HomeNewsArticle Display

Challenge coins: A tradition of excellence

The Airman’s coin signifies the beginning of an enlisted member’s career upon graduating basic military training. The original version of the Airman’s coin featured an eagle clawing its way out of the coin with the words “Aerospace Power” under it. The most recent coin replaced the eagle with the new Air Force symbol. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Deana Heitzman)

The Airman’s coin signifies the beginning of an enlisted member’s career upon graduating basic military training. The original version of the Airman’s coin featured an eagle clawing its way out of the coin with the words “Aerospace Power” under it. The most recent coin replaced the eagle with the new Air Force symbol. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Deana Heitzman)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AFNS) --

Throughout the time we spend in the military, we collect many things. Whether they are mementos, awards or habits, such items are kept to remember those special moments we never wish to forget. Challenge coins are an example of these memories, as they are a form of recognition of the hard work and excellence an individual has displayed.

From coins presented by the president, a chief master sergeant or a first sergeant, their value is determined by each individual, but the true history of the challenge coin dates back to World War I, when an American pilot was shot down and captured in Germany.

While escaping from the grasp of the Germans, the pilot made his way to France, where they believed he was a spy and sentenced him to be executed. To prove his identity and save his life, he revealed a bronze medallion with his flying squadron's emblem, confirming that he was an American pilot. The French spared his life and celebrated by giving him a bottle of wine instead.

After this incident, it became a tradition that all members of the squadron carried their medallion, sparking challenge coins to become a trademark for military tradition and pride.

One of the more sought-after coins for Air Force enlisted is the Airman's coin. After the long weeks of basic military training, the Airman's coin ceremony officially marks the transition from a "trainee" to an Airman.

"When I received my first coins for graduating both basic training and financial services apprentice school, it meant I was a part of something," said Lt. Col. Michelle Libbey, the 31st Comptroller Squadron commander.

"Receiving a coin is a sense of pride and a form of identification," said Libbey, who enlisted in 1996 and later commissioned in 2001.

While most service members proudly display their coins for others to see, some seek to always carry their most important coin in their pocket in the event of a “coin check.”

"Although coins have become less popular from when I joined the military, I still carry a coin in my pocket when I go to official functions," Libbey said. "Because if you do not have one, and someone else performs a coin check, you are responsible for buying everyone a round of refreshing beverages and that can get expensive."

The tradition of coin checking also began in Germany after World War I. American personnel who were stationed in Germany adopted the local ritual of "Pfennig" checks.

A Pfennig was the lowest denomination of German currency. If a service member did not have a Pfennig, they would have to buy the next round of drinks. This ritual carried over and became part of the challenge coin tradition.

Though the legacy of coin checking typically stayed within the enlisted ranks, Libbey explained how officers have their own traditions with challenge coins.

Known as a "first salute" coin or a "silver dollar" salute, a coin was presented to the first enlisted member who saluted the newly-commissioned officer. The 19th century phrase that encompassed this action was, "You have to buy your first salute and then earn every salute thereafter, through your performance and by gaining respect of your subordinates." This is to honor the enlisted personnel who help officers achieve their commission status.

"When I became a commander, creating a coin was one of the first things I wanted to do," Libbey said. "You want to have something that signifies excellence and to recognize the Airmen who are bringing more than average to the mission."

The challenge coin tradition that began in World War I exhibits commendable service, a lively legacy and supports unit morale across the Air Force. Although all coins are different, they tell a story for each recipient and give a personal touch on recognition.

"The tradition definitely started in the enlisted ranks, but they are no less important to me as an officer," Libbey said. "When I look at my coins, they are like a tapestry to me. They paint a picture of where I have been throughout the past 19 years and they represent the incredible people I have met."

Engage

Twitter
“I can help [#Airmen] and prepare them for the challenges they’ll face as NCO’s; everything I’ve encountered has pr… https://t.co/YT3x1UjGFU
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: A/SecAF Roth is speaking now on the future capabilities the Department requires to protect the Nation--including the Gro…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense is asking A/SecAF Roth about investments to modernize the @USAirForce
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s comments today while addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subc…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s comments today while addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subc…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s comments today while addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subc…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s comments today while addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subc…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth’s comments today while addressing the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subc…
Twitter
RT @Travis60AMW: An honor to host Ambassador Islam and show our aerial port in real time as #TeamTravis palletized and loaded critical supp…
Twitter
“We’re much stronger when partnering and working together. It’s a partnership and alliance that we need to continue… https://t.co/y7JxcTPlhK
Twitter
.@124FighterWing Tactical Air Control Party #Airmen participated in a field training exercise in Prairie, Idaho. Th… https://t.co/Eg9z61IICI
Twitter
24 students were selected for the inaugural #AimHigh Flight Academy hosted by @usaf_inspire. They will immerse into… https://t.co/2r4OuyxHRW
Twitter
RT @HQ_AFMC: With summer 🌞setting us up for great weather for outdoor activities, it's time to lace up those 👟and get ready to run! Check…
Twitter
“The relationship between the Senegalese and U.S. #AirForce is important in different ways, but especially the U.S.… https://t.co/JH5ZtD6Jwd
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: This is what partnership looks like 🤝 Hear @usairforce combat aviation advisors and their Kenya Air Force, @kdfinfo, pa…
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: 🚨🚨🚨#BTF News🚨🚨🚨 #B52 aircraft integrated with fighters from #Spain and #Portugal this week during a #BomberTaskForce miss…
Twitter
RT @AirNatlGuard: .@185ARW KC-135 aircrew refuel @48FighterWing F-15 Strike Eagle aircraft off the coast of Scotland during #FormidableShie
Twitter
“When I learned @Harvard offered a graduate-level Nuclear Deterrence Certificate and @AFGlobalStrike would pay for… https://t.co/X34oXHJwC9
Twitter
“We are working to modernize Joint Mission Planning System with a service-oriented architecture that will increase… https://t.co/z3NEpSrRC1
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,347,210
Follow Us