For those that are not familiar, challenge coins are coins that are handed out by commanders, sergeants-majors, units, and others as 'mementos'. But that was not their original usage- while many units have varied histories around challenge coins, most will agree that it originates from WWI when a downed pilot used it to verify his background. From that point forward, the unit had everyone carrying a coin in a pouch around their neck.
Coins really took off in the Vietnam era, and many from that conflict are quite valuable- ones from MACV-SOG or other specialized unit are especially coveted. During my trips over there, I was not able to secure a 'real' coin but fakes are readily available.
Coin usage nowadays is not for combat; its for camaraderie. Any place, ANY time, a person holding a coin can issue a challenge; showers too! Those not able to reach their coin buys the round; those holding the HIGHEST RANK of coin gets rounds purchased by the others. IF, in a challenge, everyone comes up with their coin, one of two things can happen- either the LAST person producing the coin buys, or the challenger buys, depending on local/unit tradition. Personally, I'm never without a 4-star coin, ever. My most 'valuable' one is a Rumsfeld. He's known for having been especially strict on giving them out. Never, EVER challenge Blackfive. He's known to carry a Presidential one. Can't.be.trumped.
How do you acquire one? They are given as a 'reward' in many cases, similar to an award, but much less formality involved. Presenter places one in their palm, shakes hand of the recipient, and transfers the coin. This is the only TRUE method. You can, indeed, buy most if not all coins (even a Rumsfeld, but they are expensive, and fakes are numerous) but only those given and received in this traditional manner are really worth anything. My favorite coin was given to me by an Admiral in Iraq- his first coin, and his first coining, in theater.
One of my favorite challenge stories was in the summer of '86 in Camp Grayling, MI. The 101st Airborne provided some companies to act as OPFOR in the training areas, and when we came out of the field phase the usual nuttiness followed at the O' and NCO' clubs on post. One night, a particularly attractive lieutenant (from my guard HQ) appeared in the O' club on Grayling. For those who've never been there, to me, this is THE BEST officers club on any facility. She walked to the bar in the back of the club, slammed down the 101st Commanders Coin, and hilarity ensued when the guys from the 101st, who were mostly in the back of the room, bulldozed their way to the bar to slam their coins down. Over tables, over people, over everything to get to the bar in time. The place was PACKED, and damn, no one wanted to be last or without. No one was expecting HER to coin the 101st. I don't think the place settled down for the rest of the summer after that little stunt.
You got a good challenge coin story? Share it in the comments. I've got dozens of stories of coining in Iraq. Joint Chiefs chairman GEN Myers dumped an entire SLEEVE of his coins into the cargo pocket of a unit Sergeant Major to give out to troops on his behalf. I don't know what made that SGM more nervous- watching the Chairman do that to him, or the fact he was carrying 5 pounds of coinage in his pocket.
Drop a story or two into the comments..
Some coins that were sent in: (story to follow in the comments)
And someone sent in their favorite collection of Air Force coins: