Common Questions Asked About the Commander’s Coin

Challenge coins are a huge tradition in the military. But many people are still unsure of the commander’s coin tradition. Here are common questions asked.
Civilians may not be familiar with challenge coins, but their tradition is well-known throughout the military, and by many United States firefighters and law enforcement departments, as well. For servicemen and women, a commander’s coin carries a significant meaning. While, for the rest of us, it’s a custom that’s often shrouded in mystery.

 

 

The most widely-accepted version of its’ beginnings dates back to World War I when an American fighter pilot was captured and traded his own cherished medallion for personal freedom.

Whether that’s truly where the challenge coin got its’ start may still be a subject of debate, the fact remains that today, these coins are a widespread symbol of honor among those who serve today.

Even the presidents have come to know and love the passing down of challenge coins, with each recent leader having his own uniquely-designed relic to share.

Still, the tradition tends to conjure up a long list of questions, both by those who take part in the custom and by onlookers, alike.

Read on to learn the answers to many of the most common questions surrounding the long-lived mysterious commander’s coin.

1. How Did the Challenge Coin Originate?

One of the stories accepted by many is the one that’s mentioned above.

After a WWI serviceman received a coin from his well-to-do superior, he was captured and escaped with little other than the shiny medallion he wore around his neck. A short time later he was captured by the French military, who mistook him as a German soldier-turned-spy. He regained his freedom only after he presented the challenge coin to his captors, proving that he was indeed an ally and not the enemy that they first believed him to be.

In an alternate version of facts, the coin’s introduction to the military has roots dating back to Ancient Rome. Rumor has it that men were often given coins to reward them for a day of hard work on the battlefield.

2. Who Was the First President to Mint His Own Commander’s Coin?

The traditional presidential challenge coin first began with President Bill Clinton. It has been followed by each president that has taken office since, including Presidents George Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

Vice President Dick Cheney was the first VPOTUS to claim a uniquely designed coin made just for him. And, Vice President Joe Biden coined three different varieties of the personally-stamped coins.

Historically, the presidents of the United States and their vice presidents have reserved their medallions only for members of the armed forces, or for other supporters of the nation. Honorees have also included rare foreign dignitaries and the family members of those who have served our country.

3. How Are the Coins Typically Used Today?

Today, challenge coins are often presented to members of the military and throughout other U.S.-supporting police and fire departments. They serve as a way to commemorate one’s pledge to serve their country. And, they are also given to award various missions accomplished by said servicemen and women.

It’s common for a member who has served for many years to possess a collection of many different challenge coins, each representing a specific honor or milestone throughout their career.

4. What Is a “Coin Check”?

A “coin check” is a common practice among battalions and departments. It occurs when an officer or another superior declares “Coin check!” and all of the practicing members in attendance must present their coins ‘on-the-spot’.

The last member to show their coin often has to buy the others a beer. Or, they might offer another similar form of debt repayment to their faster-moving military brothers and sisters.

These “on-the-spot” coin checks, as they are often called, are popular among Veterans, both past and present. Although it’s a custom mostly taken in fun, the groups of men and women who have served take their roles very seriously. Owning a challenge coin is an honor that they carry with pride.

5. Should Civilians Take Part in the Trading of Challenge Coins?

Although it may have happened before, it’s not “the norm” for civilians to trade these coins for fun, or even to symbolize a special event or occasion.

Military challenge coins are a tradition that the members of service prefer to keep private.

It’s possible for civilians to “gift” the coins to non-military. But, this practice should only be reserved for certain special occasions.

That said, there are other variations of commemorative medallions that are often given to civilians. And, these coins are similar to those passed along through the military.

They might be presented to honorary civilian recipients for their graduation or other special occasions. Still, while similar in appearance, these aren’t the same challenge coins like those that hold the traditional meaning for military and service members.

Where Can You Learn More About Challenge Coins?

If you’re intrigued by the history of the commander’s coin, you might have an interest in visiting our site to find out more about this beloved military tradition. And, if you’re a member of the armed services yourself, you might even want to place an order for your own set of custom challenge coins.
We would love to help you find the coin that you’re looking for.

Visit our website today to place an order for your own challenge coins and be a part of the long-standing tradition of this honorable and precious token of appreciation!

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.