Also known as a “challenge coin,” a military coin is a medallion which bears an organization’s insignia or emblem and is carried by each and every member of an organization. One organization with an old tradition of carrying military coins is the US Armed Force whose members carry military coins as symbols of group identity and brotherhood. The coins usually bear unique squadron symbols or statements which are given, exchanged and passed between unit members. Coins for the US Armed Force capture the spirit of affiliation in the army and instill pride to the men that have them.
Another traditional use for the coin in the early 1980’s was the practice of awarding a unit coin for acts that were worthy of recognition but lack enough merit to be awarded with an official medal. Recognition of visits to an organization also involves the use of a coin. There are some cases, however, wherein military coins are granted to non-military personnel for outstanding service which was the case for a student at Northeastern University.
Some accounts say that challenge pieces were not very common until the first Persian Gulf War while some say the pieces have been used as early as the First World War. What can be agreed on, however, is the steady growth in popularity of the coin. Over the years, the use of pieces has moved beyond the military grounds and is now found in various domains. The tradition of using coins to commemorate is seen in industries and groups including but not limited to corporate, sports, navy, air force, and embassy.
Even schools have a use for the military coins which are granted to sports team members, class monitors and many more. A challenge coin at school is used to depict a role or designation such as being a member of a sport team. On the other hand, corporate use of a challenge coin involves exchanges of pieces between clients which create a relation or a bond. In some cases, coins are used as a reward for excellent performance by an employee. A military coin has a more traditional use in the modern day Navy which includes giving out pieces to officers and cadets to represent their designation and also to reward an act of bravery in service. The use of coins has infiltrated even the political world which makes use of the pieces during official meets of different embassies. The President has a different use for the coin which he reserves for special occasions, military personnel, or foreign dignitaries. There is also a coin that commemorates a President’s administration. But the rarest and most sought after coin can only be received by shaking the hand of the most powerful man in the world.
Presidents known to practice giving out pieces are George W. Bush who reserved his coins for injured soldiers coming back from the Middle East and Barack Obama who hands pieces out often, even to the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who man the stairs of Air Force One.
Today, the reputation of military coins continues to grow and evolve into more than just emblems of representation for the military. Pieces are traded among active, civilian, and alumni military members within government organizations. Pieces are still customarily used as a gift to important people and special guests as an expression of “welcome” and a sign of respect. The tradition has also spread to other countries like Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Military coins given as awards to recognize accomplishments are normally given to the recipients via a handshake from the right hand of the givers to the right hand of the awardees.