Challenge Coin Rules, History and Tradition - ITS Tactical
 

Challenge Coin Rules, History and Tradition

By Bryan Black

ITS Tactical Challenge Coins

With the release of our newest ITS Challenge Coins today, I wanted to take the time to write an article addressing the history surrounding Challenge Coins and the rules, which still aren’t clear to many that have never had a “Coin Check” pulled on them.

Challenge Coins typically feature an organization’s insignia and are carried by their members. During a “Coin Check” they can prove membership, enhance morale or wind up costing you a round of drinks if you’ve forgotten yours at home. In keeping with the tradition of Challenge Coins heavily rooted in the military, we’ve produced our own here at ITS so that you can give them out for recognition or simply carry an awesome coin in your pocket in case you get challenged.

I recently presented an ITS Challenge Coin to everyone that attended our Inaugural Muster in the traditional way of palming it to them during a handshake. Below I’ve listed out the Challenge Coin Rules, which I’d never officially seen printed anywhere until Eric and I visited the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum a few months ago. These rules come from a laminated sheet they had displayed in their gift shop (photo below.)

Challenge Coin Rules

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

Rules

  • 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.)
  • The response consists of all those persons being challenged drawing their coin in a like manner.
  • 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.
  • If everyone being challenged responds in the correct manner, the challenger must buy a round of drinks for all those people they challenged.
  • Failure to buy a round of drinks is a despicable crime and will require that you turn-in your Coin to the issuing agency.

When-Where

  • Coin checks are permitted, ANY TIME, ANY PLACE.

Exceptions

  • 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!

Challenge Coin History and Tradition

The story I like the best out of all the ones floating around out there, (there are quite a few and none have been proven to be the accurate account of the start of Challenge Coins) dates back to WWII when the OSS (Office of Strategic Service) was deployed to Nazi held France. Their coins were simply a local coin that acted as a bona fides during meetings to verify identity and authenticity of an OSS agent.

Specifics on the coin were examined by each party that would identify friend from foe, which prevented infiltration by a spy who might have advance knowledge of the meeting time, place and even what coin was to be presented. This helped prevent infiltration into the meeting by a spy who might have to have advance knowledge of the meeting time, place and even what coin was to be presented.

ITS Tactical Challenge Coins

The first military unit known to have a coin was the oldest Special Forces unit in the Army, the 10th Special Forces Group. Green Berets were the only known units to have coins prior to the creation of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in 1987. Since then, the Challenge Coin tradition has spread far and wide in both the military and the private sector.

There probably isn’t a US President, or government official, today without one. I think the coolest coins I have in my collection were given to me by a Rear Admiral for getting selected as Honor Recruit in Navy Boot Camp and one given to me by Texas Governor Rick Perry at SHOT Show a few years back.

What’s Your Story?

Do you have a Challenge Coin story to share or what you’ve heard to be the origin of Challenge Coins? Share it below in the comments, as mentioned, there’s nothing that’s ever been proven to be the actual start of Challenge Coin use.

Be prepared and always carry (both a gun and your Challenge Coin!)

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Discussion

86 comments
Devildogmom
Devildogmom

Would it be I guess appropriate for me, the mother to gift one to my son or should I do it in honor of his grandpa who passed away and was military as well? My son who just got another meritorious and now cpl.along with marine of the quarter. I just want to show him some oohrah support, our family comes from a long line of military but almost all have passed away, I know they would of given him one if they were around.

PV2
PV2

Today I was presented my first challenge coin by a 3-star general. There was an uproar about the cleanliness and organization of the living/sleeping areas of my barracks, followed by multiple inspections by 1SGs and CSMs, my space was squared away so I helped out other soldiers clean and organize their living areas, my 1SG noticed and recommended me to the CSM who talked to the general.

PV2
PV2

I ggggggggggocujxdffffg

Crickerby
Crickerby

Earned this one working with seal team 4 off the coas of Kuwait. I'm most proud of this coin!!

Sarah
Sarah

Question, What is the importance of the brigade CSM coin in the Army National Guard? My friend is writing an article on Challenge coins and I am trying to help her gather info on it. Thank you

Keith Mohn Tubaugh
Keith Mohn Tubaugh

I have one Challenge Coin. It was given to me when I was 16. I was the Cadet Squadron Commander of my Civil Air Patrol Squadron. We held our meetings in an Army National Guard Armory and we had the honor of providing the Color Guard for thier ceremony when they returned from deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Unit Commander gave the six of us, 4 cadets 2 senior members, the coin that the 1485th Transport Company got. The six of us are the only non-service people to get it.

Loram
Loram

I got on from my Civil Air Patrol Squadron in October, It was a experience I will hold for the rest of my life

edgeer
edgeer

I would say my favorite challenge coin is the one I received from the Commander of the 3rd Brigade, 7th Infantry Division (Light) before it was inactivated.


The reason is that I was tasked by our Brigade Command Sergeant Major to design a challenge coin for our new Brigade Commander. My design was accepted and I was presented with one of the proofs.

Carrie P
Carrie P

Is it common for coins to be exchanged or gifted between civilian and military personal. (From a city police officer to a M.P.?)

Joanne
Joanne

Just recieved a Marine Challenge Coin from a school friend of mine. My brother was a Marine Corporal killed in Vietnam in 1968. He was on patrol in Quang Tin Vietnam and was ambushed while sweeping for mines. He had just turned nineteen years old one month before being killed. My school friend found this in the gutter in front of her house,and thought of me, knowing my brother was a Marine. She though I would like it, and she was so right. It now takes place with a few of his favorite things on a shelf under his medals on the wall. I have his old favorite hockey puck, a Marine bracelet , a pin a vet gave me when the traveling wall came to our home town of Fall River , Ma. , and his baseball glove and ball. It's amazing how many people gave me trinkets and I have the rubbing of his name from the WALL , from a policewoman from our town that babysat my brother and I . I'm so fortunate to have so many nice memories, and now I have the Marine Corps. Challenge Coin to add to the memories. His name was Cpl. Stephen J. Rago, U.S.M.C.  killed March 9, 1968. 

bryanpblack
bryanpblack moderator

@TreeO It's usually by rank if they're Military coins or prominence. Meaning a presidential coin would more than likely trump even a General or Admiral coin. Hope that helps!

Crickerby
Crickerby

Usually it's based off which coin represent s the highest rank. But cool points are a factor too!

CJ
CJ

My favorite challenge coin I have revived was from my BN commander, for training my Marines in a motivated fashion. He coined me infront of the whole BN.

Roger
Roger

I once delivered the eulogy for the mother of a buddy. I coined him just prior to starting my talk. 

AustinW
AustinW

My name is Austin and I am striving to be a Navy SEAL. This past week I went on a tour of the SEAL base with a family friend who is a Lt in the Navy. While we were talking, he gave me his SEAL Team Three challenge coin as a bit of motivation. Right now it is on my wall in my room, but I was wondering if this is something that I should carry with me all the time?

Crickerby
Crickerby

Yea man keep it in your wallet. And good luck with buds brother. I do however recommend not using it on any seals if you meet them ...unless you make it through.

SeanG
SeanG

Recently having moved to AZ, I've had a few people recognize my ITS logo on my patches and laptop.  Today, a gentleman stopped me on my way back to my vehicle from the convenient store asking if I was a crew leader.  As I've just began working, I responded, "No sir, not yet." He presented me the coin in a handshake sort of fashion.  It is nice to have civil human interaction with like-minded people.  Atop the wealth of information and products you guys at ITS offer, you also encourage camaraderie among your fans and members.  Thanks, keep up the great work.  

Gordito Dellgado
Gordito Dellgado

My uncle gave me his office's chalenge coin. He is the depudy chief information officer of the department of defence.

Cpl Moffatt
Cpl Moffatt

I was gifted my coin in 2003 from my brothers brothr in-law a Special Op's Ranger just before I enlisted into the British Army. He never told me about challenging. All he said was when you go on Ops find an American Camp and show the coin and they will look after you (BBQ's, Drinks etc).

Our family is spread across England and America but we all have a strong Military connection. very proud of everyone in my family that has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chris 

maxchal lengecoins
maxchal lengecoins

This is very interesting story about the challenge coins, I always think the challenge coins which used for the bravery and historical purposed how it may be introduced. This article says that why it used.Thanks for this valuable story.


TracyWilkinson
TracyWilkinson

My best coin story was one I witnessed at Devil's beach on Ft. Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone when i was a kid.

Two of my dad's buddies, MSG Ben Polston MSG Jim McLean were 7th Group guys. Jim was an enthusiastic coin checker, known to drop his coin in the most unusual places at the most peculiar times. He'd caught Ben a time or two in the past. Well Jim decided to go for a swim. He was out in the surf, with Ben watching him go. After he'd been out a while, Ben thought it would be the perfect time to wade out in the surf with his coin, with all of us laughing and watching from the beach. Ben reached him and held up his coin.. Jim smiled and pulled his out of his swim trunks!

We laughed so hard it hurt.

charles
charles

how many coins are made and how many people get one? I have one from a general wayne A downing

Jim S
Jim S

Maybe I should start carrying my SECDEF coin if 'trumps' is the rule. ;)

Topher
Topher

My most favorite challenge coin is my High School coin. I graduated class of '99 from Balboa HS DoDDS in Balboa, Panama.

Carl Cascone
Carl Cascone

As an HM(SS)IDC "submarine qualified independent duty Hospital Corpsman, I got sent all over and everywhere. The operators I was with always played fair. On the first trip to the bar on what came to be known as "Drunk Ops" after ""training"" We made sure everyone had something to CHECK. As things happen, stuff happens and coins are lost and can't be replaced while "underway". So we would buy our owed drinks given to those of us that could attend, then have a safety meeting. "Whatta ya got Doc? Was called out one night at the club in Kadena, or Okinawa, all I had was chap stick and taped up dog tags. EVERYONE at the bar had Both. Until we left the island, we checked tags and chap stick. True Story...Good Times!

Ron Walsh
Ron Walsh

I received my very first coin when I was promoted to Sergeant. It was handed to me by my CO. It is one that I carry always. Over the years, I have picked up a few new ones, but my favorite recent coin I got after completing a Costa Ludus training class. I will be getting my next one from Chris Costa at the end of January.

I know it sounds stupid, but things like this really do go a long way to help remembering where you have been.

Ron Walsh
Ron Walsh

I received my very first coin when I was promoted to Sergeant. It was handed to me by my CO. It is one that I carry always. Over the years, I have picked up a few new ones, but my favorite recent coin I got after completing a Costa Ludus training class. I will be getting my next one from Chris Costa at the end of January. I know it sounds stupid, but things like this really do go a long way to help remembering where you have been.

dan
dan

I carry my ship's coin and sailor's creed coin everywhere.

Milo
Milo

I'm a non military ex-contractor. I was given a coin for volunteering to go out to a FOB that had sustained a bad attack.

Before I left my foreman took me to the head of our department's office where the sergeant that oversaw out base was waiting. Both thanked me and the sergeant palmed me a coin when he shook my hand and left. Not having a military background I asked my foreman about it later and he explained what it was.

I felt pretty honored, even though I know they've become pretty common. Sadly, it ended up getting left at the FOB since I had to rush to catch a bird out and had been bumped 8+ times I just shoved my nearest belongings in my bag.

Milo
Milo

I'm a non military ex-contractor. I was given a coin for volunteering to go out to a FOB that had sustained a bad attack. Before I left my foreman took me to the head of our department's office where the sergeant that oversaw out base was waiting. Both thanked me and the sergeant palmed me a coin when he shook my hand and left. Not having a military background I asked my foreman about it later and he explained what it was. I felt pretty honored, even though I know they've become pretty common. Sadly, it ended up getting left at the FOB since I had to rush to catch a bird out and had been bumped 8+ times I just shoved my nearest belongings in my bag.

Blake
Blake

I, like a few others that have commented, am not prior military. But I do have a couple of unique challenge coins. Two times a year, I work at a NASCAR track & have been in the same spot for years. Well I have gotten to know one of the PR guys & turns out he's retired Air Force. So he brought the challenge coins to the team, having ones made up. Since I have helped him out, he gave me one & has challenged me before. Another one (and my first) is an AFOSI coin. Got it from an Airman up there. Also have an FBI one.

C.C. Chapman
C.C. Chapman

I had never heard of challenge coins until several years ago a listener of my podcast sent me one as a thank you.

He had been listening to my show for years and wanted me to have one from his unit as a special show of appreciation. It was a total surprise and still is one of my most cherished possessions.

C.C. Chapman
C.C. Chapman

I had never heard of challenge coins until several years ago a listener of my podcast sent me one as a thank you. He had been listening to my show for years and wanted me to have one from his unit as a special show of appreciation. It was a total surprise and still is one of my most cherished possessions.

RW
RW

The Ranger Batts had coins in the 70s.

John
John

...to the "one step, arms reach" rule... In my day, when we "sanitized" for a mission it meant everything to the micro-detail. The rule was "suspended" until we reported for the debrief, but once you hit the door it was game on.

DocCoy talked about "...coin in the soap dish...", we always wore them under our watch because you just never know... jc

John
John

...to the "one step, arms reach" rule... In my day, when we "sanitized" for a mission it meant everything to the micro-detail. The rule was "suspended" until we reported for the debrief, but once you hit the door it was game on. DocCoy talked about "...coin in the soap dish...", we always wore them under our watch because you just never know... jc

Gianni D
Gianni D

I would love to create some challenge coins for my cub scout pack. Does anyone know where they can be purchased.... Maybe Ill have the boys make them out of some material. Create our own rules sans the drinking. :)

Aaron K
Aaron K

My coolest coin was given to me by a pair of Air Marshalls. I work for a gear manufacturer and was able to take care of them on some stuff with little notice. As a token of appreciation, they gave me a FAMS coin.

Doc Hewett
Doc Hewett

My favorite story is one I was involved in as a new Corpsman to a Recon unit. We were policing up out in the field at 0'dark-thirty prior to the trucks arriving at day break to take us back to garrison. I'm looking for trash and anything else on the ground when I spy a shiny coin. Turns out to be a Marine Scout Sniper Coin belonging to a Sgt in my Platoon. I asked whose it was and the rightful owner stepped forward with a shamed look on his face and gratefully accepted it from e and thanked me. The Platoon Sgt informed me that that was a hard coin to earn and that he owed me for finding it and that 50 push-ups would be a good start. The Sgt in question did not hesitate and dropped down and pushed them out for me and then requested mt permission to recover. This made a big impression on a young Corpsman among a bunch of hard chargers as to what a challenge coin was and what it meant. I also received drinks of my choice anytime from him frequently. This was before they were handed out like candy, and is why I cherish mine to this day. Good write up Bryan as always. "Doc"

Doc Hewett
Doc Hewett

My favorite story is one I was involved in as a new Corpsman to a Recon unit.

We were policing up out in the field at 0'dark-thirty prior to the trucks arriving at day break to take us back to garrison. I'm looking for trash and anything else on the ground when I spy a shiny coin. Turns out to be a Marine Scout Sniper Coin belonging to a Sgt in my Platoon. I asked whose it was and the rightful owner stepped forward with a shamed look on his face and gratefully accepted it from e and thanked me. The Platoon Sgt informed me that that was a hard coin to earn and that he owed me for finding it and that 50 push-ups would be a good start. The Sgt in question did not hesitate and dropped down and pushed them out for me and then requested mt permission to recover.

This made a big impression on a young Corpsman among a bunch of hard chargers as to what a challenge coin was and what it meant. I also received drinks of my choice anytime from him frequently.

This was before they were handed out like candy, and is why I cherish mine to this day.

Good write up Bryan as always.

"Doc"

John
John

The tradition of the "handshake pass" comes to us from our British cousins.

In the past, officers were awarded medals while the enlisted gents (who did the work) stood in formation and watched.

As the "story goes", the Sergeant Major(s) would discretely reward those enlisted men who had excelled in the battle / operation by moving through the formation and with a handshake, pass the soldier a coin of significant monetary value. The British were not known for fairly compensating their enlisted troops, that was reserved for the gentlemen officers who usually had little to do in the engagement. The SGMs leveled the playing field a bit because they probably "acquired" the funds from unknowing officers...their form of justice.

I will say, in defense of our cousins, the times have changed! I was privileged to work with some SAS and RAF Regiment brothers during OEF and OIF; the officers and enlisted are definitely a team these days, but it's still a cool tradition. jc

John
John

The tradition of the "handshake pass" comes to us from our British cousins. In the past, officers were awarded medals while the enlisted gents (who did the work) stood in formation and watched. As the "story goes", the Sergeant Major(s) would discretely reward those enlisted men who had excelled in the battle / operation by moving through the formation and with a handshake, pass the soldier a coin of significant monetary value. The British were not known for fairly compensating their enlisted troops, that was reserved for the gentlemen officers who usually had little to do in the engagement. The SGMs leveled the playing field a bit because they probably "acquired" the funds from unknowing officers...their form of justice. I will say, in defense of our cousins, the times have changed! I was privileged to work with some SAS and RAF Regiment brothers during OEF and OIF; the officers and enlisted are definitely a team these days, but it's still a cool tradition. jc

Charles
Charles

The most beloved coin in my collection is one that I received from a Special Forces Ranger whom I cared for after the Mogadishu Mile. (He took and RPG fragment to the brain.) It's the only one that has my name and rank engraved on it. Nearly 20 years later, I still carry it, albeit in a plastic case because it was getting so worn.

Great article, having never seen the rules set down in print. Now someone else needs to explain "dead bug!"

Charles
Charles

The most beloved coin in my collection is one that I received from a Special Forces Ranger whom I cared for after the Mogadishu Mile. (He took and RPG fragment to the brain.) It's the only one that has my name and rank engraved on it. Nearly 20 years later, I still carry it, albeit in a plastic case because it was getting so worn. Great article, having never seen the rules set down in print. Now someone else needs to explain "dead bug!"

Keaton
Keaton

I received my first challenge coin upon swearing in at my enlistment. After I had received the coin in a hand shake I was given a velvet box for it along with a printed paper explaining the origins of the coin. I wish I could find that paper now but I do remember the gist of what it said. It claimed that the origin of the coin came when an officer was awarded a medal for the act of one of his enlisted men. At that time only officers were awarded medals and as such were awarded medals for acts of valor committed by an enlisted soldier since they were not allowed to be rewarded with them. Anyways the said officer felt that this was wrong. He later cut the ribbon from the medal and secretly gave it to the enlisted soldier by way of a handshake. Thus starting the tradition of awarding coins through the "secret handshake."

I was a Chaplains Assistant in the Army for six years, my favorite coin was given to me by the Army Chief of Chaplains MG Douglas L. Carver, while serving in Ramadi, Iraq.

Keaton
Keaton

I received my first challenge coin upon swearing in at my enlistment. After I had received the coin in a hand shake I was given a velvet box for it along with a printed paper explaining the origins of the coin. I wish I could find that paper now but I do remember the gist of what it said. It claimed that the origin of the coin came when an officer was awarded a medal for the act of one of his enlisted men. At that time only officers were awarded medals and as such were awarded medals for acts of valor committed by an enlisted soldier since they were not allowed to be rewarded with them. Anyways the said officer felt that this was wrong. He later cut the ribbon from the medal and secretly gave it to the enlisted soldier by way of a handshake. Thus starting the tradition of awarding coins through the "secret handshake." I was a Chaplains Assistant in the Army for six years, my favorite coin was given to me by the Army Chief of Chaplains MG Douglas L. Carver, while serving in Ramadi, Iraq.

Tim
Tim

In 94/95 I served with the 46th Engineer unit in Haiti. We were assigned to the UN and went down to help out a Hurricane went thru and destroyed Port-au-Prince my section went to build a bridge in a town called Jacmel.

We got a visit from the Sgt. major of the Army to see the projects we have been doing and the progress of the bridge. He went around shaking hands and passed out coins (that was my first coin) I was excited and didn't want to lose it so that night I put it in my foot locker a couple days later I found it missing. I was very pissed finding it gone.

Tim
Tim

In 94/95 I served with the 46th Engineer unit in Haiti. We were assigned to the UN and went down to help out a Hurricane went thru and destroyed Port-au-Prince my section went to build a bridge in a town called Jacmel. We got a visit from the Sgt. major of the Army to see the projects we have been doing and the progress of the bridge. He went around shaking hands and passed out coins (that was my first coin) I was excited and didn't want to lose it so that night I put it in my foot locker a couple days later I found it missing. I was very pissed finding it gone.

Jack
Jack

I was notorious for never carrying a challenge coin and had to buy numerous drinks when deployed. However, I think its a fantastic tradition of camaraderie and I hope that it will last a long time. My two favorite coins are: One given to me by the 1st Sergeant while attending the U.S. Army's Airborne School and a FBI Department of Justice coin given to me when I completed Anti-Terrorism Training from the FBI. Great Job on you all's coins; they look fantastic!

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