MYTHS ABOUT THE HISTORY OF MILITARY COINS
There seems to be two prevalent thoughts about where military coins come from. Both wrong if we are speaking of military coins rather than only of challenge coins. So first, what are the differences. Simply put one could say that all coins presented by and to military people are military coins. Only coins that are specific to a unit or organization MAY be challenge coins. Not all military coins are challenge coins.
There is no doubt that countries and military units have been producing military awards for millennia. The ancient Egyptians had the Old Kingdom award the Order of the Golden Collar. There are numerous Roman military coins dating back over 2000 years. Certain legions were authorized to strike their own currency for local use and this currency often depicted their own battles and other military accomplishments. Many examples survive. The key is that a military unit issued the coin.
MILITARY COINS TODAY
As we said, not all military coins are all challenge coins. Indeed most of them really aren’t. Coins presented by commanders or to members of various military organizations may have the challenge attached but a great many coins have a quite different purpose. An example is the reenlistment coin. This is presented when someone reenlists and often depicts the oath of enlistment. There is not typically a challenge associated with this. Military coins may advertise programs or events. Airshow coins are common as are coins featuring weapons systems and such. These are not challenge coins as there is no challenge associated with them.
There is an old tradition ascribed originally to the Navy in which a newly minted officer must give a silver dollar to the first person who salutes them. Recently some ROTC units and OCS classes have created class coins to serve this purpose. Again; not a challenge coin.US AIR FORCE CHALLENGE COIN
8TH EXPEDITIONARY AIR
DO CHALLENGE COINS HAVE RANKS?
I have seen on many sights the assertion that there is a rank assigned to a challenge coin. Not during my 20 years of service was there ever such a thing and it is frankly an insult to any soldier who particularly values his unit’s coin, his commander’s coin or Sergeant Major’s coin. According to some, if one who is challenged with a colonel’s coin and presents a general’s coin then the person with the higher ranked coin wins. This is a very new concept, it is very wrong and it denies the very essence of a challenge coin. That essence is that the coin one carries signifies membership in his/her current unit or some very special organization. It would be unfortunate for the young private who, challenged by his company commander, pulls the battalion commander’s coin and claims a drink. There is no doubt that soldiers often carry coins they are particularly proud of but just as frequently the rank of the presenter is not the deciding factor. So I think it is safe to say that rank has hit privileges but not when it comes to challenge coins.
The key to remember is that originally it was not important that a unit member have a coin but rather that they have THEIR unit’s coin. It is a symbol of unit cohesiveness and pride. Any old custom coin, though appreciated and treasured for what it is, simply will not do.
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