USAF Medals

Karen is photographed on the cover of Fearless Women Visions of a New World with her Shadow Box that she was presented on behalf of the men and women of the Center for Financial Management, United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) upon her retirement from serving over 20 years in our United States Air Force (USAF).  Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned each Medal in her Shadow Box during her career serving in our USAF.

As taken from the script from Lieutenant Colonel Mertes’ Retirement Ceremony on January 22, 2009:  “The Shadow Box is rich in military tradition.  It reflects a proud tradition of honor.  As its name implies, this shadowed Lieutenant Colonel Karen Mertes’ military career.  It safeguards mementos and tokens that recall and celebrate a career of dedication, loyalty and service to our country.  This box represents Lieutenant Colonel Mertes’ selfless dedication to duty and the personal sacrifices Karen made during her military career.  The awards and decorations represent Lieutenant Colonel Mertes’ personal accomplishments.  Karen’s dedication to our country is reflected in these medals, true tokens of her military service.  The rank insignias show Karen’s ability to follow and more importantly, lead others.  Not shown in the Shadow Box, are the many sacrifices Karen’s family made to support her during her career.  This Shadow Box is to be displayed in a prominent place where all who shall see it, will know that Lieutenant Colonel Mertes, served her country with dedication, sacrifice and above all else, with honor.  Let it be known that the flag pins that surround the encased flag of our United States of America represent the states and countries where Lieutenant Colonel Mertes served throughout her career.  Let it be further known that the encased flag of our United States of America was flown over our Capitol of our United States of America on May 13, 2008, the 20-year Anniversary of Lieutenant Colonel Mertes’ Commissioning Date; it was flown over United States Special Operations Command on July 18, 2008, the 3-year Anniversary of Lieutenant Colonel Mertes’ arrival at USSOCOM and MacDill Air Force Base; over the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Denver, CO on September 10, 2008, the 7-year Anniversary when Lieutenant Colonel Mertes assumed Command at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service; and lastly, over our Capitol of Florida on September 26, 2008 for occasion of her retirement from our United States Air Force on March 1, 2009.”

In order of precedence from left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned the following Medals during her career.  The descriptions of these Medals are taken from Wikipedia:

Defense Meritorious Service Medal – “The Defense Meritorious Service Medal (DMSM) is the third-highest award bestowed upon members of the United States military by the United States Department of Defense.  The medal is awarded in the name of the Secretary of Defense to members of the Armed Forces who, while serving in a joint activity, distinguish themselves by non-combat outstanding achievement or meritorious service, but not of a degree to warrant award of the Defense Superior Service Medal.

The medal was first created on November 3, 1977 by President Jimmy Carter under Executive Order 12019. It was first awarded to Major Terrell G. Covington, United States Army.

Additional awards of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal are denoted by oak leaf clusters.  The medal is not the same as the Meritorious Service Medal, which is a separate federal military decoration.  Both have virtually identical award criteria, but the DMSM is awarded to service members assigned to joint, multi-service organizations, while the MSM is awarded to service members in traditional military units within their respective individual services.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned 2 of these Medals during her career.


Meritorious Service Medal – “The Meritorious Service Medal is a military decoration presented to members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguished themselves by outstanding meritorious achievement or service to the United States subsequent to January 16, 1969.  Effective 11 September 2001, this award also may be bestowed for meritorious achievement in a designated combat theatre.  Normally, the acts or services rendered must be comparable to that required for the Legion of Merit but in a duty of lesser, though considerable, responsibility.  A higher decoration, known as the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, is intended for similar services performed under joint service with the United States Department of Defense.  Today, most MSM recipients are field grade officers (pay grades O-4 to O-6), senior warrant officers (W-3 to W-5), senior non-commissioned officers (E-7 to E-9), foreign military personnel in the ranks of O-6 and below, and individuals who have displayed a level of service that warrants an award of such magnitude.  To receive this award the individual must exhibit exceptionally meritorious service at that level of responsibility.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned 3 of these Medals during her career.


Air Force Commendation Medal – “The Commendation Medal is a mid-level United States military decoration which is presented for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.  For valorous actions in direct contact with an enemy force, but of a lesser degree than required for the award of the Bronze Star, the Valor device (“V” device) may be authorized as an attachment to the decoration.  Each branch of the United States Armed Forces issues its own version of the Commendation Medal, with a fifth version existing for acts of joint military service performed under the Department of Defense.

The Commendation Medal was originally a ribbon, and was first issued by the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in 1943.  An Army Commendation Ribbon followed in 1945, and in 1949, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Army Commendation ribbons were renamed the “Commendation Ribbon with Medal Pendant.”  By 1960, the Commendation Ribbons had been authorized as full medals and were subsequently referred to as Commendation Medals.  For additional awards of the Commendation Medal, the Army issues bronze and silver oak leaf clusters while the Navy and Coast Guard furnish gold and silver award stars.  The Operational Distinguishing Device is authorized for the Coast Guard Commendation Medal upon approval of the awarding authority.  Order of Precedence is following the Bronze Star Medal but before the Prisoner of War Medal and all campaign medals.  Each of the military services also issues an Achievement Medal, which is a lesser decoration.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned 2 of these Medals during her career.


Air Force Achievement Medal – “The Achievement Medal is a military decoration of the United States military.  The Achievement Medal was first proposed as a means to recognize the contributions of junior officers and enlisted personnel who were not eligible to receive the higher Commendation Medal or the Meritorious Service Medal.

Each military service issues its own version of the Achievement Medal, with a fifth version authorized by the Department of Defense for joint military activity. The Achievement Medal is awarded for outstanding achievement or meritorious service not of a nature that would otherwise warrant awarding the Commendation Medal.  Since the Achievement Medal is designated as an award solely for junior personnel, it is generally only awarded to officers in the pay grade of O-4 and below and enlisted personnel below the grade of E-7.  Award authority rests with local commanders, granting a broad discretion of when and for what action the Achievement Medal may be awarded.”

Lieutenant Colonel Mertes earned 2 of these Medals during her career.


National Defense Service Medal – “The National Defense Service Medal is a military service medal of the United States military originally commissioned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Created in 1953, the National Defense Service Medal was intended to be a “blanket campaign medal” awarded to any member of the United States military who served honorably during a designated time period of which a “national emergency” had been declared.

As of 2010, with an issuance span of sixty years, the National Defense Service Medal is the oldest service medal still in circulation by the United States armed forces, followed second by the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal which has been active since 1961.  Combat and meritorious decorations (such as the Medal of HonorSilver StarPurple Heart and Commendation Medals) are older still, but are considered personal decorations and are classified under separate award criteria from service medals.”


Global War of Terrorism Medal – “The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal is a military award of the United States military which was created by Executive Order 13289 on March 12, 2003 by President George W. Bush.  The award recognizes those military service members who have performed service in the War on Terror from September 11, 2001 to a date to be determined.

To receive the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, a military service member must perform duty in a designated anti-terrorism operation for a period of either 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days of duty.  For those who were engaged in combat, killed, or wounded in the line of duty the time requirement is waived.

The initial authorized operation for the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal was the so called “Airport Security Operation” which occurred between September 27, 2001 and May 31, 2002.  Additional operations, for which the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal is authorized, include the active military campaigns of Operation Enduring FreedomOperation Noble Eagle, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Future operations are at the discretion of United States component commanders upon approval from the United States Department of Defense.”


Military Outstanding Volunteer Medal – “The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM) is a military award which was created under Executive Order 12830 by George H. W. Bush on January 9, 1993.  The medal was designed by the Institute of Heraldry and was first issued in December 1993.

The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal recognizes those members of the military (active duty, reserve and national guard) who perform substantial volunteer service to the local community above and beyond the duties required as a member of the United States Armed Forces.  Such volunteer service must be made in a sustained and direct nature towards the civilian community, must be significant in nature to produce tangible results, and must reflect favorably on the military service and the United States Department of Defense. The definition of volunteer service is left intentionally vague, allowing for a wide variety of activities and volunteer duties which would qualify a service member for the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal such as Volunteer Emergency Services, Habitat for Humanity, Soup Kitchens, etc.

There is no time limit required for the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, however most awarding authorities require that the volunteer service exceed three years in length.  Since the award is classified as a service medal, there is no citation which accompanies the award, however most commanders will present a personal letter to those who receive the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.  Multiple awards of the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal are denoted by service stars.

The governing regulation for this award is DoD 1348.33-M, Manual of Military Decorations and Awards, September 1996.”