Military Challenge Coins
Challenge coins a trademark tradition for American military
Collecting coins or medallions bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem is quiet popular among the people serving in today’s military.
Coins are given to people who provide outstanding support. Coins prove membership in a unit or career field. Coins enhance morale.
Usually presented by high-ranking officers, it’s considered to be a great honor to receive a challenge coin.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Strang, 354th Communication Squadron photographer, said his favorite coin is the one he received from Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, Deputy Combined Forces Air Component commander, while deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
Sergeant Strang said he was working late after hours on a layout project for a major who called saying he wanted to make a few changes to a layout project Sergeant Strang was working on. He continued working on the project and making the changes when the major called again with even more changes.
After Sergeant Strang finished making the final round of changes, the major and a chief master sergeant came to see the layout and thanked him for his hard work.
"After they thanked me, the major said, ‘Jump in the vehicle, we want you to meet someone,’" Sergeant Strang explained.
"They drove me to the Combined Air Operations Center and the chief told me to wait while he went to get someone," he said. "All of the sudden, Maj. Gen. Allen Peck comes walking out and thanked me for all the hard work I’d been doing on the project."
General Peck then presented Sergeant Strang with a coin.
Moments such as this leave lasting impressions on those who receive challenge coins.
One of the most well-known challenge coins among enlisted Airmen is the one they receive upon graduation from basic military training.
In the event a trainee completes basic training and becomes an Airman, the Airman receives a coin marking the start of an Air Force career. The moment and can be very emotional for the service’s newest Airmen.
Many organizations and services claim to have been the originators of the challenge coin. However, the most commonly held view is that the tradition began in predecessor of the Air Force; the United States Army Air Corps.
During World War I, American volunteers from all across America filled the ranks of newly formed flying squadrons.
Legend has it that in one particular squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck in solid bronze and presented them to the men in his unit.
According to stories on several Web sites, one young pilot placed the medallion in a small leather pouch he wore around his neck. Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilots’ aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire and he was forced to land behind enemy lines. He was immediately captured by a German patrol.
That night, while being held captive in a small occupied French town, he took advantage of an artillery bombardment and escaped. However, he was without personal identification, which had been taken by the Germans.
He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and eventually reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man’s land and stumbled onto a French outpost.
Previously, saboteurs had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians. The French, not recognizing the young pilot’s American accent, thought him to be a saboteur and planned to execute him.
He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion to his French captors who recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough to confirm his identity.
Instead of shooting him they gave him a bottle of wine.
Back at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members carried their medallion, or coin, at all times.
Today, many service members proudly display their "coin collections" on a display rack, a show of the many accomplishments and achievements they have earned over the years. Every coin has a story or meaning behind it on either how it was earned.
However, the most valuable coin is most always the one kept on ones person in the event of a "coin check."
Coin checking is when someone initiates a challenge by holding up his or her coin and announces, "Coin Check!" then places the coin on a hard surface making an audible noise. Everyone within earshot must produce their coin; failing to do so will result in buying a round of drinks.
If someone accidentally drops a coin, this initiates the challenge automatically to anyone who sees or hears the coin hit the ground. They then have to produce a coin and the person who dropped the coin must buy a round of drinks.
Regardless of how they came about, how they are acquired and displayed or how they are used, the challenge coin is truly a part of today’s military tradition.
(Source: USAF, Article by Airman 1st Class Jonathan Snyder, 354th Communications Squadron)
Challenge Coin Rack Display
Challenge Coins are treasured and collected, and now they can be proudly displayed. Available in Cherry or Oak finishes. Includes black-on-brass engraving plate.
Holds approximately 30 coins
17″ long x 2 1/2″ deep
Army coin tradition sweeps into private sector
When Delsie Sharp received a "Commander’s Coin for Excellence," she had no idea she was part of an amazing national trend.
Sharp got the coin for her work as the receptionist for Los Angeles District’s Public Affairs Office. "I like this coin. It’s different – colorful," said Sharp. "Other coins are smaller and not as colorful. I’ll leave it hanging here by my desk in its holder."
Her coin from Brig. Gen. Larry Davis, commander of South Pacific Division, is two inches in diameter, made of bronze metal with red and white enamel trim. It is just one example of a tradition that has swept the uniformed services, engulfed other government agencies, and is now spreading to private corporations.
They have various names — "unit coins," "challenge coins," "honor coins." But whatever you call them, they have become the currency-of-choice for awards, identification pieces, and even (like stamps and baseball cards) collector’s items. Since the early 1980s, when a federal law first allowed wide discretion in designing government employees’ awards, coins have been palmed throughout all five military branches.
Although no one has an exact count of how many coins there are in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a quick glance at the collections in the Chief of Engineer’s office, or the Command Sergeant Major’s office, indicates that almost every Corps division, district, lab, or other major unit has its own coin.
More recently, civilian agencies and local governments have started distributing them to their members and employees. And just this year, private companies began embracing the idea. For example, Raytheon recently ordered a key-chain engraved with its Maverick Missile system.
Maurice Green, general manager of the Military Service Co., says his firm’s sales of coins have doubled in the past year.
From a handful in the Vietnam era, the number of coins has metastasized into tens of thousands. Probably every U.S. military unit now has one. Coins are minted for individual campaigns like the Persian Gulf War. Special groups like former POWs and veterans are commemorated in coins. Fire and police departments, rescue squads, Boy Scouts, fraternities, and defense contractors hand them out.
Most are made of antiqued bronze, but custom orders include antiqued silver, nickel- and gold-plated coins. Dozens of companies have entered the market. Many of them post their wares and prices on Web sites, but the military grapevine gets the word out on good deals and interesting designs.
The coin phenomenon has been common throughout history. Some trace its roots to ancient Rome whose soldiers sometimes received coins for gallantry. Another theory is that, in 17th century Britain, metal buttons embossed with distinctive designs were used in trade as equivalents to money.
In the early days of America, the U.S. Mint struck "peace coins" bearing the likeness of the president on one side and symbols of peace and friendship on the other. These medals were given to important leaders at treaty signings and other events. The Lewis and Clark expedition carried a supply of "Indian Peace Medals" bearing the portrait of Thomas Jefferson for presentation to important Native American chiefs.
Yet another tale suggests that a wealthy World War I American aviator had bronze medallions cast for the men in his squadron. A World War II version has G.I.s receiving coins when they mustered out.
Coinage history declares that the modern manifestation started in the early 1960s in Vietnam with the Green Berets. According to an article in Soldier’s magazine, "A member of the 11th Special Forces Group took old coins, had them over-stamped with a different emblem, then presented them to unit members…A former commander of the 10th SFG picked up on the idea, becoming the first to mint a unit coin for a U.S. military unit. The 10th Group remained the only Army unit with its own coin until the mid-1980s."
Then coins began to rain like, well, pennies from heaven. From elite units, the coin custom filtered throughout the whole Army, then into the other armed forces, and in the 1990s the ritual became a tradition.
Today the coins serve as "attaboys" to reward jobs well done which don’t quite qualify for a medal or extra money. As they’ve proliferated, commercialization has led to some abuses, including overspending and counterfeiting.
In 2000, reported the Wall Street Journal, the Army proposed that only colonels and generals could hand out coins. But an outcry from soldiers worldwide quashed the idea. The Journal quoted Lt. Col. Paul Mittelstaedt, "If the Army is so worried about the money spent on coins, buy one less M-1 tank or B-2 bomber and fund the coin program for the next 10 years."
Coins will be around for a lot longer than that. Said Sgt. Joel Welsh on the www.militarycoins.com Web site, "For years after I’m out of the service, paperwork, awards, and certificates of achievement will have long been lost. But coins will remain, with all the pride and symbolism that they hold. They will be a constant reminder of all the personal pride and hard work that I’ve put into my career."
(Source: U.S. Army, Article by Mike Tharp)
11 Row Challenge Coin Rack Display
Challenge Coins are treasured and collected, and now they can be proudly displayed. Available in Cherry finish. Includes colored medallion disk and black-on-brass engraving plate. Holds approximately 110 coins.
OD: 16″ x 9″ x 2 1/2″