Challenge Coins: From Military to Mainstream
Legend has it that challenge coins – custom-designed coins or medallions bearing an organization’s identifying marks – first came about during World War I when a wealthy lieutenant from a flying squadron ordered some for his unit. One of his airman’s lives was allegedly spared because the downed pilot was able to prove his Allied allegiance to his French captors by producing the coin from a pouch around his neck.
Nowadays, challenge coins are used for far more than just identification purposes. They also serve as a morale builder, a way to honor an individual or as a memento to commemorate a special occasion or event. While challenge coins are most commonly associated with the U.S. military, they also are popular with professional sporting organizations, fraternal organizations and increasingly with police and fire departments. Even members of Congress and the Commander in Chief have their own coins, which they selectively dole out to constituents. When presented as an award, the giver traditionally passes the coin to the recipient during a handshake.
What is the “challenge” about the coin? Within the military, it is customary for coin owners to keep them on their person at all times. If suddenly challenged to produce the coin by someone within the same unit – a so-called “coin check” – the owner must present it or risk having to buy a drink or round of drinks for the challenger and anyone else who produces a coin. If everyone happens to produce their coins, then the challenger has to buy all of them a round of drinks. Exact rules vary by Service, but in most cases, those who are challenged have a limited number of steps they can take to produce the coin, and they cannot hang it on their key chain or belt buckle.
Not all challenge coin owners engage in drinking games. Many are simple collectors who amass hundreds of them over the course of their lifetimes and enjoy the personal stories associated with each of them.
Challenge coins are frequently exchanged at the World Police & Fire Games and commemorative Games coins are on sale online now and will be available for purchase at the Games themselves. To order yours today, visit http://adrenalinechallengecoins.com/2015-wpfg.html
“The Stories Behind Military Challenge Coins,” USO Blog, March 15, 2015.
“Challenge Coin History and Rules of the Coin,” Goat Locker.
“Challenge Coin,” Wikipedia.