The Airman’s Coin: 8 Interesting Facts About the Air Force Challenge Coin

The airman’s coin has a rich history. Given to airmen at their Air Force graduation, it signifies their accomplishments. Learn more here.

Military challenge coins are an object of honor and tradition. To receive a challenge coin is a recognition for the merit of something you’ve done.

From military to civilian organizations, a typical challenge coin has an organization’s insignia. Leaders or commanders present a challenge coin to a member of the unit or organization in recognition of special achievement or honor.

The Airman’s Coin is no exception to a deep tradition of history and honor. Here’s a look at eight interesting facts about the Airmen’s coin and the tradition of military challenge coins. 

1. From Trainee to Airman

Air Force trainees receive the Airman’s coin at the time they complete basic military training. Trainees receive their coins during the coin ceremony. 

This coin is the first and most significant coin of an airman’s career. It’s typically given by the Wing Commander or Command Chief Master Sergeant. Once a trainee receives the Airman’s coin, they are no longer referred to as “trainee.” 

They are officially known as “Airmen.”  

2. The Origin of Challenge Coins

There are several versions of the origin of the challenge coin. The most widely accepted story took place during World War I.

A lieutenant had bronze unit medallions created for his squadron. He gave one medallion to each member in the squadron. 

The French captured one of the squadron pilots after his damaged plane landed behind German lines. The French believed he was a spy. The pilot faced execution.

The only thing the pilot had with him was his squadron medallion. The French saw that he was an American and rewarded him with a bottle of wine–instead of death. 

From this story (or a similar story) the idea of challenge coins grew across all branches of the military, including the Air Force and the Airman’s coin. 

3. There’s a Technique to Giving a Coin

The USAF challenge coin tradition follows the traditional challenge coin protocol.

Awarding a coin is more than handing over a coin. You don’t mail a coin or slide it across a table.

The airman coin passes from the giver to the receiver during a strong handshake. The coin sits in the palm of the commander’s hand. During the handshake, the coin transfers to the recipient’s hand. 

4. Versions of the Airman’s Coin

The Air Force challenge coin is different today than the original version. 

The first version of the Airman’s coin featured an eagle on the coin’s front. The eagle claws its way out of the coin. The words “Aerospace Power” sit underneath the eagle.

The reverse side of the coin includes a white star with a red dot in the center. This is the Hap Arnold star. On the coin, a pair of wings flanks the.  

Around the edge of the coin are the words of the USAF Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do.

For the Air Force’s 60th anniversary in 2007, the Airmen’s coin featured a special anniversary design. 

The latest version of the coin uses the new Air Force symbol instead of the eagle.

5. What Are Challenges?

Once an airman receives a coin, they must keep with them at all times. They never know when a challenge could happen.

During a “challenge” (or “coin check”), anyone in can request all other members to produce their coins. 

Any member who can’t immediately show their coin has to buy the challenger a drink. While the losing task can be anything, it’s most often buying drinks for other members.

If everyone has their coins, the challenge has to buy a round of drinks for the unit.

6. Earning Additional Coins

Aside from the Airmen’s coin, Airmen can receive other coins throughout their military careers.

Coins include those presented to them by a first sergeant or by the president for any service deemed meritorious. A collection of coins often tells the story of an airman’s career. 

7. Personal Coin Designs

One of the perks of becoming a commander in the Air Force is creating your own coins. Officers typically have a personal budget for coins. They can create coins to represent why they choose to give coins to other airmen. 

Coins should represent excellence and significance. The design should recognize airmen who go above and beyond to serve their unit and their country. 

One coin is the “first salute” coin. It’s often presented to the first enlisted member to salute a newly-commissioned officer. 

8. The Coin Has Rules to Follow

As with many traditions, the Airman’s coin comes with the rules of challenge coins

Some of these rules include:

  • Explaining the rules when giving a coin. 
  • You must carry your coins at all times.
  • Do not ever give someone else a coin in response to a challenge. 
  • You are responsible for replacing a lost coin as soon as possible. 
  • There are no exceptions to the rules. 
  • A challenge coin is not a belt buckle or jewelry. Carry it, don’t wear it. 

Receiving an Airman’s coin or other Air Force challenge coin is a great honor. It’s also a great responsibility. 

Airmen who carry their coins within the rules show they understand the gravity of the honor. 

The Airman’s Coin is an Important Tradition

The Airman’s coin is an important USAF tradition following the tradition of military challenge coins. 

Airmen work hard to receive the Airman’s coin. The coin ceremony ushers them from trainee to airmen.

The Airman’s coin shows that the former trainee now understands the full range of air and space power capabilities. They have finished training to employ or support some aspect of these capabilities.

As airmen rise in ranks, Custom Challenge Coins takes great pride in helping commanders choose the perfect design for their coins. We understand the importance of what challenge coins represent. We enjoy creating the perfect coin to recognize your own airmen. 

Our team represents families with members from all branches of the military. Contact us to let our team help your design and produce the perfect challenge coins to represent outstanding service to our country. 

A Look at Challenge Coin History and Why They’re Still Cool Today

Challenge coins are an excellent morale booster for teams. Part of the reason lies in challenge coin history and traditions. Find out more about where challenge coins originated and how they’ve stayed popular all this time.

Are you looking for an original, unique marker of membership for your team or club? Challenge coins are special keepsakes and fantastic tools for ongoing teambuilding. Best of all is their fascinating history.

From Romans and Renaissance nobility to WWI pilots, challenge coins have played an interesting part in human history! Learn more about challenge coin history and just how they’ll turn you into a club hero here.

Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are small commemorative coins or medallions. You engrave them with a special insignia or message. The idea is to share within any special group as a mark of membership.

Think military units, civil society groups, sororities, fraternities, work teams or graduating class-groups. They are also bought and sold as collector items. In the military, challenge coins unit commanders give them to a unit member to mark special achievements.

Challenge Coin History

The story of the challenge coin’s history is unique. According to the legend, a US army lieutenant had coins made for his WW1 squadron. A pilot was captured behind enemy lines. When he escaped and made it across the border, a French patrol had no way to identify him.

Not recognizing his accent, they figured he was a spy from the enemy side. To avoid execution, the pilot showed his Challenge Coin to prove his identity and his US nationality. It saved his life.

There are histories of challenge coins going back even before this WWI tale. The Roman Empire gave them to soldiers for special achievements. During the Renaissance, they were called ‘Portrait Medals’.

These were handed among members of the royal family or nobility, to mark special occasions. Even today, the US President hands a challenge coin out to mark special occasions.

Fun Ways to Use Challenge Coins

The challenge coin gives members of your team a real sense of identity. But they are also a way to play ongoing team building ‘coin checks’. They don’t call it a challenge coin for nothing!

Once your team has been awarded their coins, you can initiate the coin challenge. One member can yell, ‘coin check’. Everyone has to show they are carrying their challenge coins. Anyone who isn’t carrying their coin has to buy a drink – or whatever other rules you set – for the challenger, and everyone carrying their coin.

Where to Buy Them

To mark a special event or membership of your club or team, consider challenge coins. At Metal Promo, we offer die struck challenge coins in a range of sizes. We also one or two side color options, and a range of edging options.

You can customize the challenge coin, mixing it up each year for members to collect all the coins in the series. We offer free artwork, free shipping, guaranteed quality and competitive pricing. We love posting verified reviews from customers on our website. We look forward to putting yours there, too.

Get a Free Quote

If you’re feeling inspired by challenge coin history, consider having some made. Your club, team, or military unit will love the physical symbol of their membership, or marker of their special achievement.

You can talk to us about a free quote and some ideas on artwork. Find your favorite options on our website, and get in contact today!

What is a Challenge Coin and What Do They Represent?

What is a Challenge Coin and What Do They Represent?

You’re at a military ceremony. A soldier is being honored for service above and beyond the call of duty. As he approaches the unit commander to receive his award, he salutes and then reaches out to shake hands.

In the unit commander’s palm, before he clasps hands, you notice a glint of metal. Wondering what that is? Well, you’ve seen your first challenge coin.

What is a challenge coin? I’m glad you asked.

What is a Challenge Coin?

The simple answer is this: A challenge coin is a specially designed coin. It’s given to someone to confirm membership in an organization or group. A challenge coin can also honor a person for a special achievement.

Description

Challenge coins are small, metal coins that fit in the palm of your hand. They are made of metal. Each challenge coin has a unique design that belongs to the organization it represents.

The emblem or insignia of the organization is etched directly into the coin. The organization’s motto can be engraved around the edge of the coin. They can have colored enamel painted into the etching, depending on the unique design.

Though they are usually round, some challenge coins come in other shapes. Special designs even include cutouts or unique features, like a bottle opener tool.

Challenge coins are made out of a variety of metals. Some are made of zinc, bronze, and brass. Other more expensive versions even include 24-carat gold.

What Does a Challenge Coin Represent?

Challenge coins represent organizations, units, and teams. They can also represent an achievement, an anniversary or a special event. They build close-knit, lasting bonds between people who receive them and represent unity.

They have a long-standing tradition in military history. But the military isn’t the only service that uses them. First responder services also have a history of using challenge coins, too.

Civilian groups are starting to use challenge coins to represent accomplishments in their businesses. This is a new way to represent challenge coins. They are using them to build morale in teams, link people with similar interests and even to promote their brand.

Military Challenge Coins

There are many traditional challenge coins that represent each of the military branches, individual units, special groups and even specific missions. Military leaders can have their own coins, too. Top generals and the President of the United States have their own special challenge coins.

Service members are known to develop large collections of challenge coins during their time in the military. They feel pride and a sense of belonging when they display their various coins.

First Responders Challenge Coins

Like the military, first responders use challenge coins to honor service. Law enforcement agencies and firefighters use challenge coins to honor special accomplishments in the line of duty.

Government agencies and politicians are using challenge coins to recognize first responders in their communities. This creates a sense of honor and unity during a time of tragedy and loss.

What is the Purpose of a Challenge Coin?

The purpose of a challenge coin depends on why it was made in the first place. It can be used for membership, recognition, to create a bond between people in a group or to commemorate an anniversary or special event.

Membership

In the military, challenge coins are proof that you are a member of a unit or served on a specific tour of duty. They mean you are a member of an elite group of people.

In early military history, they were used for security. A service member may have been required to show the coin to prove their loyalty. That may not be necessary today, but being a member of the team is still a strong military tradition.

Awards and Recognition

Challenge coins are used to award team members who perform their duties extremely well. Giving a coin as a reward for excellent performance builds pride and morale. Receiving one is a great honor and team members work hard to get them.

Creates Bonds and Connections

The challenge coin tradition keeps members of the military connected to one another, even after they leave the service. Veterans frequently display coins from units they have served in, missions they have been on and leaders they have met. First responders receive coins for heroic efforts during times of tragedy.

Challenge coins pay tribute to events that members of an organization endured together and create a bond that will last a lifetime.

Branding

More recently, challenge coins have been used to identify a corporate brand or logo. Corporations are beginning to hand these out at conferences, sales events, and trade shows. A challenge coin is certainly more memorable than a business card.

Even schools and sports teams are jumping on the bandwagon. Mascots and logos are being put on coins to hand out at local events in communities.

Where to Get a Challenge Coin

What is a challenge coin? It’s a great way to recognize an individual, a team or bring meaning to an event or accomplishment. They create lasting bonds between team members and encourage hard work.

Challenge coins make great gifts that are memorable and unique. Whether you want to honor a service member, a first responder or a valuable team member, challenge coins make the moment special and memorable.

If you are considering a challenge coin for your organization or event, you can submit a request online. If you need help with your request, you can contact us directly.