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!

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.