Tag: Commander’s Coin

The Significance of a Challenge Coin

Challenge coins are more than symbols or objects that military personnel and servicemen carry around. More than the physical coin itself, it’s what these coins symbolize and stand for that matter. Acquiring a challenge coin has been a long-held tradition for every soldier, especially those on active duty. Since the time of the Roman civilization, when a soldier is bestowed with a coin, it often means that he has done an act of courage in the line of duty.

One example is when machine gunner Corporal Stephen M. Roberts from the 187th Infantry Regiment reported the actions of six unknown persons who were seen staking out the perimeter fence in Afghanistan. Their planned mission was thwarted, and Corporal Roberts received the battalion commander’s coin for his bravery. Apart from the achievements of a soldier, it also symbolizes the camaraderie and bond that was formed within the unit. All members of one unit hold a coin with an insignia of their unit and maybe a significant symbol of their team. One example is done by the commanders of the 507th Air Refueling Wing, when each quarter during their weekend drill, they present a Commander’s coin to members of the reserve unit for showing dedication to the core values of the Air Force.

challenge coinsChallenge coins are also great morale boosters. They promote unity and cohesion among a group of individuals who are thrust into a dangerous and life-threatening situation. During the Vietnam War, one member of the 11th Special Forces Group over-stamped old, unused coins with their group’s emblem, and distributed it among his unit members. Unit members held these coins in high regard because it symbolized the unique nature of their group. The first commander to ever mint a coin specifically for an American military unit is the unit commander of the 10th Special Forces Group. Up until the mid-1980s, they were the only army unit which has their own coin. After that, many other military units followed suit and started minting their own specifically-designed coins. They were originally given to recognize exemplary unit members.

During the most recent war in the Middle East, coins have proliferated, but their significance has not diminished. A popular anecdote states that a certain Sergeant Troy Dunlap, who was released from war camp prison, received two Iraqi coins from a hotel employee where they were housed by the Red Cross to recuperate. They used these Iraqi coins to challenge their friends back in Fort Rucker. This started the popular challenge coin trend in the most recent military deployments.

Today, challenge coins are carried not only by military units but also by para-military units such as the SWAT Team, federal agencies, and law enforcement agencies. Since there are also coins specially minted for purchase, many people, civilian and veterans alike, have started collecting these coins as well. Many veteran officers have even started a memorabilia collection.

The significance of challenge coins have now expanded to the sense of affiliation, patronage, and even support to a certain group. Furthermore, during the memorial service of the victims of the Fort Hood tragedy, President Obama placed his rare Commander’s Coin on the memorials erected for the victims. This gesture gave another dimension to the meaning of a challenge coin, as it meant high reverence and respect for a fallen member of the military. Yet another meaning of a challenge coin surfaced when in 2001, NASCAR driver Elliot Sadler won the auto race at the Bristol Motor speedway and attributed it to the coin that General Lester Lyles, Air Force Commander, gave him in the pit area during the pre-race. He claimed that it gave him good luck, since he won his very first victory after 75 tries.

All in all, there’s no denying that these coins mean a lot of things to different kinds of people.

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