9 Reasons We Love Air Force Challenge Coins

Have you ever heard of an air force challenge coin?

Although challenge coins are not common knowledge among the general public, air force challenge coins are a longstanding and deeply respected tradition in the Air Force. 

Check out some reasons why we love challenge coins and everything they stand for! 

The history of challenge coins and the ways that the coins are used today have cemented the challenge coins in our hearts. Here are our top reasons that we love Air Force challenge coins. 

1.  Air Force Challenge Coins Have History 

The legend dates back to World War I. The story goes that Germans shot down an American pilot in Germany during the war. He made his way to the Allied forces but had no proof of identity. 

The French troops who intercepted him doubted his claims of being an American pilot and thought he was a spy.  He was set for execution until he pulled out a medallion with his squadron’s symbol on it. 

The medallion saved the pilot’s life. He used it to prove his identity and get safe-passage back to his squadron. 

After that, it became customary in his squadron to always carry the medallion as a form of identification. The custom slowly spread across all Airmen. 

Eventually, the idea of challenge coins reached all branches of the military and other public service positions such as fire departments.

2. It’s a Rite of Passage

Air Force trainees receive their first coin, called the Airman’s coin, when they complete basic training. There is an official ceremony during which Commanders impart trainees with a coin. 

This is the most significant coin an Airman will receive. The Wing Commander or Commander Chief Master Sergeant gives the medallion. It signifies that a trainee is now officially an Airman. 

They are no longer the lowly status of a trainee. 

3. There’s a Traditional Hand-off (Like a Secret Handshake)

Any good tradition involves a secret handshake. This one is no different. There is pomp and circumstance involved in giving a coin. 

You can’t simply give someone a coin. You can’t mail it. You can’t toss it across the bar. 

The coin must pass during a handshake. The Commander places the coin in his/her palm. The Commander then shakes the hand of the Airman. 

During the handshake, the coin transfers from the Commander’s palm to the palm of the Airman.

No other form of coin transfer is acceptable.  

4. It’s a Challenge

Every Airman knows that keeping with the legend, you must keep your coin on you at all times. You never know when a coin challenge or coin check will happen. 

A coin challenge or coin check is when a member of the Air Force demands that all other present members produce their coins. This can happen at any time, during any circumstances, so you better be prepared.

Any Airman that can’t immediately produce their coin owes the challenger a drink. If everyone present can and does produce their coin, the challenger owes a round of drinks for all he/she challenged. 

5. Your Coins tell Your History 

The Airman’s coin is your first coin earned, but it’s not the last. Airmen earn coins throughout their military careers.

Your collection of coins tells your professional history.

The President or other First Sergeants award coins for services performed, that are deemed worthy.

6. There are Rules

Along with the handshake pass off, there are other rules an Airman follows for the coins.

Some of these rules include:

  • You must explain all the rules to new Airmen when you give them a coin  
  • You must carry your coin on you at all times
  • You cannot lend/give your coin to someone during a challenge
  • If you lose or misplace your coin, it is your responsibility to replace it as soon as humanly possible
  • You must carry a challenge coin; you cannot wear it. Don’t attach it to a necklace or belt

Airmen who carry their coins within the rules are honoring a tradition and demonstrating that they understand the history that comes along with a challenge coin.  

7. There Are No Exceptions to the Rules

There are zero exceptions to the rules. The rules listed in #6 apply at all times to all Airmen.

They apply whether you are in uniform or not. They apply whether you’re clothed or not. They apply first thing in the morning and last thing at night. 

There is no excuse for not having your coin on your person. 

At the time of the challenge, an Airman is permitted one step and an arm’s reach to procure their coin. If the challenged Airman cannot produce the coin, they lose and owe the challenger a drink.

8. The Commander Designs the Coin

Commanders in the Air Force create their own coins. There is a designated budget for officers to create personal coins. These coins are designed for specific reasons and to commemorate specific events. 

For instance, the “First Salute” coin is awarded to the first enlisted member who salutes a newly-commissioned officer. 

9. The Coin Has Evolved

The Air Force challenge coin looks different from the original coins.

The first official version of the Airman’s coin showcased an eagle on one side. The inscription “Aerospace Power” was featured beneath the eagle. The opposite side featured a white star with a red dot in the center.

This is the Hap Arnold star. Around the edge of the coin, the words “Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do” are engraved. 

For the Air Force’s 60th anniversary in 2007, the Airmen’s coin was updated to feature an anniversary design. The most recent version of the Airmen coin shows the Air Force symbol instead of the eagle. 

Get Your Personalized Challenge Coin Today!

Now that you are familiar with Air Force challenge coins, you’ll probably start to hear about other types of challenge coins. It is a tradition that has been adopted across all branches of the military and right down to civilian corporations looking to boost morale. 

Want to learn more about the challenge coin? Check out this article about the history of challenge coins. 

Contact us today with any questions or inquiries. 

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.