Almost every Soldier in the military, regardless of branch of service, has received or known someone who has received a special coin. These coins which we hold dear today can trace their history to a rich Lieutenant who gave them to every pilot in his Squadron. During the war, if a pilot had to land behind enemy lines and was captured by the Germans, they confiscated all of his possessions and equipment. When a French patrol found him, it was his special bronze coin that revealed that he was an American and saved his life. After that, the Squadron decided to always carry their coins! Today, the challenge coin tradition has spread to the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force. Challenge coins now enforce solidarity and represent special military milestones in our careers. Here are my 7 Ideas for Creating Your Own Custom Challenge Coin to reward your Soldiers with.
1. Make it Something Unique and Special to Your Unit. I have found that many Soldiers have coins, but only a few of them are truly held as proud possessions. These coins are always the ones that represent their service to a particular unit in which they served. I know personally that one of my most prized coins was from my Battalion Commander and holds our Battalion crest on it.
2. Incorporate a Unique Design. We all know that coins are round and metallic, but oftentimes the coins that we enjoy the most are the most unique. For example, my all time favorite coin came when I graduated basic training with EIA (Excellence in Armor). The coin is actually the shape of a tank sprocket! It is truly my favorite because of that.
3. Make Them Special to the Soldier. Don’t just go giving out your coins willy-nilly just to hand them out. After all, making a custom coin is pretty expensive. Rather, create a situation where your Soldiers must truly earn one by exceeding the standard and setting the example. I personally enjoy the fact that the sprocket coin I received was because I worked so hard to earn it. It was especially special because it was the first coin I received.
4. Make your coin, well…more than a coin. I recently stumbled upon a Soldier who had a coin on him at a bar. At closer inspection he revealed to me that the coin was in fact, a bottle opener! He told me that he earned the coin at the completion of a Company ruck-march where he finished first. He then told me that he used the coin to open the beers he enjoyed after!
5. Get Feedback from Your Peers and Other Soldiers. Before you shell out the dough to have coins made, try to talk with some peers and other Soldiers within your unit and sister units. Understanding the types of things the Soldiers look for in a coin can help you narrow down exactly what type of coin to create.
6. Utilize the Internet and Other Resources. Do a little web research to view images of military coins. Try to look various time periods as well. There may be a unique style that was common during the 1940s that you would like to bring back. I think you would be surprised to see what is out there.
7. Last, but not least, always present your coins in front of others. As leaders, we must always remember to praise our Soldiers, especially in front of their peers and other Soldiers. With that comes the opportunity to present them with our coins. Other Soldiers will see this, and in turn may be motivated to earn one for themselves. Doing so in this manner will create a sort of mystique about your challenge coin as well.
FINAL THOUGHTS: There is often times nothing more sacred to a Soldier than his collection of Commander’s and other challenge coins that he has earned over his career. Some proudly display them on a cherry display mount or others throw in a keepsake box to share with their grandchildren someday. Either way, challenge coins are an excellent way to reward our Soldiers for their superb work and efforts.
Do you have any ideas for Challenge Coins? Any questions? Just post them below. Thank you.