afghanistan during the Battle of Takur Ghar.[20] Upgraded to Medal of Honor on 22 August, 2018. [21]
Keary Miller Technical Sergeant 123rd Special Tactics Squadron Mar 4, 2002 Pararescue During the Battle of Takur Ghar he provided life-saving medical treatment of ten gravely wounded Americans. Re-located the casualty collection point several times when in danger of being over-run.[22]
Jason D. Cunningham  Senior Airman 38th Rescue Squadron Mar 4, 2002 Pararescue Despite suffering a mortal wound, ten injured soldiers survived the Battle of Takur Ghar due to his medical care.[20]
Zachary Rhyner Senior Airman 21st Special Tactics Squadron April 6, 2008 Combat Control During the Battle of Shok Valley Rhyner called in over 50 attack runs to prevent the joint-115 man force of American Special Forces soldiers and Afghan commandos from being overrun and allow for extraction (upgraded from Silver Star).[23]
Robert Gutierrez Jr. Staff Sergeant 21st Special Tactics Squadron Oct 5, 2009 Combat Control Saved the Special Forces team to which he was attached by repeatedly calling in close air support despite a chest wound and collapsed lung.[24]
Barry F. Crawford, Jr. Captain 21st Special Tactics Squadron May 4, 2010 Special Tactics Officer During a fourteen-hour battle following an ambush, directed a MEDEVAC rescue and called in close air support to allow ground forces to exfiltrate without massive casualties.[25]
Christopher Baradat Staff Sergeant 21st Special Tactics Squadron Apr 6, 2013 Combat Control While attached to a Special Forces A-Team, calmly directed fire from multiple aerial platforms while under intense enemy fire, saving the lives of 150 American and coalition personnel (Upgraded from Silver Star).[26]
Ivan Ruiz Master Sergeant 22nd Special Tactics Squadron Dec. 10, 2013 Pararescue Protecting and saving the lives of two non-ambulatory Army Special Forces soldiers by himself, despite a high volume of enemy fire and grenades at extremely close range during a firefight in Kandahar province, when they were ambushed and separated from their unit.[27]
Dustin Temple Senior Airman 21st Special Tactics Squadron Sep. 27, 2014 Combat Control Repeatedly braving enemy fire to gather ammunition and call in dozens of airstrikes, saving 38 lives during a 48-hour battle in September in Afghanistan.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "DOD Instruction 1348.33, DoD Military Decorations and Awards Program" (PDF). Executive Services Directorate. March 29, 2018. Retrieved September 29, 2018.
  2. ^ "Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr". Air Force Link (USAF). Archived from the original on 3 March 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  3. ^ "Special tactics officer receives AF Cross". Air Force Times. Retrieved December 17, 2014.
  4. ^ Including 2 upgraded awards
  5. ^ Air Force Instruction 36-2803 Table 2.1: "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-03-10.
  6. ^ "Air Force Cross". Archived from the original on 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2011-05-28.
  7. ^ a b c d "Air Force Cross". Air Force Link (USAF). Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  8. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8744". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 9 February 2009.
  9. ^ "Title 10, Sub-Title D Air Force, Part II Personnel, Chapter 857 Awards and Decorations, §8742". Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 8 February 2009.
  10. ^ "Air Force Cross (AC) -".
  11. ^ There were actually 182 awards during the Vietnam War, but two, to Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, and Chief Master Sergeant Richard Etchberger were later upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
  12. ^ "Vietnam War and Mayagüez Incident Air Force Cross Recipients" (PDF).
  13. ^ Ramsey, John, "Airman Gets Medal For Valor", Fayetteville Observer, March 11, 2009, p. 1.
  14. ^ Maj. Craig Savage, AFSOC Public Affairs /"PJ’s extraordinary heroism earns Air Force Cross"/Published December 17, 2014
  15. ^ "SecAF awards Air Force Cross, 10 medals to Air Commandos". U.S. Air Force. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  16. ^ "USAF Air Force Cross Recipients". Military Awards for Valor - Top 3. U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  17. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor: Paul T. Johnson". Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  18. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor: William F. Andrews". Retrieved September 8, 2012.
  19. ^ "The Air Force Cross For Actions in Somalia in 1993". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  20. ^ a b "The Air Force Cross In The Global War on Terrorism". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  21. ^ "Medal of Honor presented to Tech Sgt John Chapman's Family". Retrieved September 20, 2018.
  22. ^ "Military Times Hall Of Valor". Military Times. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  23. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor: Zachary J. Rhyner". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  24. ^ "Portraits in Courage Feature - Vol V Staff Sergeant Robert Gutierrez". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  25. ^ "Military Times Hall of Valor: Barry F. Crawford Jr". Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  26. ^ "Christoper Baradat". Sergeant Mac's Bar. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  27. ^ "PJ's extraordinary heroism earns an Air Force Cross". Retrieved Dec 17, 2014.
  28. ^ "Combat controllers to receive Air Force Cross, Silver Stars". Retrieved May 6, 2015.

External links[edit]