With traditions going back to World War II, the challenge coin is a staple of military service today. Conceptual origins date back as far as the Civil War when service members would carry a coin from their home town as they deployed. During World War II, with service members deployed overseas, the coin became not local currency, but representative of the units that men were a part of.
Unit pride is built on many foundations. Morale and esprit de corps, once instilled, is fostered and encouraged to grow through unit functions and activities. Unit coins serve a role in this. Kept as a tangible reminder of the organization a service member served with, it can become an example of sincere pride and esteem.
The coin itself is immaterial, but the history and pride that it represents means everything to the holder. Sometimes coins are provided by the unit to members for successful completion of activities such as best live fire iteration, or graduating on the commandant’s list from a NCOES school. In this way, a coin can mean something specific. Other times it may be issued by a senior leader such as a Brigade command team or general level officer to an individual. These coins, instead of just demonstrating the organizational unit, may reflect the rank of the issuing officer.
The challenge coin can be displayed in many ways. Collectors often purchase challenge coin holders and display them on their desk or wall. Some service members choose to carry them in pockets or wallets. Traditionally they were pulled out to challenge peers while out drinking. A member who did not have their challenge coin with them would be responsible for buying the next round. As coins became more common, those carrying them did too.
During the Vietnam war, unit coins became more common. Special forces groups started the trend. As the World War II divisions drew down and smaller units became more common, their individualized coins grew as well. Whether it be an actual coin, or some unit-based memorabilia, what mattered is the pride the person carrying it felt. Many people were known to carry cigarette lighters with unit images on it.
Yesterday’s traditions are still alive and well today. Although coin checks are not as commonly seen, they still occur. Competitions for who carries the coin from the most senior ranking officer or the best unit demonstrate the continued pride that those who carry the coins have. Even years after departing a unit, coins bring back memories of quality organizations, people, and shared experiences.
It is important to remember the many traditions within the military. They serve to connect us to those who came before and to remind us of the pride and comradery we found in the units we served with. Of the many little traditions still present in the military, the continued use of the challenge coin is one of the most prevalent.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.