A challenge coin is typically a coin shape that is made of a type of metal. They may be bronze, gold, silver, platinum or a mixture of metals. The shape is not always round. Some are triangular or are shaped for the particular meaning they project. They generally have a logo on the front and may have a raised emblem on the front and the back. A particular slogan, a date or the name of a unit is used for challenge coins given to members of the military. If they are given as an award for a completed mission or a job that was considered difficult, this is often commemorated on the coin as well.
The first challenge coins were given in the military and although the story varies with each telling, the basic one seems to include a member of the military challenging fellow members to produce the coin. If they cannot, they must buy drinks all around and if they do, the challenger buys. The origination of the coins is attributed to the branch of the military that is today, the United States Air Force. They were carried by those who flew into enemy territory and were considered one of the bravest among this branch of the military.
The challenge coin is also called an honor coin. They are carried by members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard among others. The coin has become so popular that many civil servants today possess them. These coins will have the department that the person is employed by whereas the military coin has the division or squadron as an emblem. The coins are also given to many members of organizations today as well as being sold to honor special occasions.
Members of the Air Force receive the coins after completing their basic training. If officer training is chosen, upon graduation, new officers are given a coin. In keeping with the original meaning of challenge coins, it is believed by many that the rules of a challenge should be kept within the military unit and only for those who have been given the coin by their unit. They believe that the coin is a morale booster that was reserved for this purpose and organizations should not initiate challenges using the coin.
The coins are to be carried at all times although specific rules should be followed. Defacing the coin in any way is strictly prohibited. Drilling a hole to allow the coin to be attached to a key chain or worn as a necklace nullifies the coin and it is no longer considered a challenge coin. Many units do not allow members to carry their coins in a wallet. The most common and accepted way of carrying the coins is in a pouch worn around the neck. This is in keeping with the original method that is believed to be the way pilots carried them.
When given for the recognition of an accomplishment, the coins are generally exchanged during a handshake. They are passed from the giver to the receiver and a short explanation is usually offered as to the reason for awarding the coin.