A military challenge coin is a small, circular metal piece with insignia for a specific unit. They are a sign of service members’ pride and solidarity.
There are many ways to earn a challenge coin, including being a member of an elite unit, achieving something spectacular, or meeting with a high-ranking officer. In addition to being a sign of pride, challenge coins are also used for a fun game called coin checking.
The history of military challenge coins is a fascinating and often-controversial story. The practice dates back to ancient Rome when special coins were handed to warriors to commend their bravery in combat. The coins typically featured a battalion’s symbol, encouraging most recipients to keep them. Over time, these coins became informal identification cards for members of their unit. They also exemplify the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood that defines military service.
Other reports place the emergence of the challenge coin tradition in World War I. One tale centers on a squadron pilot shot down and captured by German troops. The Germans removed all of the pilot’s personal belongings except for a small pouch that contained his stamped bronze medallion. Facing execution, the pilot presented the coin to his captors. Since it bore the squadron’s insignia, they delayed his execution and allowed him to return safely to his squadron.
After World War II, the challenge coin tradition continued to grow and expand, encompassing all branches of the military and even civilian organizations. The OSS, for example, frequently conducted secret missions inside enemy lines, and their operatives carried coins carrying their symbol as identity cards. These specialized coins often helped them avoid capture and continue their covert operations. It facilitated quick verification of their identities during personal meetings.
Many military members are proud of their service to their country and want to show it. One method is to display their challenge coins, little bronze medallions depicting their rank and unit. These coins are not just for military personnel; police officers, firefighters, and other first responders also use them to connect with others in their fields. The challenge coin is an essential part of military culture and carries with it certain etiquette.
For example, it’s polite only to challenge people who have their coins with you. It would be best not to challenge people who don’t have their coins because this could be perceived as unfair and affect your unit’s morale. It’s also polite to never leave your coin anywhere it might be lost, as this would be a breach of trust.
The best place to carry your coin is around your neck in a way that it’s visible. However, please don’t wear it like a bracelet or belt buckle, and ensure you always control it. You must receive your coin back if you drop it on a hard surface. Also, don’t let anyone borrow your coin, as this would be a breach of trust. If you decide to loan it out, be prepared to buy drinks for the person you’re giving it to.
If you’re a fan of military history or have been involved in the service at some point, you have probably seen the glint of that little piece of metal exchanged between members of an elite unit. Those are challenge coins.
Known for the close-knit bonds they build between their owners, these small medallions feature an organization’s insignia or emblem and serve to show membership and recognition within that group. They are also used to prove one’s identity as a member in situations that require heightened security and to obtain privileges such as reserved seating at special events or the first pick of rations. The tradition has even spread outside the military to police departments, firehouses, and schools.
Many stories abound regarding the origins of the challenge coin, but a popular account links it back to World War I.
Displaying your challenge coins is an easy way to share a piece of the military’s rich history and heritage with family and friends. You can purchase a challenge coin case or rack for a desktop or tabletop that holds multiple coins in a clear enclosure, with some cases even offering a section to display a folded American flag.
Military challenge coins are a way of showing pride and morale among members of the Armed Forces. They are frequently used to generate money for special events and are a fantastic method to promote collaboration and friendship. They also serve as a form of identification, a symbol of loyalty, and a reminder of the unit’s history and accomplishments.
Military challenge coins are thought to have originated during World War I.
Other challenge coin lore says that these coins were first used by Office of Strategic Services personnel deployed in Nazi-held France to prove their identity during meetings. They would check the coin for specific aspects, such as the type and date, to keep the meetings secret from Nazi infiltrators. Today, all branches of the armed services, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, utilize military challenge coins. Many units create unique coins featuring the unit’s insignia, motto, or other characteristics that identify them as a group. They have also been adopted by first responders, police departments, and even academic institutions.