The first time I received a military challenge coin was for my volunteer time with my husband’s military unit. I spent a month planning the unit Christmas party, coordinating the food and games, wrapping a gift for every child in the unit, and then setting up decorations. The unit leadership enjoyed the event, and they thanked me for my efforts by shaking my hand and giving me a shiny challenge coin with the unit’s name and logo carved into the metal.

Of course, that wasn’t the first military challenge coin I had seen. My husband—a Marine—had been collecting them for years at that point. When he deployed overseas, he would bring back challenge coins not just from his own unit, but also from other military units he worked with. If a high-ranking leader or government official paid them a visit, it was a real honor to get that individual’s challenge coin to commemorate the event.

Challenge coins are now a common practice in military and first responder units. Receiving a challenge coin is always a sign of inclusion, unity, and honor.

This post is sponsored by GS-JJ. They produce custom challenge coins for military and first responder families.

military challenge coin

The history of military challenge coins

These large, shiny coins have been a military tradition for decades, but why are they called challenge coins?

Some say the tradition began in Vietnam, where a bar run by Army infantry wanted to keep out anyone who hadn’t been in combat. Patrons were challenged to prove they had been in battle by presenting used bullets, unexploded ordnance, or other trophies. As these challenges became increasingly dangerous, it was agreed that any coin-sized item stamped with the military unit’s insignia would count towards the challenge.

Others say the origins of military challenge coins go back to World War I, when an American Army lieutenant had commemorative coins handed out to his entire unit, shortly before he was captured behind enemy lines. To discourage him from escaping, the Germans took away anything that could be used to ID him, but they didn’t take his commemorative coin. The lieutenant did escape, and when he made it to a French outpost, he was almost shot for being a spy. But when he showed the coin, they recognized the American unit insignia and spared his life. After that, he made sure everyone in his unit carried a coin at all times!

What to do with military challenge coins

The ”challenge” of military challenge coins is essentially a drinking game. If coins are handed out to every member in a group (military squad, unit, etc.), then they are a symbol of morale that members could be expected to show at any time. Failure to reveal your coin when the rest of the unit does means you owe them all a drink!

Service members have also started to rank the importance of challenge coins, based on how difficult they are to obtain. If you “challenge” someone at a bar with a unit coin from a General you met once, you would beat any of their coins from lower-ranking commanders or units. But if they show a coin from the President of the United States, then your coin will lose to the Commander-in-Chief, and you will be the one buying the next round.

The tradition of military challenge coins means that most service members collect coins from different locations, people, or events. Some proudly display their coins in a wooden rack on a desk or mounted on the wall. Because of this, challenge coins make a unique and memorable gift for anyone in the military or first responded communities.

Military challenge coin display on a wooden rack

Where and how to get military challenge coins

There are two ways to receive military challenge coins: either they are given to you as a gift or reward, or you order them to distribute for a unique occasion. A challenge coin is always a sign of respect from the giver to the recipient, so they are certainly a unique gift to be treasured.

Modern challenge coins can come in a variety of sizes and creative designs. While most are still round and resemble large coins, some portray custom 2D or 3D shapes like aircraft, unit insignia, or police badges. Using hard and soft enamel, you can add colors and patterns to your design to match a unit insignia, a country’s flag, or any special event!

For special occasions like a military retirement, or any situation calling for custom coins, I prefer the military challenge coins from GS-JJ. They offer a library of patriotic designs for military and first responders. Using colored enamel, you can commemorate any occasion, military unit, or first responder team. Choose from a variety of 2D or 3D shapes and designs to fit your custom commemorative purpose. If you need something unique that isn’t in the library, their design team will work with you at no extra cost to help you customize coins for a special order. They offer six different types of edges, so you can tailor every edge of the coin to match your vision.

military challenge coin edging options for custom designs

GS-JJ is a great solution for custom challenge coins of any shape or size because of their high quality, great customer service, free shipping, and no minimum size for orders. One fun perk is that some of their military challenge coins can be used a bottle openers!

Whether you are celebrating events for service members, spouses, first responders, or veterans, I highly recommend challenge coins from GS-JJ as a gift that demonstrates honor, pride, and respect.


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