What Are Military Challenge Coins? Award or Representation?
President Barack Obama giving a presidential challenge coin at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California in 2014.Credit...Brendan SmialowskiAgence France-Presse Getty Images

If this is the first time you’re hearing about military challenge coins for the first time, you’re not alone. Many people around the world are unaware of this small coin or medallion and the significant meaning behind it. Whilst today challenge coins are increasingly more common, in the past, it was reserved for awarding to military personnel for their actions.

Along with holding a prominent place in various military organizations around the world, challenge coins are now also common in civilian organizations. It represents from which organization you belong, so it is used both as an award and as a symbol. But now, let’s cut to the chase and discuss this small but valuable coin in detail!

What are Challenge Coins?

Challenge coins are medallions or tokens that come in varied sizes and shapes. In a nutshell, it is specially designed coins given to the members of organizations that indicate that a person is a member of said organization.

Typically, the coin contains a representational picture or emblem of the organization, and the motto can be carved on the surface of the coin if applicable. It is often coated with a layer of enamel the colour of which may vary from organization to organization.

Amongst the military, it is often given as a symbol of honour to troops and awarded to increase the morale of military personnel. Alongside the military, other law enforcement agencies like police and firefighters also accord this coin to their service providers. As well as the military, organizations like NASCAR, NFL, civil air patrol, and others have their own challenge coins.

A Brief History of the Challenge Coin

The history of the challenge coin is not exactly clear; there are varying stories that tell us about its origin. Some people believe that it was introduced in the First World War, while others accept that it’s origins go back much further and that its roots lie in the times when it was unofficially awarded to he soldiers of Ancient Rome. Back then, Roman soldiers were awarded the coins along with their regular payoff if they performed well on the battlefield as an appreciation or reward.

Another version of the story tells us that in the First World War, a well-off commander of the United States presented the bronze medallion to the newly recruited pilots. One such young pilot of America used to keep this coin in the leather pouch. Later on, he was captured by the Germans during the War. They took off all the items from him except this leather bag. He then successfully escaped from the imprisonment of Germans and entered France. Here he was arrested and was considered a spy before showing his medallion to prove his identity as an American pilot.

Many other stories say that the challenge coin came about during the Second World War or the Vietnam war. Whatever the origin of this symbol of identity that is the military challenge coin, its importance and uses in military and non-military services can not be denied.

What do Challenge Coins Look Like?

The challenge coins are of varied size, shape, colour, and design. You can easily hold this coin in the palm of your hand. On average, the circle or sphere shape coins are available in 1.5 to 2 inches diameter, but few manufacturers can also make 9-inch custom challenge coins.

The customized coins are made from different metals like copper, zinc, pewter, bronze, brass, nickel. Gold plated and silver-made challenge coins are also available in the market. Dual plating and 3D moulding is the recently introduced way of representing the symbols of vehicles in the coin that is now a widely offered choice.

What are the different types of challenge coins?

These days, the challenge medallion or coin is no longer restricted to military organizations. Many law enforcement agencies also give these types of coins to their staff, so that their members can prove their identity through this coin. Unlike in times gone by, the challenge coin now has several types such as the following:

Military Challenge Coin

In the military, many units have their own coin. This small metal coin represents the belonging of the soldier to different military branches. It is awarded to military personnel to admire the bravery of the soldier. In the military, the person with a large collection of coins feels pride and many soldiers aim to collect the most number of medallions.

Challenge Coins of Law Enforcement Agencies

The most common Law enforcement agencies who give this coin to the unit members are police and firefighters. Police and firefighters who work in extreme danger and put their lives at stake to protect the public, their exemplary deeds are often rewarded with an honorary coin.

Non-military coins

Along with law enforcement and military challenge coins are the corporate coins. This type of challenge coin is awarded in civilian life, often in places such as universities and coins of this type are classed under non-military medallions.

What are the uses of Challenge coins?

The purpose of using challenge coins may vary. Some organizations give it to their staff to boost the morale of their team, sometimes it is awarded in the honor of some outstanding service while others use it for recognition. As almost every unit in the forces owns a different coin, these custom military coins are designed based on the service they are offering.

And so, wrapping up this article on military challenge coins and various other types: Challenge coins or medallions are given to the members of an organization to confirm their membership. It is awarded in the military agency in honour of beyond the call duty or bravery. It is made from silver, brass, or other metals.

Featured image: President Barack Obama giving a presidential challenge coin at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California in 2014.Credit: Brendan Smialowski Agence France-Presse Getty Images