What is a Challenge Coin?

The definitive origin of the Challenge Coin is unclear, some say it dates back to Roman times, but most believe it started sometime during World War I or II, likely within aviation units, where it maintains a strong tradition today. There are instances of senior officers having coins created for members of their squadron as gifts, which then helped them establish their identity (and avoid execution) when trying to reenter Allied territory after being shot down. After this it was customary for all squadron members to carry their coin and present it when challenged. If they could not, they had to buy the challenger a round of drinks. If they could the challenger had to buy the drinks. Also, some evidence suggests the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, precursor to the CIA), used details of pre-determined coins to ensure security during clandestine meetings.

Today, challenge coins are given for joining an organization, as an award to improve morale, and frequently sold as fundraisers for squadron events. Traditionally, the presentation of a coin is passed during a handshake. When a challenge is to be made, the challenger draws their coin, and slaps the coin on the table or bar. (Accidentally dropping a challenge coin is considered a deliberate challenge to all present, so don’t do that unless you really mean it!) Everyone being challenged must immediately produce the coin for their organization and anyone not carrying their coin has to buy a round of drinks for the challenger and anyone else who has their challenge coin. However, should everyone challenged be able to produce their coin, the challenger loses and must buy a round for the group. During a challenge, everyone in the group must buy a drink for the holder of the highest-ranking coin. which is determined by the rank of the giver of the challenge coin.