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. 

6 Unique Custom Challenge Coin Designs to Take Inspiration From

Challenge coins are a great way to memorialize your service in a unique way. Here are 6 custom challenge coin designs you take inspiration from today!

Military challenge coins have a unique and long-lived history, and over the years countless designs have been created. Whether you’re currently serving in the armed forces or you plan to someday, you may want to create one yourself.

Custom challenge coins inspire and honor the members of every military branch, past, present, or future. Why not create one to honor the men and women you serve with? Deciding on a challenge coin design can be tricky, though. Where do you begin?

To give you some inspiration, we’ve tracked down six unique, custom-designed coins. Take a look. You may get some ideas for your own custom challenge coin.

1. The Silent Cobra

One unique design we came across was simple but instantly attention-grabbing. Why is that? The coin was in the shape of a cobra.

How could this coin not grab your attention, with its focused staredown and metallic strength? The great thing about this design is that it doesn’t say anything–not with words, anyway. The front of the coin only holds the snake’s image. But it definitely carries a story. What does the cobra represent? What was this coin given for?

This type of coin is perfect if you’re looking for a conversation starter. If you would like to add some details as to why it was given, include the information on the back. This will allow you to commemorate the event or group it represents while still keeping that eye-catching look of a text-less image.

2. Anchors Aweigh

Military challenge coins come in all sorts of shapes, despite their being called coins. You don’t have to stick to the round look–the snake design definitely didn’t.

USN Challenge Coin

Another amazing design we found was in the shape of an anchor, complete with a chain hanging down throughout the design. Members of the Navy will love this nod to their chosen military branch. This design was sleek and elegant while nodding to the hard work of life at sea.

Is there a specific shape that would nod to what you’re commemorating? If so, try implementing it into your design.

3. Vehicle Inspiration

Custom Shaped Challenge CoinWing Shaped Challenge Coin

Challenge coins are meaningful no matter their shape, but there’s no rule stating your coin has to be round. Shake things up by going with another shape–it can be entirely unique if you’d like.

For a nod to your specific group, why not design your challenge coin in the shape of a vehicle that’s frequently used? Air Force members may appreciate a coin that’s in the shape of the plane they usually fly. Or a ship-shaped coin would be appropriate for Navy members.

If you’d rather not use the entire vehicle in your design, you can still nod to the specific military branch by using part of the vehicle. A wing or an anchor will make it easy to tell what branch the coin was made for.

To make your challenge coin unique, include your own combination of messages, information, memories, colors, and more. If a vehicle shape isn’t unique enough for you, create a shape that’s all your own!

4. Spinner Design

US Army Spinner Coin DesignWhite House Military Challenge Coin

If you’d like your design to be interactive, get inspired by a coin that spins inside itself. This coin design features a rectangular frame, in the center of which is a coin section that spins, thanks to an axis that keeps it safely connected to the frame. The spinning section could hold whatever you’d like. Maybe it’s a regiment number or the year and name of a specific battle.

If your desired info won’t fit in the small centerpiece, that’s okay. You’ve still got the frame are to include words and dates.

5. Event Tickets

Marine Ball Ticket Challenge Coin

If your coin will commemorate an event, such as a Marine ball, get inspired by looking at ticket-style challenge coins. These coins come shaped just like the tickets you’d get for an old movie or Ferris wheel ride. Feel free to throw a big old “admit one” on one side, just like the designs we’ve seen. The other side of your coin can include your commemorative information.

We’d suggest adding information about the event itself, to remind you what you were “admitted” when you got the coin. You can also add troop or branch information. Insignia or other symbols would look great too.

For an added nod to the movie-theater feel, consider making your text flow like the end credits of a film.

6. Plain and Simple

Spartan Custom Challenge Coin DesignSpartan Challenge Coin

Maybe one of the most unique coins we came across was the least flashy of all. In fact, it was completely plain. All it showed was the silver shape of a helmet.

This sort of simplicity will really make your coin stand out. While others tend to involve color, aggressiveness, or other flashy design elements, this one came across as almost solemn.

This particular coin held the shape of a Spartan helmet, but there are plenty of other helmets to choose from. Why not use a traditional shape of headwear that represents your military branch?

Though simple and silent, this design lets viewers know what branch it represents while letting them reflect on what it means. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking pin, go for something simple that reminds the barer and any viewers why it was created in the first place.

View other custom and unique challenge coins designs to get even more inspirations for your next custom challenge coin design.

Create Your Own Challenge Coin Design

Challenge coins are highly versatile. They come in all shapes, designs, colors, and metal types. The sky’s limit when it comes to creating your own design.

These six coins each offer unique ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Keep them in mind when creating your own challenge coin design and see what you come up with!

We specialize in creating unique challenge coins. If you’d like to create your own custom challenge coin, we’d love to help. Click here to learn more about our military challenge coins.