There are many kinds of traditions in the military which build camaraderie but there is a well-respected tradition of carrying military coins, also known as challenge coins, a small token or medallion which signifies that the person is a member of a military organization. Even though challenge coins are now being collected in the civilian population, there is still a bit of mystery surrounding these coins for those outside the military forces.
What Do Military Coins Look Like?
A regular challenge coin is around 1.5 inches to 2 inches in diameter with the thickness of 1/10 inch. However, the style and size of these coins vary: some coins come in unusual shapes such as shields, arrowheads, and pentagons. Some are even crafted in the same shape as dog tags.
Most military coins are made of nickel, copper, brass or pewter with a variety of finishes. There are even limited editions which are plated in gold. Designs of the coins range from simple (with the engraving of the unit’s insignia, motto or symbol) to unusual (having multi-dimensional designs, enamel highlights or cut-outs).
There are stories surrounding these challenge coins which involve American soldiers during the World War II. American soldiers stationed during the war have a tradition of doing a “pfennig check-up”. Pfennig was a former monetary unit in Germany having the lowest denomination of 1/100 deutsche mark. If one of the soldiers did not have a pfennig when the check-up was made, that particular soldier was forced to buy beers for the rest of the soldiers.
The challenge changed from a pfennig to a challenge coin. Nowadays, the members of the military would then challenge each other by putting out a challenge coin. If any soldier does not have his challenge coin, he will need to buy a drink not only for the challenger but also for everyone who participated and showed their coins. On the other hand, if all unit members have their challenge coins, the challenger, then, have to buy drinks for everyone who participated.
A VIP’s Secret Handshake
The Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, before his retirement in June 2011, visited the military bases in Afghanistan. During his visit, he shook hands with the men and women of the Armed Forces. The gesture may seem as merely a simple sign of respect. However, the gesture was a secret handshake with a twist. Those who shook hands with Robert Gates were surprised to be given a special Secretary of Defence military coin.
Beyond the Military
A lot of organizations are now using challenge coins. In the government, everyone from the White House staff to the service agents have their own challenge coins. Even the United States presidents are known to take part in keeping and giving challenge coins. The fad started with President Bill Clinton and from then, all United States Presidents have had their own challenge coins. Even the Vice President Dick Cheney had his own challenge coin too.
Most President Challenge Coins, also known as Presidential coins, have different uses. Some were used during inauguration, some were to commemorate a President’s administration, and some were given to the general public. However, there is a very special presidential coin which can only be received by someone who will be able to shake the hand of the World’s Most Powerful Man. It is also the most sought-after and rarest challenge coin in the world.
These military coins can also be given by the President during special occasions especially to military personnel or foreign dignitaries and diplomats. These challenge coins were given mostly to soldiers who came from deployment or those who died in service of the military.
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