The Legacy of the Challenge Coin

The history of the Challenge Coin dates back over a century but the coins themselves have evolved into a variety of forms and sizes. These coins are most popular among military personnel but they are also used amongst other civilian organizations and groups. In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about these treasured coins. 


What is a Challenge Coin? 

A challenge coin is a large coin or small medallion that displays an organization’s insignia or emblem. Traditionally, they are carried by members of an organization or given to non-members in recognition of service or contribution to the organization. Challenge coins help maintain a branded bond or connection within a specific group. The modern challenge coin doesn’t always take the shape of a traditional coin. In fact, many are made in a variety of shapes and sizes and can include popular culture references to sports teams, superheroes, and other well-known franchises. 

What Does a Challenge Coin Represent? 

Typically the coin represents membership, status, achievement, or service within an organization. This tradition dates back to the Roman Empire where soldiers would be presented with special coins to recognize their achievements. During the Renaissance era, coins were also used to honor historic events involving royalty and nobility. Medallions would be given as gifts or awards, and people also exchanged them with friends and associates.  


A challenge coin can also represent compassion and support for veterans. Some combat veterans suffer from PTS, depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. Offering a challenge coin to a veteran who is struggling can show that they’re not alone and that they always have someone they can turn to. The impact of this small gesture is incredibly powerful. 


How Are Military Challenge Coins Acquired? 

Challenge coins have been a part of U.S. military history for more than a century, but their production and use increased dramatically in the second half of the 20th century. During the Vietnam War, challenge coins saw a surge in popularity among special forces units, which quickly spread throughout the U.S. military.  


Today there are thousands of types of coins representing different service branches, individual units, specific missions, special groups, and more. When presented in recognition of special achievement, the coin is typically passed by a handshake between the unit commander and a member of the unit. When a member of the armed services receives the Medal of Honor they are also given a personalized challenge coin. These are some of the rarest challenge coins. 


Why Are They Called “Challenge” Coins? 

A coin challenge is a morale-boosting activity among members of a common organization. The purpose of a challenge is to confirm that members are carrying their organization or unit’s coin. The rules of a challenge vary between organizations. The act of challenging is called a “Coin Check” and is usually loudly announced. A challenge can be initiated at any time and begins by a challenger placing their coin a table, counter, or bar. The challenger may also initiate a challenge by knocking their coin on a hard surface. “Accidentally” dropping your coin can also be seen as an intentional challenge.  


Once the challenge has begun, those challenged must respond by quickly displaying their coins. Anyone who fails to do so loses and traditionally buys a round of drinks for the challenger and everyone else who presented their coin. However, if everyone is able to show their coin, the challenger buys a round of drinks for everyone. The only exception to this final rule is if the challenger presents a Medal of Honor challenge coin.


Are Challenge Coins Only For Military Personnel? 

Challenge coins are not only for military personnel. Coins can be shared between organizations like scouts, professional sports teams, universities, charities, and other special interest groups. They are also incredibly popular with police departmentsfire departments, and other first responders. 


Make sure you’re ready when a challenge is initiated. You can help the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation continue educating our community and preserving the legacy of our heroes with a charitable donation to the foundation. If you’re up for the challenge, please visit our donation page today.

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