Ever wondered what a challenge coin is? A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion, bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. Traditionally, they might be given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale, or it may be presented after being challenged at the bar. In addition, they are also collected by service members and law enforcement personnel.

ORIGINS

Historically, challenge coins were presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievement by a member of the unit. They are also exchanged in recognition of visits to an organization.

One of the earliest known examples of an enlisted soldier being monetarily rewarded for valour took place in Ancient Rome. If a soldier performed well in battle that day, he would receive his typical day’s pay, and a separate coin as a bonus. The Roman Empire rewarded soldiers by presenting them with coins to recognize their achievements. Some accounts say that the coin was specially minted with a mark of the legion from which it came, prompting some men to hold on to their coins as a memento, rather than spend them on women and wine.

Today, the use of coins is much more nuanced. While many coins are still handed out as tokens of appreciation for a job well done, some administrators exchange them almost like business cards or autographs they can add to a collection. There are also coins that a veteran can use like an ID badge to prove they served with a particular unit. Still other coins are handed out to civilians for publicity, or even sold as a fund-raising tool.

Challenge coins were also known as “Portrait Medals” during the Renaissance, and were often used to commemorate specific events involving royalty, nobility, or other types of well-to-do individuals. The medals would be given as gifts or awards, and people also exchanged them with friends and associates. The most common format was for one side to depict the patron while the other showed something that represented that individual’s family, house, lineage, and/or seal.

THE CHALLENGE

The tradition of a challenge is the most common way to ensure that members are carrying their unit’s coin. The rules of a challenge are not always formalized for a unit, and may vary between organizations. The challenge only applies to those members that have been given a coin formally by their unit. This may lead to some controversy when challenges are initiated between members of different organizations and is not recommended. The tradition of the coin challenge is meant to be a source of morale in a unit, and forcing the challenge can cause a reverse effect. The act of challenging is called a “Coin Check” and is usually loudly announced.

The challenge, which can be made at any time, begins with the challenger drawing his/her coin, and slapping or placing the coin on the table or bar. In noisy environments, continuously rapping the challenge coin on a surface may initiate the challenge. (Accidentally dropping a challenge coin is considered to be a deliberate challenge to all present.) Everyone being challenged must immediately produce the coin for their organization and anyone failing to do so must buy a round of drinks for the challenger and everyone else who has their challenge coin. However, should everyone challenged be able to produce their coin, the challenger must buy a round of drinks for the group.

While most holders of challenge coins usually carry them in their pockets or in some other readily accessible place on their persons, most versions of the rules permit a challenged person “a step and a reach” or if an individual has an extra coin to pass it off to the person closest to them. Coins on belt buckles or key chains are not acceptable for meeting a challenge. However, a coin worn around the neck is acceptable for meeting a coin challenge.

AFPFMA rules are simple when being challenged at a bar.

  1. Call “challenge” to a person or persons and they must present their coin
  2. If that person does not have a coin, then they must buy the challenger a beer
  3. If that person does have a coin, then the challenger must buy them a beer

It’s bound to be a fun night at our next reunion.

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