People in the military expect to work hard, and some of them go that extra mile beyond the high expectations they are already expected to live up to. In some cases, a soldier’s efficiency, productivity, or an act of bravery is considered exceptional, and they are properly thanked by their superiors, sometimes with a handshake and a verbal expression of thanks, and sometimes with a special certificate of appreciation. But military coins are another way that soldiers may be thanked for their exceptional dedication to their work, and these irreplaceable coins carry very special meaning. When a soldier comes home from deployment, he or she often has challenge coins together with a collection of most prized possessions, including photographs, dog tags, and wedding rings.
Military challenge coins come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes, and they are often personalized to represent the unique situation in which it is being presented. Many soldiers carry their challenge coins with them everywhere, including the shower! The ways in which leaders design their coins varies. For example, one command sergeant obtains a regular battalion coin representing his particular battalion, as well as a personal coin that has his name and rank engraved on it. When he presents his personal coin to you, it symbolizes a personal expression of thanks from a leader to one of his soldiers for their hard work.
But you don’t have to be an officer or a leader to obtain and give military coins. A soldier can, for example, obtain coins from the Post Exchange and award them to fellow soldiers for specific actions or deeds. In general, the more unique the coin, the more valuable it is, though even a mass-produced coin bought in the PX can have a world of meaning to the recipient, depending on the situation in which it is given. And challenge coins aren’t necessarily given within a chain of command. Sometimes someone in one chain of command who interacts regularly with someone in another may wish to recognize that person’s contributions and does so with a challenge coin. These can be very meaningful as well.
But though coins may represent serious situations, they are often part of more relaxed traditions too. Sometimes coins are used to “challenge” a fellow soldier. If, for instance soldiers are out together and one has a challenge coin, he may challenge the other soldiers to produce their coin then and there. Whoever doesn’t produce one has to buy a round of drinks. Or, if one soldier challenges another with a coin and the challenged soldier produces his coin, the original challenger has to buy the drinks.
The coins and the traditions that have grown up around them in the military all go back to the acknowledgement of having shared a common bond as soldiers, and the commemoration of special events and situations where hard work and perseverance made a difference. For those reasons, military personnel generally cherish the challenge coins they’ve been awarded as some of their most precious possessions.