what is a challenge coin

What Is a Challenge Coin? Understanding the Military Tradition

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Not all coins can be spent.

If you’ve ever been around a lot of military people, chances are you’ve heard of challenge coins. But like most things in the military, nothing is really explained. So you probably asked yourself, “what is a challenge coin?”

The coins can represent a lot of things, and they have a lot of history. Today, members of the armed forces may carry them around to represent a feat they’ve accomplished. They may also indicate a person’s membership in an organization. Some high-ranking members of the military even exchange and collect them.

Keep reading below to learn more about this obscure military tradition!

It all Began in World War I

While it has never been definitively proven, the tradition is rumored to have started during World War I. Since the war was the first time planes saw battle, the army was trying to build its air force.

This meant they had a lot of volunteers enlist for the nascent air force. One lieutenant was wealthy enough to have a bunch of bronze medallions made before leaving. He wanted to give these coins to the diverse array of volunteers as a memento.

He also made one for himself and kept it around his neck in a bag. It ended up saving his life.

After his plane was shot down over Germany, he was captured and escaped from German forces. But since they took all his belongings, he had no way of identifying himself.

Later, after escaping, he ran toward a French camp. But when he arrived, they believed he was German and considered killing him. He only survived by managing to convince them he was American, that he was an ally.

He did so by showing them the medallion he kept around his neck. It bared his unit’s insignia, and French forces returned him home.

Now, Challenge Coins Can be Made For Anything.

They can be made to indicate a special event. Some people make them alone to commemorate a special challenge they overcame. Others carry them around like the lieutenant to indicate membership in a special group. Sometimes they’re given by employers to high-performing employees.

They’re especially given out by companies who do a lot of hard work. It’s one thing to meet a revenue goal, but it’s another to successfully trudge around cleaning another person’s mess, as this company does. Employees will want more than money, they’ll want to be recognized. And challenge coins do just that.

They’re even made for things like movie releases, or as souvenirs. Regardless, the people who hold these coins tend to cherish them. They’re collected and traded. And most of all, they can be extremely valuable. The ones that tell some backstory are considered the most important.

So What Is a Challenge Coin, exactly?

These coins are usually about 2 inches long and are made of tough metal. They’re usually round, like a coin, but sometimes can be crafted in the shape of a popular character or a box.

With so many different shapes and sizes, it can be easy to ask, “what is a challenge coin, exactly?” The answer isn’t that simple.

It’s a coin that means something to someone. They carry memories of something with them. The term has broadened enough to include basically any trinket that somebody can reminisce over.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a challenge coin and want inspiration on what it should be for, just remember it can be for anything.

Keep reading and you may be struck some inspiration on what your next challenge coin should memorialize!

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