Air Force Basic Training Coin Ceremony

The Symbolic Transition From Trainee to Airman

Air Force Basic Training Coin Ceremony

United States Air Force

On Thursday of graduation week from Air Force Basic Military Training, a special ceremony is held to mark the transition from trainee to airman. At the Airman's coin ceremony, which many airmen consider to be one of the most significant events of their careers, each trainee receives a coin that designates the end of their training period. Some of the coins are for special recognition. 

Air Force Coin Ceremony

Friends and family are invited to attend this ceremony. Details about time and place of the coin ceremony will be available at the reception center, and in the graduation notice that is sent to them a couple of weeks before your scheduled graduation. The ceremony lasts about 30 minutes and is usually presided over by the Air Force Basic Training commanding officer.

Military Coin History and Background

Military coins, whether commander’s coins, challenge coins, or unit and squadron coins, have become increasingly popular throughout all branches of the armed services.

Stories of where the custom originated vary widely. One of the most accepted stories traces it to World War I when a wealthy lieutenant had bronze unit medallions struck for his squadron.

As the story goes, a squadron pilot who was shot down and captured behind German lines ended up with nothing but that medallion to identify himself after his escape.

Ultimately, the identifying coin ended up saving him from being executed by the French as a spy. There are other, similar stories of the origin of the military coin, most of them concerning a challenge, where the coin is used for identification purposes. 

Challenge Coins 

The squadron’s tradition of medallion or coin carrying continued, with “challenges” regularly made to ensure all members had theirs handy. A unit member who couldn’t quickly produce the medallion when challenged had to buy the challenger a drink.

But if the medallion was on hand, the challenger had to buy. Over the years, some units have continued this tradition. But more commonly, military coins have become a symbol of affiliation that’s used to boost morale, foster esprit de corps, and honor service.

Different Air Force Coins

The Airman’s coin originally had an image of an eagle clawing its way "off" the coin's surface. A more recent rendition shows the Air Force symbol instead of the eagle. 

While the first and most meaningful coin is given at graduation, airmen may receive other coins throughout their military careers, including those presented to them by a first sergeant, chief master sergeant or even the president for valor and meritorious service.