Challenge coins are a time-honored tradition in the military and across all branches. However, many people are still unsure about the challenge coin tradition. Civilians and people with no family members in the military are often unfamiliar with challenge coins. While well-known throughout the military and by many firefighters and law enforcement departments, these small tokens are presented for a job well done. For servicemen and women, a challenge coin carries meaning and value. For the rest of us, it's a custom that is shrouded in mystery. Today we take a closer look at military challenge coins and answer some of the most commonly asked questions.
How did challenge coins originate?
The origins of the modern challenge coin and those commonly associated with active-duty soldiers dates back to World War I. However, challenge coins have been an honor and tradition since ancient Roman times when they were presented to soldiers for their outstanding duty on the battlefield. They were presented as a unique token included with the day's pay. The modern coins we know today started when a wealthy lieutenant gave custom bronze coins to his soldiers. The French military captured one of those servicemen, who mistook him as a German spy. After he presented his coin to his captors, one recognized the logo in the design, proving himself to be an alley and not an enemy as they believed.
How are challenge coins used today?
These days challenge coins are commonly presented to military members and throughout police and fire departments. They are typically used to commemorate one's pledge to serve their country, though they are also offered as awards for missions accomplished and remarkable achievements. Soldiers who have served many years will possess a collection of many different challenge coins. Each coin represents a particular honor or milestone throughout their career. All military branches have challenge coins of their own, and so does the President.
Who was the first President with a challenge coin?
The presidential challenge coin is a relatively new item. The traditional presidential challenge coin first began with President Bill Clinton. Each president after him has had their own unique coins. Vice President Dick Cheney was the first Vice President to have a uniquely designed coin, though Vice President Joe Biden had three different varieties of challenge coins. Presidents and Vice Presidents typically save their challenge coins for members of the armed forces and supporters, though honorees also include foreign dignitaries and the family members of soldiers.
What is a "Coin Check"?
A "coin check" is the challenge aspect of the challenge coin. This common practice between battalions and departments occurs when an officer declares, "Coin check!" All practicing members in attendance must present their respective coins on the spot. The last one to show their coin has to buy the others a round of drinks. The coin checks are popular among Veterans and active-duty members of the military. Although it's a custom taken in fun, groups of men and women who have served take it quite seriously. Owning a challenge coin is an honor that is displayed with pride.
Can civilians take part in the tradition?
While it's not customary for civilians to trade military challenge coins, it has happened before. Generally, military challenge coins are a tradition that is kept private. It is possible for military members to "gift" the coins to non-military members, but this practice is reserved for special occasions. There are variations of commemorative coins that are given to civilians. They may be presented to honorary civilian recipients, boasting a similar look, though without the traditional meaning or details.
Where can I find out more about challenge coins?
If you want to find out more about military challenge coins, you can find out more on our site and through our blog. There are also several sources online to read up on challenge coins and learn more about their role in the military.
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