Modernizing an old design a challenge for medal makers

  • Published
  • By Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
  • Air Force Print News
The designer of the Air Force Combat Action Medal said it was a challenge giving the medal a World War I feel but at the same time modernizing it.

Graphic designer Susan Gamble used artwork from photos of Brig. Gen. William "Billy" Mitchell's aircraft to inspire the design of the medal, which was presented for the first time to six Airmen during a ceremony here June 12.  General Mitchell was one of the military's earliest advocates of air power.

"I'm honored to be allowed to use a skill that isn't used often on a project that makes such a significant contribution to the people of my Air Force," Mrs. Gamble said.

The medal was created to recognize Airmen engaged in air or ground combat "outside the wire" in a combat zone. This includes members who are under direct and hostile fire or who personally engaged hostile forces with direct and lethal force.

Mrs. Gamble, a professional artist and master designer for the U.S. Mint, designed the medal in conjunction with the Army Institute of Heraldry in Washington D.C.

Normally a coin designer, Mrs. Gamble, wife of Air Force Col. Mike Gamble, had to overcome many challenges while creating the concept for the medal. She wanted to keep a World War I feel to the medal, while also updating the design.

"World War I art has a different style," Mrs. Gamble said. "There are fewer points and more curves, kind of like art deco," she said. "The medals back then were made with a pewter finish, not bright and shiny."

After Mrs. Gamble designed three prototypes, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley made the final selection.  He also selected a ribbon made with diagonal stripes.

"The diagonal stripe is a contemporary look," Mrs. Gamble pointed out. "The ribbon is what brings the medal into the 21st Century."

The diagonal stripe is so rare the heraldry institute officials had difficulty finding a ribbon-making company that could loom the ribbon.  They finally found one in Pennsylvania.

"My initial feedback on the medal has been very positive," Mrs. Gamble said. "The diagonal stripe got a lot of attention. Everyone I've shown the medal to has said it has a World War I feel to it, which I'm thrilled about because I thought I would be the only one who could see it. It's old fashioned, yet modern."

Charles Mugno, the Institute of Heraldry director, said the medal is very unique.

"I think it's one of the greatest medals we've ever designed," Mr. Mugno said. "It's very bold."

He said the institute will start mass producing the medal in about three weeks. 

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