Challenge coins are usually carried by military personnel, coming from various units. Carrying a challenge coin, being a long-standing tradition from the military, has always been considered a great honor. A soldier who carries a coin tells everyone else that he is a proud member of a unit, that he is part of a brotherhood of men who fought bravely for our freedom and served our country well. All branches of the military – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – follow the tradition and carry these special coins. In the military, a challenge coin is passed from one soldier to another using a “secret handshake”.
Soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War all carried challenge coins in one form or another. In World War II, American soldiers carried pfennigs and conducted pfennig checks in Germany. A pfennig is the lowest German currency coin value. If a soldier doesn’t have one once a check was called, the soldier then buys drinks for everyone. The pfennig transformed to a medallion, and then evolved into coins.
These days, the popularity of these coins has been extended beyond the military. The coins are used by other groups who value honor, brotherhood and unity such as police officers, law enforcers, fire fighters, and even politicians.
American presidents and vice-presidents even have their very own challenge coins. Presidential coins are especially minted and distributed based on significant events in a president’s term – one coin is for the inauguration, while another coin is a way to commemorate significant events in his administration, and a last coin is minted that will be sold to the general public. However, there is one rare presidential coin that only the president has the discretion to give. It is given by the president during special occasions to military personnel, foreign dignitaries, and VIPs.Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have given a lot of coins, most notably to injured soldiers who have come back from overseas. President Barack Obama also hands out these presidential coins to soldiers.Former vice-presidents, such as Dick Cheney, have their own challenge coins as well.
From military personnel, coins are also being used by people from the federal government such as the White House staff and Secret Service agents. Law enforcers, firefighters, police officers, sports teams, performers and musicians, and even NASA also have their very own coins. The coins are actively traded among them. In law enforcement, a coin is valuable and is used to reward courage in the line of duty. It can also be given to highlight the skill and dedication of members of one unit.
When given to certain units, it boosts morale in the department. For firefighters, coins are used as a memento of recognition – usually acts of valor and courage that were manifested by these unsung heroes.
Specially crafted, customized coins are ordered by each sheriff’s office and fire brigade. Sports teams use coins to reward athletes who have contributed significantly to the team. The coaches usually give the coins to deserving members of the team. Coins also build camaraderie and teamwork for sports teams. Specially crafted coins are also given away or sold to fans during sporting events.
Other countries such as United Kingdom, Australia and Canada have adopted the tradition as well. British, Australian and Canadian servicemen also pride themselves in giving coins to their Armed Forces.
Because of the widespread use of challenge coins, their design have evolved and changed throughout the years. From merely having simple designs, they transformed into more colorful varieties with different shapes and even three-dimensional images.
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