A military challenge coin is a commemorative coin made especially for a specific unit or branch of the armed forces. Many units carry their own challenge coins and there are many hundreds (if not thousands) of variants that make wonderful additions to a military paraphernalia collection. However, challenge coins are not only collector’s items – they are also in active use for “challenges” in the U.S. military today.
If a military unit has its own challenge coin, then in theory every member of that unit should carry their coin at all times. This is not a military regulation, as challenge coins are an informal tradition and are not normally given official support. However, if a member of a unit fails to keep their challenge coin on them or cannot find it quickly, they may find themselves losing the next challenge.
A challenge can be initiated at any time in any place, although they are most common when troops have down time in the bunk or when they are out on the town. In order to initiate a challenge, a unit member only needs to draw their own coin and either hold it up and announce the challenge—often in a loud and defiant way—or tap, slam, or clink it onto the table or another surface. This immediately signifies a challenge to all unit members who are present.
When so challenged, unit members must respond by presenting their own coins. Normally they slam them on the table in turn or hold them up to prove that they have their coin in hand. A challenge involves a real risk: if a unit member who was challenged cannot present their coin immediately, they lose and must buy a round of drinks for all the others who were challenged and the challenger himself. But if everyone challenged can present their coins, then the challenger is the one who loses and must buy a round of drinks for everyone else.
There are some special rules involved. When challenged, a service member may take a single step and reach an arm’s length way to get to their coin, such as a challenge in the shower room. And coins normally cannot be drilled to be worn as a necklace; they must be intact. And if a service member drops their coin by accident, they have just initiated a challenge whether they wanted to or not.
Challenge coins remain in regular use by may units today, and are occasionally even given out as awards by officers. In the civilian world, they are among the most fascinating and diverse military memorabilia.
Do you have any challenge coins?