U.S. Air Force officials clarify Bronze Star approval process

WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Recent height­ened inter­est in the Bronze Star Medal has led Air Force Cen­tral Com­mand and Air Force Per­son­nel Cen­ter lead­ers to fur­ther explain the cri­te­ria and approval process for its recip­i­ents.

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Corey Parrish)

Col. Scott Arcuri, AFCENT direc­tor of man­pow­er, per­son­nel and ser­vices, said can­di­dates can expect a con­sis­tent and rig­or­ous review process for BSM, Mer­i­to­ri­ous Ser­vice Medal or high­er award pack­ages sub­mit­ted from any ser­vice through the orga­ni­za­tions’ channels. 

Exec­u­tive Order 11046 autho­rizes the sec­re­tary of the mil­i­tary depart­ment to grant the award for either hero­ic or mer­i­to­ri­ous achieve­ment or ser­vice, not involv­ing aer­i­al flight, in con­nec­tion with oper­a­tions against any oppos­ing armed force, or while serv­ing with friend­ly forces engaged in an armed conflict. 

While the BSM cri­te­ria do not nec­es­sar­i­ly pre­scribe direct com­bat engage­ment with oppos­ing forces, the “V” for val­or device dis­tin­guish­es indi­vid­u­als who have been in engaged in con­flict to a less­er degree than what might qual­i­fy them for a Sil­ver Star. 

“In pro­cess­ing high-lev­el dec­o­ra­tions, our pri­ma­ry focus at AFCENT is to deter­mine the degree to which the individual’s accom­plish­ments can be tied direct­ly to ground com­bat oper­a­tions for the unit in which they served,” Arcuri explained. “We’re com­mit­ted to a con­sis­tent, delib­er­a­tive process that rec­og­nizes deserv­ing indi­vid­u­als and reflects that con­sis­ten­cy long-term across the Air Force.” 

Under the direc­tion of AFCENT Com­man­der Lt. Gen. David Gold­fein, a bi-month­ly board of inde­pen­dent mil­i­tary mem­bers com­prised of senior offi­cer and enlist­ed lead­ers, and a non-vot­ing board pres­i­dent assess­es each AFCENT can­di­dates’ dec­o­ra­tion pack­ages, Arcuri explained. 

The board assem­bles at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and does not use quo­tas in its deter­mi­na­tions, but the approval rate is typ­i­cal­ly between 50–60 per­cent, Arcuri not­ed, adding that nom­i­na­tors can even resub­mit a down­grad­ed or dis­ap­proved pack­age with­in a year to include sup­port­ing information. 

“This inten­sive process is so impor­tant that Gen­er­al Gold­fein or his deputy com­man­der per­son­al­ly address­es each board to ensure that only the wor­thi­est indi­vid­u­als receive this recog­ni­tion,” Arcuri said. “We bring in cur­rent­ly wing, group and vice com­man­ders and com­mand chief mas­ter sergeants from across the CENTCOM (area of respon­si­bil­i­ty) to care­ful­ly con­sid­er the mer­its of the individual.” 

Board mem­bers receive clear and direct guid­ance to make deci­sions that rep­re­sent the greater inter­est of the Air Force with­out regard to their par­tic­u­lar wing or career field, Arcuri added. 

As Air­men con­tin­ue to sup­port and embed with oth­er branch­es and units in con­tin­gency oper­a­tions, BSMs award­ed from oth­er ser­vices have become more fre­quent, Arcuri said. 

The cri­te­ria, though gener­ic, can be applied specif­i­cal­ly to the mis­sion and deter­mi­na­tion of each service’s chain of com­mand, Arcuri explained, not­ing the Air Force’s shift to an admin­is­tra­tive con­cur/non-con­cur role when anoth­er branch awards the dec­o­ra­tion to an Airman. 

“It is with­in the pre­rog­a­tive of any branch to award a BSM, and typ­i­cal­ly we have no rea­son to ques­tion that deter­mi­na­tion,” Arcuri said, adding that even in rare cas­es of Air Force non-con­cur­rence, the grant­i­ng ser­vice can over­ride the recommendation. 

Arcuri also acknowl­edged that dec­o­ra­tions can crit­i­cal­ly impact accrued points under the Weight­ed Air­man Pro­mo­tion Sys­tem, leav­ing some ser­vice mem­bers to ques­tion whether BSM recip­i­ents might have an unfair advan­tage over MSM recipients. 

AFPC offi­cials have con­firmed the BSM to be on par with the MSM from a pro­mo­tion point sys­tem perspective. 

“The Air Force can award either the BSM or the MSM in the­ater, while the Army typ­i­cal­ly awards the BSM — but each is worth five points in the pro­mo­tion sys­tem,” said Will Brown, Air Force Eval­u­a­tions and Recog­ni­tions Branch chief at AFPC

A finance Air­man return­ing from an embed­ded tour with the Army is among 13,354 oth­ers who, since 9/11, have received the dec­o­ra­tion, includ­ing 839 recip­i­ents rec­og­nized with val­or for com­bat hero­ism, Brown added. 

“The num­ber of BSM recip­i­ents in no way dimin­ish­es the accom­plish­ments of those indi­vid­u­als who have earned it; rather, allows com­man­ders to rec­og­nize mer­i­to­ri­ous or hero­ic ser­vice which may have occurred in var­i­ous capac­i­ties or mis­sions with­in a par­tic­u­lar unit or ser­vice,” Brown said. 

Still, Arcuri main­tains that AFCENT and oth­er approv­ing offi­cials are less inter­est­ed in com­par­ing award cri­te­ria or approval sta­tis­tics to oth­er ser­vices, so much as main­tain­ing the integri­ty of the dec­o­ra­tion process and its orig­i­nal intent. 

Dur­ing World War II, the BSM evolved from the “Ground Medal” devel­oped by a U.S. Army colonel to raise morale and dis­tin­guish the actions of ground troops from those in aer­i­al com­bat. On Feb. 4, 1944, Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt autho­rized the Bronze Star Medal by Exec­u­tive Order 9419, retroac­tive to Dec. 7, 1941. 

“We want to ensure we apply the same cri­te­ria through­out the decades to rec­og­nize the achieve­ments of our peo­ple in com­bat envi­ron­ments,” Arcuri said. “We’ve got a tremen­dous force of mod­ern Air­men doing incred­i­ble work across the AOR and we encour­age com­man­ders to laud the excep­tion­al ser­vice of these Air­men through mul­ti­ple channels.” 

U.S. Air Force 

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