Challenge coins have had an incredibly rich history in America over the past century. Despite their prevalence in American culture, many people still don’t understand exactly what a challenge coin is or why they hold such a relevant and reverent place in the culture.
What is a challenge coin and where did the tradition of the veteran challenge coin come from? Getting familiar with the history of the challenge coin can help you both to understand the history and the potential benefits of these coins in a modern context.
What do you need to know? Read on and we’ll walk you through the basics in our challenge coin guide.
History of the Challenge Coin
There is some debate about the original origins of the challenge coin. Despite the prevalence of these coins across the worlds of military, business, and service, no one quite agrees with how the tradition of these coins first came to be.
Some believe the origin of these coins dates all the way back to WWI. A captain of a squadron of men wanted to show his appreciation to his troops and ordered a series of bronze medallions for them, customized for the squadron in question.
It was a thoughtful gift and one that was well appreciated. But the coins turned out to have a special utility as well.
As the story goes, at some point, a member of this squadron was separated from his cohorts and captured by French forces. The French who took him in were not sure if he was an ally or enemy, and discussed killing him.
Only once in captivity did the captured man realize he could provide his bronze coin as proof of his allegiance to the US army and his role in a specific squadron. The coin saved his life, and it soon became a tradition to keep these coins on one’s body at all times.
It’s a good story, but not one that people always believe. Some people believe the popularity of these coins and the tradition that came with them actually occurred much later.
Origins of the Challenge
It’s quite possible that early squadron leaders awarded these bronze medals to their troops as a gift and badge of pride. However, that doesn’t explain the ‘challenge’ aspect of the name.
For this, many point to American troops stationed in Vietnam. There was an idea that there were bars in Vietnam run by the military who tried to only serve active military members.
As such, they would look to see someone’s awarded coin to help prove that they were actually enrolled in the army and thus worthy of getting a drink.
This created a culture that linked the coins and drinking – and prompted the young men in the military to always keep these coins on their person.
In fact, it prompted a tradition within the military to challenge each other to produce the coin, with the last person in a group to produce the coin being forced to buy a round for all involved.
This ‘coin check’ challenge is often associated with the coins and might be where the name was born from.
Modern Challenge Coin Usage
Today, even though the name sticks, we generally don’t associate these coins with drinking – or challenges at all.
Instead, our idea of them has reverted more to their original usage. They stand as a token of appreciation, or as badges of honor. Intended to reward hard work and stand as a symbol of a group’s camaraderie.
Members of the military have continued to give and receive these coins for this reason over the past one hundred years, celebrating the service and hard work of an active duty military member. The tradition carried over to other service positions, including the police and the fire department.
In recent years, the business world has also adopted the tradition. CEOs and leaders in the business world have created custom coins and awarded them to their staff as a token of appreciation.
It’s easy to learn how to create custom coin designs and provide this gift to a modern team.
Challenge Coin Benefits
Why might you want to give a challenge coin to your team in this modern context? What are the benefits? There are a few things you might want to consider.
For starters, a challenge coin is a great way to show appreciation to your team for their hard work and great accomplishments. The last thing you want is for your staff to feel underappreciated. This can lead to disillusionment with their work and to later poor performance.
Celebrating their achievements with this kind of gift can help them feel as if their effort has been seen and appreciated.
Not only this, it can help encourage workers to work harder and push more to reach goals. A reward or souvenir of this type can be an effective motivator for a team of any type.
Of course, the challenge coin will also serve as a lovely memento of their time as part of your team. It’s something they can hold onto for years to come, which is what makes it such a thoughtful gift.
Understanding the Veteran Challenge Coin
If you’re not all too familiar with the world of challenge coins, you might be uncertain about what makes a veteran challenge coin so special. The above information can help provide you with some background on the history of these coins as well as the benefits they can provide.
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