Posted on Nov 7, 2019 by Jesse Daugherty
Challenge coins have long been a staple of the United States military. These coins date back more than 100 years to the Army Air Service in World War I. Since those times, they have remained a treasured part of military life.
The origin story of challenge coins starts with a wealthy lieutenant who had custom coins struck for all the members of his squad. The story is that a member of the squad was shot down and captured behind enemy lines. However, the airman escaped, making his way to French-occupied territory, where he still faced grave danger.
Having been stripped of his identification by his captors, and unable to speak French, the airmen was considered a German Spy. French troops prepared to execute the soldier, however, he was able to produce his challenge coin. Upon realizing he was an ally, the French forces safely returned him to his squad.
Thus the legend of the military challenge coin began. Military coins became an iconic part of Army service, as well as other branches of the U.S. Military.
With substantial lore behind them, the coins are now more popular than ever. From the Pentagon to the newest recruit, custom challenge coins are a cherished part of the Army life. Challenge coins have rather strict requirements.
Tradition holds that those who possess a challenge coin must keep it within one and a half steps of their reach at all times, with no exceptions. If you are more than a step and a half from your coin, you lose, and the next round at the bar is on you. A challenger can issue a challenge to other members of the group to show their coins at any time. The person or persons who are unable to produce a coin when challenged must by the next round of drinks.
Military coins are typically designed for specific units, squads, teams, or for missions. From Germany to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world, challenge coins can increase unit cohesiveness and camaraderie. These unique coins serve as a bond with fellow soldiers. In recent years the Army has introduced challenge coins for new recruits as well. These coins are meant to reinforce seven Army core values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.
From their Army origins, challenge coins have expanded in all other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Even public safety agencies such as fire and police departments and emergency medical services have created their own traditions as well. Military coins have become such an established part of pop culture that you can see them on television and in movies as well.
Nowadays, even private organizations, including clubs and businesses, have introduced their own custom challenge coins. Challenge coins and their importance have come a long way from their origins a century ago.
From World War I to the present, challenge coins hold an honored place in military tradition and life.