There’s a long history of the military challenge coin, considered a significant token of respect and admiration.
As a new U.S. Air Force brigadier general, Bedford resident Michael McGinley ordered a coin with his unique design. On the standard side is the single star with wings attached. On the personal side is the Bedford Flag, which he said symbolizes “a spirit of resilience and patriotism.”
McGinley was formally promoted in a one-hour ceremony on Thursday afternoon in The Great Room of Old Town Hall, attended by more than 100 military and business friends and colleagues, along with family members and town officials.
McGinley, 47, is the mobilization assistant to the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, OH. He is also an account executive with Google. He told the assembly that as a member of the Air Force Reserve, it is important “to engage the community.”
Major Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the AFRL, presented McGinley as “a citizen-soldier” who throughout his career has blended successful military and civilian leadership and family life.
“Destiny drove him to the Air Force,” Cain said, noting that a vision issue thwarted McGinley’s path to a U.S. Naval Academy appointment some 30 years ago.
McGinley received an undergraduate degree in business administration in 1998 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. During an interview on Wednesday, he recounted a suggestion that literally changed his life.
Visiting the campus for the first time with his father, who is a Marine Corps veteran, they spotted a table staffed by the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“My father said, ‘Why don’t you go talk to the Air Force folks?’ They sure were smooth talkers – “I said I’d give it a shot.”
The ROTC experience was “powerful,” McGinley said. “The educational and leadership opportunities were second to none.”
As a senior, he led the UNC Corps of Cadets. The program also sent him to Japan for a month. And the Air Force paid for four years of college education, including a semester in the Netherlands.
After McGinley received his commission in 1998, he began his obligatory four years of active duty at Hanscom Air Force Base.
Over the next two decades, he said, “I’ve been a force modernization officer, an acquisition officer, a cyber officer, a legislative liaison,” he recounted.
At every assignment, Cain said from the Old Town Hall stage, McGinley told the same story, “Achieving the most, learning the most.”
He later earned a master’s degree in public administration at Auburn University and a juris doctor from Georgetown University School of Law.
“The military puts a strong emphasis on personal and professional development,” he said.
As a training commander at Maxwell AFB, AL, he told the attendees on Thursday, he broke the news to students about the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. “They would be lieutenants commissioned in a time of war,” he related.
Cain said McGinley told him that preparing officers was his proudest moment. “He is passionate about talent and people and he brought them in,” the director said, “the hallmark of his career.”
McGinley also served as the innovation advisor in the office of the Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, and led an advanced cyber technology team at U.S. Cyber Command.
McGinley was working as an attorney and residing with his family in the summer of 2016 when he was recruited to return to active duty and launch a Defense Innovation Unit branch in Cambridge. He was promoted to colonel and continued as director until October 2020.
The family resided at Hanscom until moving to Bedford in 2019. McGinley’s wife Sarah was named the first Bedford School Committee member representing military families early in 2022. In March 2023, she was elected to the School Committee as a voting member.
After a little over a year on assignment at the Pentagon, McGinley was assigned to his current position at AFRL. Cain called him “a phenomenal asset,” whose skillset reflected “the perfect blend for what we needed.”
At the AFRL, according to an announcement from the Air Force, McGinley “plays a key role in directing the Air Force’s $3 billion science, technology, and innovation enterprise and an additional $3 billion in externally funded research and development across a 6,000-member workforce, pushing the boundaries of modern technology for warfighter needs.”
He also created and leads the Department of Defense’s first artificial intelligence-driven talent operations platform called the GigEagle Agile Talent Ecosystem Initiative. It uses data-driven capabilities of artificial intelligence to identify professional talent.
The ceremonial components on Thursday reflected the military-community synthesis McGinley and Cain referenced. Several active and retired Air Force generals entered to “Ruffles and Flourishes,” followed by the prescribed honors music “The Generals March.”
Comprising the three-member color guard were Bedford first responders. Staff Sgt. Zaria Beckford of the 66th Medical Squadron at Hanscom, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as she did at a home game in Gillette Stadium a few months ago. Chaplain Robert Henry delivered a rhyming invocation.
Sarah McGinley and their three children pinned the general’s star to his uniform. Their oldest daughter Elle, a fourth grader at Lane School, introduced her father from the podium as “a tall, brave, kind, and gentle human being.”
Sarah McGinley’s School Committee colleague Brad Morrison was among the guests, as was former member Ann Guay, Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang, Select Board member Paul Mortenson, Finance Committee member Philip Prince, and Fire Department Capt. Brian Oates.
Among the military VIPs were Col. Taona Enriquez, commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Hanscom, and the base command chief, Chief Master Sgt. Alan Weary. Among the family members present were McGinley’s father and his wife’s 94-year-old grandfather, both Marine veterans.
During an interview on Wednesday, McGinley remarked, “What I absolutely love is being part of a community like Bedford where people look out for each other. That’s something you don’t get everywhere.”