A Rich Tradition! Air Force Challenge Coins

Air Force Challenge Coins can be traced back to the original U.S. military challenge coin

Challenge coins have a rich history in the military, but there is something extraordinary about Air Force Challenge Coins. The Airman's coin, presented to Airmen at the completion of Air Force basic training, has a storied history. The coin signifies their accomplishments and achievements, serving as a meaningful keepsake that will be cherished for years to come.

Military Challenge coins are objects of honor and tradition. To receive a challenge coin is an acknowledgment of merit for something you have done or your role. Both military and civilian organizations are using challenge coins for various reasons. The typical challenge coin will feature the organization's symbol and is often presented to a member of the unit or organization. They represent something special to recipients, recognizing extraordinary achievements and honors. The Airman's Coin is no exception to tradition, history, and integrity. Let's take a look at a few interesting facts about this iconic challenge coin.

The First: The Airman's Coin

Air Force trainees work hard upon reaching basic training. They receive the Airman's coin at the time they complete basic military training. Challenge coins are presented to the Airmen during a special coin ceremony  steeped in tradition. The coin is the first and most important coin of an Airman's career. It is typically presented by the Wing Commander or Command Chief Master Sergeant. Upon receiving the Airman's coin, they lose the trainee title and officially become Airmen of the United States Air Force. (It's worth noting here that "Airman" is the official rank for both men and women.)

As we mentioned earlier, challenge coins have a storied past in the military. While they date back to ancient Roman times, modern challenge coins were initially made famous during World War I. There are several versions, but the most widely accepted is about a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps who had custom medallions created for his squadron. He presented the bronze tokens to each member of the squadron. One of the pilots was captured by German soldiers after his damaged plane landed behind enemy lines. After eventually escaping from his German captors, the soldier was picked up by a French patrol. The French soldiers believed him to be a spy, and he was to be executed. However, a French soldier recognized his squadron medallion, and he was safely returned to American forces. The concept of challenge coins quickly grew across all branches of the military, ultimately paving the way for the Airman's coin.

Presenting an Air Force Coin

The Air Force challenge coin follows traditional challenge coin protocol. Awarding a coin is more than just simply handing it over. Challenge coins are to be treated with dignity and respect, not mailed or slid across a table. The Airman's Coin is passed from the presenter to the recipient through a strong and discreet handshake. The coin sits in the palm of the commander's hand and is transferred to the recipient during the handshake. This tradition isn’t just for Air Force challenge coins, either. Many military challenge coins are presented in the same manner, further adding to their allure and appeal.

The Air Force challenge coin used today is a bit different than its predecessors. The first version of the Airman's coin featured an eagle on the front of the coin. The eagle seems to claw its way out of the coin, while the words "Aerospace Power" can be found under the eagle. The back of the coin is host to a white star with a red dot in the middle. A pair of wings flank the star. The edge of the coin features the words of the Air Force's core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence In All We Do. The latest version of the Airman's coin features a new Air Force symbol instead of the eagle. For the Air Force's 60th anniversary, the Airman's coin features a unique anniversary design.

Once Airmen receive a challenge coin, they are to keep the coin with them at all times. They never know when a challenge might arise. The "challenge," or coin check, arises when anyone requests all other members present to produce their coins. For members who cannot immediately show their coin, they are to buy the challenger a drink. While the losing task can be anything, it commonly means buying drinks for the other members. However, if everyone has their coin, the one who initiated the challenge has to buy a round of drinks.

Beyond the First Coin

Aside from the Airman's coin, Airmen often receive other coins throughout their careers. These coins include those presented to them for any service deemed to be of merit. A collection of challenge coins often tells the story of an Airman's entire career and even can be passed down through generations.

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, creating designs representing their unit's personality and character. Coins represent excellence and significance, recognizing airmen who go above and beyond to serve their country. One particular coin is the "first salute" coin, is often presented to the first enlisted member to salute a newly commissioned officer. Other unique coins will be given to the Airman throughout their duty.

Challenge Coin Etiquette

As with many traditions, the Airman's coin comes with a list of rules that must be obeyed. These rules include: Explain 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. There are no exceptions to the rules. And, last but not least, you are responsible for replacing a lost coin as soon as possible. The Airman's coin is a great honor and a great responsibility. Those who abide by their rules understand the importance and privilege of receiving a coin.

The Airman's coin is an essential tradition for any member of the Air Force. The Airman's coin serves as a reminder that the soldier understands the full range of power and has finished training to employ or support these capabilities. As they rise in the ranks, Airmen will take pride in helping commanders choose the perfect design for coins. Here at ChallengeCoins4Less.com, we understand the importance and honor that challenge coins represent. If you are interested in finding out more about our challenge coins or want to design one of your own, it's easy. Just give us a call toll-free at 1 (855) 272-8451 or email us. We're here to help!

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty


Hello, I'm Jesse Daugherty, a music enthusiast, sports aficionado, and an avid supporter of the arts. I'm a writer and content creator. For the past 5 years, I've shared my knowledge of custom challenge coins and other promotional products, exploring their designs, meaning, and purpose.