US Coins

CCAC begins review of military medals designs

On Oct. 16, the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee reviewed proposed designs for two silver medals commemorating the United States Coast Guard and Air Force, during its meeting at U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The medals, part of a series commemorating the branches of the U.S. armed services, were designed in consultation with the Coast Guard and Air Force, whose representatives expressed their opinions on which designs best reflected their respective branch. 

The CCAC first tendered its recommendation for the Coast Guard medal. 

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Founded in 1790, the Coast Guard performs a wide variety of tasks on the ocean, from search and rescue to customs checks. The silver medal designs sought to portray the wide array of jobs undertaken by the Coast Guard, and its long history. Common themes included Coast Guard vessels, such as small, agile rapid response boats and the larger, more iconic cutters, the 18th century revenue cutters, and rescue operations being conducted on the high seas or at disaster sites. 

Erik Jansen, a member of the CCAC since 2011, explained that, in his view, the obverse and reverse of any medal should serve as a “noun and a verb”; in essence, one side of a medal should define what the medal is portraying or commemorating, and the other side should show a scene with some action representative of the medal’s subject. Many members of the CCAC agreed with this philosophy, and it seemed to influence the group’s expressions about the traits of the most worthy and effective designs, and how different obverse/reverse pairings work (or don’t) in concert with one another. 

Favoring an inclusive design for the obverse that effectively articulates the broad range of activities and services the Coast Guard provides, official Coast Guard liaisons to the CCAC supported adopting a proposal featuring a rapid response watercraft, a rescue helicopter, and the Portland Head Lighthouse. One of the oldest lighthouses in the United States and one of the first structures placed under the authority of the Coast Guard, Portland Head Lighthouse appeared on several of the proposed designs. 

For the reverse, the Coast Guard advocated two different designs, one featuring an early 19h century revenue cutter, one of the Coast Guard’s first vessels, the other portraying an icebreaker plowing through polar ice, a polar bear in the foreground. 

The CCAC went through a complex process selecting their design recommendations for the Coast Guard medal. Their initial vote elevated the obverse and reverse designs preferred by the Coast Guard. Members petitioned for a runoff, because the winning design beat the runner-up by only one vote. The second-place design featured a head-on view of a cutter speeding toward the viewer, sea spraying from the ship’s prow. 

However, CCAC members and Coast Guard liaisons expressed reservations about the second design, citing concerns about its exclusivity. The Coast Guard representatives wanted to ensure that the public would not get the impression that the cutter service was the primary or even sole function of the Coast Guard, and were also concerned also that Coast Guard members not in the cutter service would see their service as not represented. CCAC members worried that the design was too aggressive, and questioned whether depicting a specific ship (by number designation) was legal. 

The Coast Guard’s liaisons said that it was legal, and recommended using the number of the first ship in its class. 

The obverse featuring the speeding cutter ultimately won in the run-off, with its proponents citing its “exciting,” “powerful,” and “dynamic” design. The committee elected to keep the Coast Guard-recommended reverse of the 18th century vessel. 

Air Force medal

The Air Force silver medal designs were also reviewed and selected by the CCAC. Air Force representatives also weighed in on the merits of different designs. Liaisons said the Air Force liaisons wants its medal to reflect not only the branch’s history but its plans moving into the future, with an emphasis on unmanned aircraft and space exploration; diversity was also a theme important to the Air Force, representatives .said 

Most of the designs focused on the most obvious aspects of the Air Force’s work, with imaging of fighter jets, especially the new F-35, abounding on the proposed obverses and reverses. More terrestrial themes had their place, however, as multiple depictions of the U.S. Air Force Memorial were featured in proposed designs. Space exploration and militarization also featured prominently in some of the proposals. 

Liaisons for the Air Force favored an obverse design featuring a female pilot in the cockpit of her aircraft, her visor up, her eyes intently focused on a distant point. Two jets speed behind her in the medal’s background, with a rocket leaving the atmosphere above them. The design incorporated text reading U.S. AIR FORCE and a slogan developed by the Air Force for the medal, CRITICAL TO THE PAST, ESSENTIAL TO THE FUTURE. That motto would prove problematic as discussion of the designs opened up. When asked, the Air Force liaisons told the committee that a few Air Force officials had come up with the slogan while discussing the medal. Given that the phrase had no historic connection to the Air Force, the CCAC opted to replace it with the Air Force’s actual motto, “Service Before Self, Integrity First, Excellence in All that We Do.”

The Air Force recommended an earthbound theme for the reverse of the medal. The service’s recommended reverse features three members of the Air Force Honor Guard, standing at attention with the Air Force Memorial in the background. An inscription, SERVICE BEFORE SELF, INTEGRITY FIRST, EXCELLENCE IN ALL WE DO, wraps around the upPer portion of the design, and the Air Force logo occupies the bottom-right of the reverse, flanked by “Est. 1947,” when the Air Force was officially established as a branch of the armed forces. Though a branch of the armed forces specializing in flight and air combat has existed since 1907, it was initially a part of the Army. 

CCAC members expressed their approval at the presence of women in several of the proposed designs, but commented that the Air Force’s recommendation for the obverse was too busy, and that an obverse proposal that featured a possibly male portrait had more dynamic qualities. The CCAC’s preferred obverse features the head of fighter pilot in a cockpit, similar to the Air Force’s preferred design, but the pilot’s face is covered by a flight mask, and while the background also features two fighter jets, the jets are clearly rising, as the earth is visible beneath them. CCAC members felt that this second vignette was more dynamic and visually appealing, and mentioned that since this pilot’s face is obscured, a viewer would not be able to discern the subject’s gender. 

After the votes were tallied, the obverse with the masked pilot won with 10 votes, and the reverse preferred by the Air Force was approved with 12 votes. A resolution was also passed to remove “Critical to the past, essential to the future” from the obverse.

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