There are over 1.3 million active-duty U.S. military personnel, 24% of which are in the Navy. Bringing this diverse force of individuals together can be difficult without the proper tools.
Challenge coins are one of the best ways to improve the camaraderie of any group by giving them a symbol to rally behind. They’re handed out for exceptional service and treasured as keepsakes forever.
Read our guide to learn what a challenge coin is, what it’s used for, and who receives them.
What Are Challenge Coins?
The exact origin of challenge coins is unclear. They may have originated in the Roman army or as a gift to an airman in WWII. They’ve been around for decades at least and remain an important symbol.
Challenge coins get passed off in a process known as a secret handshake. It’s a lightning-fast procedure where the coin is handed off from one member of a group to another.
The average challenge coin is 1.5-2 inches in diameter and 1/10 inch thick. They’re usually round but come in other shapes such as shields and dog tags. They’re also customizable, making it easy to add whatever image you need.
What Are Challenge Coins Used For?
Each challenge coin has meaning for its recipient. They prove group membership, boost morale, and represent loyal service and important achievements.
One of the most common ways to use a challenge coin is during a coin check. It involves showing your coins to everyone else at a bar. Anyone who doesn’t have one or ends up as the last one to show theirs has to pay for everyone’s drinks.
Challenge coin rules you must follow include:
- Never refusing a coin check
- Carrying the coin with you at all times
- Never giving the coin to anyone unless it’s a gift
- Explaining the rules when giving or receiving a challenge coin
- Protecting your coin
Obeying these rules allows you to enjoy your challenge coins wherever you go for as long as possible.
Who Gets Challenge Coins?
There are presidential, government, army, firefighter, police, and navy challenge coins. They’re also obtained during everyday life on occasion.
Presidential coins date back to Bill Clinton’s presidency. They’re one of the most valuable types and difficult to add to your personal challenge coin collection.
Certain government officials also have their own challenge coin. Examples include the Office of Information Technology, the Secretary of Education, and the Secretary of Agriculture.
Army challenge coins represent notable service achievements and specific units or branches.
Challenge coins from the Navy have been given out for 50-100 years and grew in popularity after Operation Desert Storm. They represent special events, promotions, and achievements. They’re customizable but typically feature the Navy insignia and the name of a base or unit.
Firefighters were the first non-military entity to adopt challenge coins. Police challenge coins came soon after.
Businesses may give out a challenge coin to recognize employees who went above and beyond. Interested citizens can also purchase them to create a challenge coin collection.
Where Can I Learn More?
Challenge coins are powerful symbols of service to your country and community. They’re handed off in a quick handshake but last for years afterward as family heirlooms.
Challenge coins build morale within groups and represent individual achievements. They’re given to government officials, military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and other community service members. Ordinary citizens also keep them as collector’s items.
The history and use of challenge coins is a complex and hotly debated topic. Read the rest of our content for more information on challenge coins.