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The Challenge Coin Meaning

If you aren’t in the military, you may never have heard of challenge coins. These coins, which have a long and complex history with the military, are a sort of informal badge of honor among those who serve together. They are also a crucial piece of a popular drinking game.

Challenge coins are a fantastic tool for building camaraderie and loyalty to a group. But to those who carry them, they can mean much more than that. Read on to learn about the challenge coin meaning and its history.

History of Challenge Coins

Challenge coins got their start during World War I, when a lieutenant bought matching bronze coins for all the members of his unit. The men kept the coins on them at all times, which proved beneficial for one pilot who got captured by the Germans. When he escaped to a French outpost, they assumed he was a German spy until he showed them his challenge coin.

Another story says that during the Vietnam war, some infantrymen ran a bar. You couldn’t get a drink unless you presented an enemy bullet as a sort of challenge coin. Still another story says the tradition originated with Roman soldiers who received a coin stamped with their company’s insignia as a day’s wages.

No matter where the tradition started, challenge coins have always been linked to military service and alcohol. During the Vietnam and Korean Wars, they grew in popularity until they were being handed out by the upper ranks. Today, everyone from police academies to the President of the United States gives out challenge coins.


A challenge coin’s design is very important since that’s what sets it apart as an identifier for the group. Most are an inch and a half or so across, and they are stamped with the insignia of whatever organization they come from. Some have lettering around the edges, some are painted, and others come in unique shapes. 

Modern technology has made it possible for a challenge coin company to generate almost any design you like. If you plan to order some, you want a coin that will represent the very best of your group. These coins are an honor to carry, and you want them to be something your members can be proud of.

What They Represent

So what is it that makes challenge coins such an immense honor that Presidents would hand them out and military men would carry them? As the name suggests, challenge coins show that you have overcome some challenges to earn them. They stand as a more informal medal of honor among those who carry them.

But aside from honoring commitment and perseverance, challenge coins represent bonds and brotherhood among an organization. Having a challenge coin connects you to your fellow members, showing that you’ve lived through the same experiences. They can be a powerful reminder of connection even between two people who may never have met before.

Who Uses Them

Challenge coins originated in the military, and they are still the groups that use them most prominently. Tracy English, a historian for the Air Force, said in an interview with the New York Times, “If you walk into a high-ranking service member’s office with a big magnet, chances are you will die.” In 2011, the then-defense secretary Robert Gates handed out challenge coins to troops in Afghanistan to thank them for their service. 

But challenge coins have expanded beyond the military to other branches of government and beyond. Every President since Bill Clinton has had a challenge coin with a unique design. Firefighters, police, and senators have all used challenge coins to promote camaraderie and honor their employees.

And these coins have spread into the corporate world. Some bookselling companies have offered challenge coins to employees who work 80 hours per week for the first three weeks of employment. Other companies use them as a way to honor employees who have done an exceptional job or who were part of an important project.

How You Earn One

There are a number of different ways to earn a challenge coin, depending on which organization you get it from. The unifying factor is that you have to endure some sort of strenuous challenge or present yourself honorably. 

In the military, you can earn a challenge coin by being the member of the month, quarter or year. You may also earn one if you demonstrate excellence in your actions during combat operations or training. Expert qualification in marksmanship, maximum scores on physical fitness tests, or similar accomplishments may also warrant a challenge coin. 

Rules of the Game

Aside from being a medal of honor, the challenge coin is also a drinking game. The tradition never forgot its origins, and to this day, coin holders can demand a “coin check” at a bar. The rules are specific and must be honored.

Whenever a coin holder wishes, they may pull out their coin and shout, “Coin check.” The last person to present their coin, or the person who does not have theirs on them, must buy drinks for those who do.

Coin checks are valid whether or not the parties are clothed at the time. You may not turn your coin into a belt buckle, ring, or another wearable (though you can put it in a necklace holder). Challenged parties are permitted one step and an arm’s reach to get to their coin or they lose the challenge.

Learn More About Challenge Coin Meaning

Challenge coins have a long history in the military, and in recent years, they have expanded to the corporate world. The challenge coin meaning stands as a badge of honor, a reminder of brotherhood and service. If you are dedicated enough to earn a challenge coin, you should carry it with pride and always, always keep it in an arm’s reach.

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