Challenge Coins – A Brief History

Back in WW I, a moderately wealthy American flying officer had a set of coins produced bearing the squadron badge. He gifted them to his fellow officers to promote unit loyalty and esprit-de-corps.

In the heat of battle, one of his fellow officers was shot down over enemy territory. He donned civilian attire and was in the process of making his way home when he was challenged by the local underground movement – and was about to be executed as a spy.

The only way he had of proving his loyalties was by presenting his squadron coin – which was contained in a small  leather pouch about his neck.

Since then, this tradition has been embraced by the military and continues to grow.

Recognized as a welcome “Americanism”, the use of challenge coins is relatively new to the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). General Rick Hillier, spent much of his military career as an exchange officer with the US Army.  He understood the need for an item that could be quickly presented to a soldier as a token of his appreciation for a job well done.

Before long, most of the formation commanders in Afghanistan adopted the concept.  Many regiments and battle groups offered them to their troops as a means of creating esprit-de-corps.

While many organizations use coins for award or presentation purposes, many still respect the time honoured tradition of ‘challenging’ a comrade to see if they are carrying their coin. If not, the challenged individual may be expected to pay for a libation. On the other hand, if he does present his coin, the challenger is obligated to pay for the favour.

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