The Armed Forces History Museum in Largo, FL has a display of military challenge coins in the Salute to Our Services gallery of the museum. This unique collection includes a challenge coin from a 4-Star Admiral in charge of the US Navy fleet, central command and other notable military figures and heroes.
A Look at Military Challenge Coins
Much like military insignia, military challenge coins, dating as far back as WWI and WWII, are a part of every military branch and are specific to each particular unit, bearing their motto and insignia. More importantly, the coin reflects their patriotic essence and symbolizes the pride with which they serve (or have served) their country. The origination of the coins is still somewhat sketchy with most believing it originated in the Army Air Corps.
Though the origination of this long standing tradition is sketchy, the challenge behind these military challenge coins is still very much alive. The various military branches, and even the units within these branches, often have different challenges. The purpose behind the challenge, however, does not waiver – it is to ensure the individual carries on the tradition of always carrying his military challenge coin.
According to custom, a challenge is permitted at any time. One of the most frequently used challenges begins with the challenger tapping his coin either on a bar, or on a table. If all present can produce their coin, the challenger must buy a drink for all. Any many not producing the coin, must buy a round for everyone who does.
In general, the holder of the coin will keep it always readily available on himself, usually in his pocket. Some variations of this military tradition permit one to step and reach. Why would this rule be necessary? Generally, it is a Navy tradition that is necessary as they are known for challenging their fellow servicemen oftentimes in the shower.
Additional rules are often included to make the tradition a little more interesting. For instance, if one manages to steal someone else’s challenge coin, then everyone in the group is required to purchase him a drink. Another variation, since coins are often exchanged and considered highly collectible, the individual who is able to produce the highest ranking coin gets a free drink from each member of the group.
Though the origin of the military challenge coin still remains a mystery, the comradery and uniqueness of the challenges are a long-standing tradition in the military.