Command Sergeant Major / By MSG Daniel Baeza: During World War II, the Army Air Forces began issuing its Aircrew Badge to Soldiers who conducted in-flight operations as crewmembers-gunners, bombardiers, navigators, etc.—or were on flying status. Even after 1947, when the Air Force splintered off from the Army and became its own service, the Army continued to issue the old Army Air Forces Aircrew Badge.
Aircrew Badge, World War II Army Air Forces design
On May 16th, 1962, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations approved a design change to the wings. The badge was renamed the “Aircraft Crewmember Badge” and was redesigned into the current version that most are familiar with now. The new wings would be issued in three degrees – Basic, Senior, and Master – which references the level an individual has earned depending on the number of flight hours obtained or the years of service in the United States Army.
The new design retained many aspects of the World War II Aircrew Badge. The new badge features a set of oxidized silver wings with a shield centered between them. The shield is emblazoned with the coat of arms of the United States of America, in clear relief against a horizontally lined background. The wings are meant to suggest flight and reflect the skills associated with aerial flight. The coat of arms signifies loyalty and devotion to duty. A star is added above the shield to indicate the Senior Aviation Badge. The Master Aviation Badge is distinguishable by a star that is surrounded by a laurel wreath set above the shield. There are three authorized variations of the original oxidized silver wings. The first is polished silver or Stay Brite®. The second is subdued (metal or cloth) for wear with duty uniform. The last variation is a miniature (silver) version for wear with the dress mess uniform.
New Name – New Authorization
Nearly forty years later, on February 29, 2000, the Department of the Army officially changed the name of the Aircraft Crewmember Badge to the Army Aviation Badge. The name was not the only thing that changed. In the past, Soldiers on flight status could earn their Senior and Master Crewmember badges one of two ways, by years on flight status or the number of flight hours they accumulated. If they met the flight hour requirements, they could be awarded their wings regardless of time in the Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). However, with the new name, the long-established flight hour requirements were eliminated, and the badge would now be authorized for wear by all Soldiers who successfully earned an MOS in the Aviation Career Management Field (CMF). Thus, a crew chief who engages in aerial flight has no distinction from an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Operator because both are in the Aviation CMF.
From then on, the different levels of the Army Aviation badge would be awarded based on years. Seven years on flight status or ten years in the CMF will earn a Soldier their Senior Aviation Badge. 15 years on flight status or 17 years in the CMF would allow them to be awarded the Master Aviation Badge. Of note, years on flight status does not have to be consecutive. Veterans who served before February 2000, who were not authorized to wear the Aircraft Crewmember Badge may be eligible to receive the Army Aviation Badge because the changes made in February 2000 were retroactive to January 1st, 1947. For those who wish to be officially authorized to wear the Army Aviation Badge, here is a summary of what veterans, the next-of-kin, or authorized representatives must do.
Retroactive Award Process
To start the process, a complete copy of the service member’s records must be obtained. For veterans who separated from the service after 1955, their records can be accessed on the Human Resources Command (HRC) webpage: https://www.hrcapps.army.mil/portal/ under the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) section.
For veterans who served before 1955, a request for records can be made online with eVetRecs or through the National Personnel Records Center by mailing a letter or Standard Form (SF) 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records to:
National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138
To help locate the veteran’s service records and expedite their delivery certain basic information is needed: the veteran’s complete name as used in service; service number; Social Security Number (if applicable); branch of service; dates of service; date and place of birth. For records affected by the 1973 Fire, additional information, such as place of discharge; last assigned unit; and place of entry into service may be useful. Even if you do not have all the information, provide as much as possible and send copies of any service documents that you may have.
Once the records are obtained, they must be submitted to HRC Awards and Decorations Branch to make an eligibility determination. If there is a problem or an appeal of a decision, it must e made in writing to:
U.S. Army Human Resources Command Soldier Program and Services Division – Awards and Decorations Branch
ATTN: AHRC-PDP-A, 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept. 480, Fort Knox, KY 40122-5408
For more information on aviation badges, refer to AR 600-8-22, para. 8-13, dated 5 March 2019.
For more detailed information about obtaining military service records, go to https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records.
Multiple subject matter experts from the USAACE OPFD contributed to this article.
Above the Best!
CSM Brian N. Hauke is the command sergeant major of the Aviation Branch and the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, AL. MSG Daniel Baeza is the CMF 15 Senior Career Manager in the USAACE Organization and Personnel Force Development Directorate.