An illustration of the new Nuclear Deterrence Service Operations Medal.

An illustration of the new Nuclear Deterrence Service Operations Medal. (USAF)

WASHINGTON — Current and former airmen could be eligible for the new Nuclear Deterrence Service Operations Medal.

Servicemembers may receive the award if they were assigned, deployed or mobilized to a wing, center or smaller unit in support of the nuclear enterprise for 120 consecutive days or 179 nonconsecutive days, according to an Air Force press release.

The medal will be worn with an “N” device for airmen deployed to a missile complex for 179 nonconsecutive days in direct support of intercontinental ballistic missile operations. The same holds true for personnel directly supporting operations of nuclear-armed aircraft. Only one “N” device may be worn, but an oak leaf cluster can be worn for subsequent awards, the Air Force said.

Award nominations for current servicemembers will be processed through their chain of command, and their group commander will be the awarding authority.

Eligibility for the medal is retroactive to Dec. 27, 1991, which means that former airmen who served decades ago may also receive it. Those who have left the service and meet the criteria for the award can request the medal through the Air Force Personnel Center’s recognition section for validation. Family members of deceased airmen can also contact AFPC for information about how their loved one might be awarded the medal posthumously.

The medal, which has been designed, is projected to become available in March 2015.

The new award, first announced in May, was created after an internal review determined that many airmen involved in the nuclear enterprise felt ignored and underappreciated in the post-Cold War era in which nuclear combat is considered a remote possibility. The review was prompted by a scandal in which nearly a hundred officers were implicated in a cheating ring surrounding nuclear launch tests.

“This service medal provides a clearly visible way to recognize the dedication and professionalism of our Airmen who are the guardians of our nation’s nuclear deterrence. Because of our success, often times nuclear deterrence operations can be overlooked as a critical function,” missile operations career field manager Col. Zannis Pappas said in the release.

The service is taking other steps to boost morale. Last month, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James announced that officers manning the nation’s launch control centers will receive an additional $300 per month in bonus pay, effective Oct. 1. Airmen in certain enlisted fields throughout the nuclear enterprise will also receive up to $300 in monthly special duty assignment pay.

“There’s no question in my mind that our nuclear mission is first and foremost,” James said. Twitter: @JHarperStripes

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