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Old 26 September 2009, 04:36 PM
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Icon605 Challenge coins

Comment: I am a Navy vet, as is my husband (20 years) and My father (29
years, three wars). recently, there's been a lot of talk about "challenge
coins" and there are three legends I know of, dating from three different
wars. none of us have experience with these coins, and half a century of
experience can't be totally wrong. first place I heard of them was on
NCIS, the TV show! I know they exist now, but the made up history is
driving me batty.

What a challenge coin is:

Note: A "Coin Check" consists of a Challenge and a Response.

1. RULES:
A. The challenge is initiated by drawing your coin, holding it in the air
by whatever means possible and state, scream, shout or otherwise verbally
acknowledge that you are initiating a coin check. Another, but less vocal
method is to firmly place it on the bar, table, or floor (this should
produce an audible noise which can be easily heard by those being
challenged, but try not to leave a permanent imprint). If you accidentally
drop your coin and it makes an audible sound upon impact, then you have
just "accidentally" initiated a coin check. (This is called paying the
price for improper care of your coin.)

B. The response consists of all those persons being challenged drawing
their coin in a like manner.

C. If you are challenged and are unable to properly respond, you must buy
a round of drinks for the challenger and the group being challenged.

D. If everyone being challenged responds in the correct manner, the
challenger must buy a round of drinks for all those people they
challenged.

E. Failure to buy a round is a despicable crime and will require that you
turn-in your Coin to the issuing agency.

2. WHEN - WHERE:
A. Coin checks are permitted, ANY TIME, ANY PLACE.

3. EXCEPTIONS:
A. There are no exceptions to the rules. They apply to those clothed or
unclothed. At the time of the challenge you are permitted one step and an
arms reach to locate your coin. If you still cannot reach it -- SORRY
ABOUT THAT!

4. A COIN IS A COIN

WWI legend:

During World War 1, American volunteers from all parts of the country
filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions
attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in mid-term to join
the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions struck
in solid bronze and presented them to his unit. One young pilot placed the
medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilots' aircraft was severely
damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was
immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his
escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the
small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a
small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that
night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification.

He succeeded in avoiding German patrols by donning civilian attire and
reached the front lines. With great difficulty, he crossed no-man's land.
Eventually, he stumbled onto a French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs
had plagued the French in the sector. They sometimes masqueraded as
civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's
American accent, the French thought him to be a saboteur and made ready to
execute him. He had no identification to prove his allegiance, but he did
have his leather pouch containing the medallion. He showed the medallion
to his would-be executioners and one of his French captors recognized the
squadron insignia on the medallion. They delayed his execution long enough
for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him they gave him a
bottle of wine.

Back at his squadron, it became tradition to ensure that all members
carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished
through challenge in the following manner - a challenger would ask to see
the medallion. If the challenged could not produce a medallion, they were
required to buy a drink of choice for the member who challenged them. If
the challenged member produced a medallion, then the challenging member
was required to pay for the drink. This tradition continued on throughout
the war and for many years after the war while surviving members of the
squadron were still alive.

WWII legend:

Another tradition dates to US Military personnel assigned to occupy post
World War Two Germany. With the exchange rate, the West German One Pfennig
coin was worth only a fraction of a U.S. cent, and they were thus
generally considered not having enough value to be worth keeping - unless
one was broke. At any place where servicemen would gather for a beer, if a
soldier called out "Pfennig Check" everyone had to empty their pockets to
show if they were saving any West German Pfennigs. If a soldier could
produce a Pfennig, - it meant that he was nearly broke, . and if a soldier
could not produce a Pfennig, it meant that he had enough money to not
bother saving them, - and thus enough money to buy the next round.

The Vietnam legend:

The tradition of the coin giving dates back to Vietnam actually when
soldiers would tote along a piece of "lucky" ordnance that had helped them
or narrowly missed them. At first it was small arms ammunition, but this
practice grew to much bigger and more dangerous ordnance as time wound on.

It became then actually a dangerous practice because of the size and power
of the ordnance being carried, so commanders banned it, and instead gave
away metal coins emblazoned with the unit crest or something similar. The
main purpose of the ordnance had been when going into a bar, you had to
have your lucky piece or you had to buy drinks for all who did have it.
The coins worked far better in this regard as they were smaller and not as
lethal! So, if you go to a military bar, whip out a challenge coin and
slam it down on the bar, those who lack one buy drinks! Obviously you have
to be careful about this tradition... However, Commanders and units give
out coins for this and as mementos for services rendered or special
occasions.
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  #2  
Old 26 September 2009, 07:17 PM
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I have a number of prized unit coins adorining my desk display, at work, but I certainly don't carry my current unit coin with me. If ever "challenged" (which is pretty damned unlikely, since I don't go to bars or military O-Clubs) I would promptly ignore the person challenging me. Some traditions are stupid.
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Old 26 September 2009, 07:33 PM
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Also not a drinker, also don't carry unit coins around, and never even heard of it...
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  #4  
Old 26 September 2009, 09:04 PM
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I heard about this in AFROTC in 2001. Our cadet commander had coins made for the unit that were available to us and as several of the older members already had them, it was a tradition that had been in place for at least a couple of years. Since most of us were under the drinking age, the rule was altered to apply to soft drinks, but the rest of the rules A, B, C, and D applied. There was no talk of ever having to turn your coin in though.

I never bought my ROTC one. I'd been looking at something else when I stumbled across an eBay listing for a coin from one of the units my dad was in, one that showed the planes he worked on (the U-2 and the SR-71) with the motto, "In God we trust, all others we monitor." I showed it to him in case he might be interested. That Christmas, the coin was in MY stocking. It stays in my jewelry box now.
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  #5  
Old 27 September 2009, 12:27 AM
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UEL UEL is offline
 
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Military

Like DR, I have several coins. I have some that are particularly important to me because of how I got them:

- Regimental Coin upon completing my initial trades training as a soldier
- Regimental Coin upon completing my officer training
- Unit coin for my unit on my last tour of Afghanistan
- Commander's Coin for my work on my first tour of Afghanistan
- Colonel Commandant's Coin for my work on my last tour of Afghanistan
- 24 Marine Expeditionary Unit Coin for my work with them

I also have about a dozen other coins presented to me for my attendance at some activity or another. But those half dozen are the ones I value.

Oh, and I carry none. I don't want them to get damaged more than they already are (I used to carry some around).

And in our neck of the woods, it is only challenged between individuals, not groups.
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  #6  
Old 27 September 2009, 04:11 AM
Malruhn Malruhn is offline
 
 
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I've got well over 100 Challenge Coins, and I can say unequivocally that the tradition is alive and well in the Sea Going Services (USCG and her little Brother, the Navy...). After a tour with the Air Force, the tradition is, although twisted and abused, alive there as well.

And we've heard the same legends as to the start. From what I've been able to research, they are all apocryphal and not verifiable at all (no names, dates, exacting locations).

In addition to the there above, I've also heard the at least semi-historically accurate story about the early military awards. Medals and pendants were earned and awarded to only Officers (early USA and other countries as well). Enlisted personnel were not authorized to be so honored. When Officers were so honored, that night, the custom was to cut the solid-precious-metal pendant from the award, and give it to the Enlisted personnel that SHOULD have been so honored. The Officer would then purchase a replacement from his own funds, while the Enlisted person could sell the pendant, or keep it as a memento. The tradition keepsake was slowly turned into the idea of specially struck coins that became the modern Challenge Coin.

Or at least this is the way the legend ran.

In the Coast Guard and Navy, the coins are given to star performers as a quasi-personal "Attaboy". The Air Force used them this way as well - but they've taken to allowing and even ENDORSING the wholesale buying and selling of the coins. To we mariners, this is anathema, and subverts the purpose of the coins.

The three legends described in the OP are unprovable, in my opinion.
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  #7  
Old 05 October 2009, 03:14 PM
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Airplane

Comment: During World War I, American volunteers from all parts of the
country filled the newly-formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy
scions attending colleges such as Yale and Harvard who quit in midterm to
join the war. In one squadron, a wealthy lieutenant ordered medallions
struck in solid bronze carrying the squadron emblem for every member of
his squadron. He himself carried his medallion in a small leather sack
about his neck.

Shortly after acquiring the medallions, this pilot's aircraft was severely
damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was
immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his
escape, the Germans took all of his personal identification except for the
small leather pouch around his neck. In the meantime, he was taken to a
small French town near the front. Taking advantage of a bombardment that
night, he donned civilian clothes and escaped. However, he was without
personal identification.

He succeeded in avoiding German patrols and reached the front lines. With
great difficulty he crossed no-mans land. Eventually, he stumbled into a
French outpost. Unfortunately, saboteurs had plagued the French in this
sector of the front. They sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore
civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent, the
French thought him to be a saboteur, and made ready to execute him. Just
in time, he remembered his leather pouch containing the medallion. He
showed the medallion to his would-be executioners. His French captors
recognized the squadron insignia on the medallion and delayed long enough
for him to confirm his identity. Instead of shooting him, they gave him a
bottle of wine.

Back with his squadron, it became a tradition to ensure that all members
carried their medallion or coin at all times. This was accomplished
through a challenge in the following manner: a challenger would ask to see
the coin. If the challenged member could not produce his coin, he was
required to purchase a drink of choice for the member who had challenged
him. If the challenged member produced his coin, then the challenging
member was required to pay for the drink. This tradition continued
throughout the war and for many years after while surviving members of the
squadron were still alive. Team Air Force proudly continues this
tradition today.
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  #8  
Old 06 October 2009, 12:35 AM
grinch2020
 
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Heya all. As a Naval Flight Officer maybe I can shed some light on it from our side of the house. Mind you I am an E-2C guy I can tell you that for the most part, it is the same for the fighter guys in our airwing. Most squadrons do have coins, I have mine in my wallet and it is serialized. We usually call them drinking coins.

As for issuing the challenge, I have certainly heard of it, as have most of the guys that I know, however I have never seen it done...at any O-Club...ever. This includes multiple trips to the club in Fallon NV where Topgun is held and we do a lot of airwing training. In fact most threaten violence to anyone that would threaten to do it!

One thing we have in Fallon that is similar are wooden coins that are given to everyone in the bar if someone screws up any of a myriad of "Bar Rules" that we have such as placing your cover on the bar. These are good for one drink.

The rumor is the drinking coin is a big Air Force thing but I have yet to see it anywhere and I'd love to see an Air Force weenie try it around Navy! Hope that helps.
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  #9  
Old 06 October 2009, 04:39 PM
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As a former Naval Flight Officer, I was stationed in Iceland at the Keflavik NAS. There were about 6 or 8 of us in a dining out club (once a month we had a special dinner at the O-club). Each of the 8 had a red plastic circle similar to the ones used in the flashlights at the time. At the bar one of the members would ask for a "spot check", and the last one to place the spot on their forehead paid for a round. This only occured once a night, and it could be at any time. Not exactly the same, but probably derived from the Air Force proceedure as the NAS also had an Air Force squadron or detachment.
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  #10  
Old 09 October 2009, 05:11 AM
threehead_99
 
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Military

I can't speak for the other services, but for the Army, there seems to be an additional caveat. In the Army, coins are based on the rank of who gave them out.

If I am at a bar with some buddies from the Army, and I throw down a coin, they have to beat my coin or they buy me a round. If their coin beats mine, then I buy them each a round, according to who beat the challenge. If two coins of the same rank are given (i.e. Major General vs Major General) then it's a tie, and no one owes anyone anything. We learned this in Basic Training when the only coins any of us had were the company grade (Captain/First Sergeant) coins we bought on family day.

A Command Sergeant Major coin beats a coin given by a Sergeant Major. Though the same pay grade, a CSM has command authority over a SM, so his coin is worth more. The same goes for the scale on officers, except an officer coin will automatically trump a non-commisioned officer.

Of course, now with the war going on, it's not uncommon to see lower ranking soldiers such as myself (Specialist E-4) to have multiple General officer coins. I guess Generals have a soft spot for lower ranking individuals so we're more prone to get them. Of course, I will never lose a challenge, no matter what coin someone else offers up. Well unless someone can produce a coin beating Admiral Mullen who is currently the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my bravado is well warranted.

Hopefully some of that made sence, because it is hard to understand how it works sometimes, even to me.
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  #11  
Old 26 April 2010, 12:58 PM
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I guess you have to hope you don't meet anyone with a coin issued by the President or George Washington. Could anyone beat them? Christopher Columbus? God?
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  #12  
Old 15 May 2010, 06:02 AM
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I spent 25 years in the Navy, and my Father did 22, and I never heard or saw a challenge coins until that NCIS episode. Altho I had heard stories of the "spot check" mentioned by hardhead. Didn't hang around base clubs very much, and I wasn't stationed at a headquarters, so that may have something to do with it.
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  #13  
Old 01 September 2010, 03:46 AM
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The USAF has been using Challenge Coins for a long time. I got my first one around 1989. I have about 50 plus of them now. Just about every AF unit has a squadron coin now. Then there are the Commander coins you get for doing something good/special.

My most prized coins are ones given to me by a Navy Seal (Seal Team 3) for the support I gave them during Afghanistan and the 75th Ranger Battalion Regimental Commanders coin for some things we did as a unit in memory of two fallen Rangers right after the war in Afghanistan started, and a 19th Special Forces Group 2 Battation coin that belong to a true hero that died in Afghanistan

On a humorous note I have been issued a "Coin Check" in the shower during an exercise.

Mike
USAF Retired
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  #14  
Old 01 September 2010, 11:14 AM
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The closest I've seen to this was when someone accidentally ordered a box of very pink mechanical pencils. Everyone in the department was given one and had to produce it on demand. I don't remember what the penalty was for not having it on you, but I don't think it was alcoholic.

ETA: This was mid 1999 or thereabouts, so pre-NCIS.
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  #15  
Old 01 September 2010, 12:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by threehead_99 View Post
I can't speak for the other services, but for the Army, there seems to be an additional caveat. In the Army, coins are based on the rank of who gave them out.
That's the version of the legend propagated (promulgated?) by NCIS: DiNozzo had a rough episode (as he so often does), but at the end of it he receives the SecDef's coin and says, "I'll never have to buy another challenge round."

Four Kitties

Last edited by Four Kitties; 01 September 2010 at 12:58 PM.
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  #16  
Old 01 September 2010, 01:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Four Kitties View Post
That's the version of the legend propagated (promulgated?) by NCIS: DiNozzo had a rough episode (as he so often does), but at the end of it he receives the SecDef's coin and says, "I'll never have to buy another challenge round."
Nitpick: It was the SecNav's coin.

(Do I know far too much NCIS trivia? Probably. )
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  #17  
Old 01 September 2010, 01:47 PM
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Hello Kitty

Quote:
Originally Posted by htonl View Post
Nitpick: It was the SecNav's coin.
You're right, I'm wrong. I'm relatively new to NCIS -- I've been picking it up in reruns.

Anyway, does anyone else find it odd that NCIS is spreading the Army version of the legend?

Four Kitties
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  #18  
Old 01 September 2010, 03:05 PM
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No, that's more of an 'Inside the Beltway' thing. The CJCS coin being the top dawg.
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  #19  
Old 01 September 2010, 04:24 PM
Malruhn Malruhn is offline
 
 
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So what should I have done when a doofus tried to get a coin check from me with a coin that had President Obama's smiling face on it?

I asked Mr. TSA security guard what branch he had served with, and when he told me that he had never served - and had bought the coin on E-bay, I none-too-gently told him to go back with his GI Joe action figures and play more Halo. My Master Chief coin trumps everything.
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  #20  
Old 04 September 2010, 04:28 PM
RichardM RichardM is offline
 
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Surprisingly I just received an e-mail form the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL, a large ham radio organization) offering challenge coins for ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) members.
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