The coin ceremony in the Air Force is the momentous transition point when a bmt trainee becomes an airman. It’s held on a Thursday, one of the last few days of basic training, right before graduation and being able to go off base. The basic training flight is gathered together in a ceremonious fashion and presented with their airman’s coin.

The airman’s coin represents that symbolic transitions from a trainee to an airman in the U.S. Air Force.

The coin ceremony is also one of the first times in months you’ll be able to see your family at Lackland Air Force Base. Family is all in attendance to see their son or daughter receive an airman’s coin, and become a proud member of the Air Force ranks.

You’ll stand in formation throughout the entirety of the coin ceremony. The basic training band flight will play music, there’s a speech given, you’ll be presented one by one with an airman’s coin, and wait to be tapped out and released to your family.

The airman’s coin will be the first of many challenge coins you’ll receive throughout your years in the Air Force, and undoubtedly one of the most important.

When Did The Airman’s Coin Start?

Not all airmen received an airman’s coin. Many members who are currently near retirement went without receiving an airman’s coin at their Air Force graduation.

The tradition of the coin didn’t start until late 1999. Since then the Air Force coin ceremony became a part of the graduating weekend activities marking the symbolic transition of becoming an airman.

The airman’s coin is currently in its second iteration.

When the original challenge coin was first made, an eagle could be seen ripping through the surface with the saying “aerospace power” underneath it. Now the airman’s coin has the Air Force logo instead of the original versions eagle.

The airman’s coin may be relatively young, but the history of Air Force challenge coins goes far back beyond that. It’s unclear when they were first introduced, stories have been spun from multiple wars, world war I and the Vietnam war.

The airman’s coin is only one of many Air Force coins. All coins are referred to as challenge coins.

How Do You Get Challenge Coins?

Getting coined in the Air Force can happen a few different ways. The first time will be at the basic training coin ceremony, anytime after that will largely depend on the circumstance.

Hard work in the military often gets noticed and rewarded. Most times when an award is received in front of the squadron, a challenge coin is also handed out by the squadron commander. Going above and beyond what is expected of you is a great way to receive an Air Force challenge coin.

Its typical from time to time for the squadron commander or other military leaders to show face and take tours around base handing out coins along the way. Expect to have small talk with these leaders, being asked questions about your Air force job, and other things to assess the work environment/issues.

Also, custom challenge coins frequently get made by airmen while on deployment. The coins will be specific to an Air Force job or command structure and the deployed location. You’re guaranteed to find them there, almost everyone comes back with some. The flight you work in will make one, the squadron you’re a part of will have its own coin, plus the deployed base commander will have a seperate one.

The custom challenge coins flights make tend to be some of the best ones you’ll come across. By far one of the popular ones to make is a challenge coin bottle opener.

If earning them wasn’t enough you can buy them too. There is a coin for each Air Force rank, so many people buy and collect a challenge coin for every rank they tack on.

Over time it’s easy to aquire many Air Force coins, to the point that you’ll get a display case to hold them all. Many high ranking career airmen show off their challenge coin display stand by putting it on their desk.

How To Accept A Challenge Coin

The correct way to accept a challenge coin will be different depending on whether its given by an officer, enlisted member, or at the basic training coin ceremony.

How to accept a challenge coin in the basic training coin ceremony is pretty structured and precise.

At the airman’s coin ceremony you’re formed up with the rest of your flight standing in parade rest with your hands behind your back. When the enlisted rank instructor handing out coins reaches you, snap to attention with your feet together and hands firmly planted at your sides. Bring your left palm out for the instructor to place the airman’s coin in your hand, and shake hands using your right hand moments later. Position yourself back to attention with hands at your side, this allows you to discreetly place your airman’s coin quickly in your pocket or keep it held. When the basic training instructor moves to the next person return to parade rest with your stance open and arms behind your back.

How to accept a challenge coin from an officer or enlisted airmen is similar with only slight variations.

When you’re accepting a challenge coin, most of the time its at some sort of function. Which means you’ll be called up to a stage or focal point and stand at parade rest with your hands behind your back until it’s time to receive the coin. When you’re approached to receive your Air Force coin snap to attention with your hands planted at your side and feet together. Usually the coin is passed to you inside a hand shake a moment later.

If an enlisted member is giving you the coin simply receive it in the hand shake and return to the position of attention. When needed perform an about face to turn and walk away.

If an officer is giving you the coin receive it in the hand shake and right after quickly move the coin into your left hand so your right hand is free to salute the officer. Salute using your right hand then return to the position of attention.

After all that, you’re the proud owner of a new Air Force coin.

Coin Check

“What is a coin check?” you ask. A coin check is something that is bound to happen.

When someone pulls out an Air Force coin from their pocket and says “coin check” to you, one of two things will happen. If you don’t have a coin to show in return, that means you have to buy the next round of drinks. If you do have a coin to show, the person who initiated the coin check has to buy the next round of drinks.

So it’s important to always keep an Air Force coin on you at all times. Whether it’s your airman’s coin or any other challenge coin. Coin checks are Air Force wide, it doesn’t matter what job you have. So expect to be coin checked, cause people in the Air Force enjoy their drink.

To Wrap It Up

The coin ceremony in the Air Force is that defining moment of basic training when you’re called an airman and receive your airman’s coin. The first of many challenge coins to come.

Now you know how to get and accept Air Force coins, and even get a free drink. Would you coin check your fellow airmen?

Corey Porter

Corey Porter

Air Force Veteran

Corey is an Air Force veteran and the lead writer at Basic to Blues. He refueled fighter jets as a young airman and deployed twice to the Middle East. Now Corey can be found hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

Who the hell… POL!

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