How to develop a comprehensive military coin program.

By now just about every military organization has Military Coins.  They have become an integral part of your military awards programs.  Despite their long tradition in the military, most commanders still see their coins as a stand-alone piece.  I would like to explore that today.

This Challenge Coin is from Me to You

Perhaps the most commonly held opinion of military coins is that they are a personal presentation item from the commander (and sometimes first sergeant or command sergeant major) to the individual soldier.  The coin is to mark a special service that the soldier has performed.  Perhaps it is volunteer work that the soldier performs.  Maybe he has taken on some special task unrelated to his job that the commander wishes to appreciate.  Maybe it is just a soldier’s good attitude that earns him or her recognition.  The operative word here is “personal”.  It is a personal thank you from the commander to the soldier.

Another use along these lines is to present the challenge coin to visitors, VIPs and others who render a special service or honor to the unit.  The obvious example is the distinguished visitor.  In this case the challenge coin might be presented to the guest speaker at a dining-in as a token of appreciation.  (What a joy not to get another plaque.  My storage unit is filled with these and they will never again see the light of day I fear.)  Maybe a foreign visitor is recognized.  The military coin is perfect for this as it is easy to carry on the airplane and joins what is, perhaps, a nice collection of memorabilia.  Using the presentation coins outside of the unit may require two supplies of military coins.  Some paid with government money and others paid from the command teams personal funds.  Of course you would know more about that than I do.

This Military Coin is for Doing a Good Job

When the military coin can be “earned” for duty performance it joins another category altogether.  In this case the service person vies for the challenge coin.  Perhaps a soldier, sailor, marine or airman gets a commendable in a general inspection.  The command team presents him/her with the coin in recognition of this accomplishment.  The other day I met a commander who awarded a challenge coin to all of his soldiers who score above a certain point on the physical fitness tests…  APFT included as this was an Army unit.

With awards coins there is usually an established standard for receiving a coin.  Service people know the standards in advance and are gunning for the coin.  Very frequently, I am told, these coin awards come along with some other benefit.  In one case, soldiers could trade their coin for a long weekend pass.  The commander confided in me that he rarely had any takers for this benefit as the soldier’s in his command would rather have the challenge-coin than a day off.  I am not surprised.  As I have mentioned before, just about everyone who finds out that I make military coins, tells me about theirs complete with from whom they got it and why.

I had a discussion with an Army Command Sergeant Major the other day and he brought up a potential issue with challenge coins that should have been obvious to me.  It is a complicated issue so here it is:

When to Give a Challenge Coin Also

By also I mean along with an official award.  The CSM told me that sometimes with every good intention in mind, we award a service person with a coin forgetting that this recognition does not go into their personal file to be considered officially in the future.  You can’t list challenge coins in your promotion packet he said.   His solution was to carefully consider, when presenting a coin, whether the soldier should also receive an official award.  He said that he had seen coins presented as an award when the soldier clearly qualified for an achievement or commendation.  It would be a shame to give the soldier a coin when their career would be enhanced by a Commendation Medal.

So what this CSM did was to review all of the military coin presentations in his unit and advise the commander when he thought they should consider an official commendation of some kind.  Of course the soldier was given the coin ALSO!  At the awards ceremony, after the ARCOM (for example) was read to the assembly, the commander would pin on the medal and palm the soldier the challenge coin, saying “this is a personal thank-you from the CSM and I for a job well done”.   I think this is a very good idea indeed.

Planning and Coordination is the Key

When you are first setting out to design your challenge coin or unit coin these decisions should all be considered.  The way you plan to use your military coin will help to determine its design.  Do you want it to say “For excellence“?  Do you want it to say “In appreciation“.  Is the design as versatile as it could be.  Sometimes the coins are required to say “Presented for Excellence” or something similar.  If so, maybe just the word “excellence” will suffice.  It all depends on your program and plan to use the coins.  And remember.  Die charges are relatively inexpensive.  Using a common side, it is possible to have two coins for not much more than a singe one.  So some might read, “In Appreciation” and some might read “for excellence”.  The key is taking a few minutes with your team to decide how your coins are to be used and how they fit into the larger awards program you already have.

Challenge Coins are a Favorite Subject of Mine

Over the years I have been privileged to make coins for a wide variety of units, businesses, VIPs and at least one corporal.  Very many of these customers have shared their insights into how they design, use and sometimes fund their coins.  I would be honored to share their stories with you and offer you the benefit of this experience.  Just give me a call, anytime.  It is always a good time to talk about this. *

*(If I am at the lottery office trying to decide between the cash or annuity I might have to call you back.  Hey.  It could happen.)