The use of military challenge coins started in 1940s. Military officers use local currency coins for coin challenge activities. Going further back in history, the Romans rewarded their soldiers with gold coins for winning battles.
The first known unit that used Special Forces Coins was the 10th Special Forces Group headed by Col. Vernon E. Greene. The Lodge Act allowed men of any nationality to join military service and this often caused communication barriers. Commander Greene found a way to avoid non-bona fides members from his troop. He produced coins to challenge soldiers to prove their identities and affiliation to the team. The challenge coins have a Trojan horse design on the front. They were originally used in a fundraising drive to purchase a German Wood-Carved Special Forces Trooper.
In 1960s, someone from the 11th Special Forces Group initiated the over-stamping of old coins with a special emblem and presented them to every member of the unit. The gesture has warmed the spirits of the team and made their bonds stronger.
One former commander of 10th Special Forces Group was inspired by the idea of personalized coining or minting. He produced coins for his men, turning the 10th Special Forces Group into the only unit in the Army that owned challenge coins – up until the middle of 1980s.
Afterwards, the popularity of having specially-designed challenge coins for each unit of the Armed Forces spread like wildfire. Everyone started minting coins for their units. Commanding officers and sergeant majors started the tradition of presenting coins to their men who showed great courage and heroism while doing their duties. Members of military service took pride in keeping these coins inside their wallets together with their IDs and licenses. They became part of identification protocols, giving instant access to important military events. They became a silent morale booster, reminding both active and retired military men of the significant roles they’ve served for the nation.
One of the first producers of these coins was Don Philips of 20th Special Forces Group. He was a former commander who designed coins for his own unit during his retirement celebration. Other military officials became interested to do the same for their troops so they commissioned Philips to make coins for them.
The commercialization of challenge coins minting began. Over the decades, the designs evolved from simple to complex. One of the earliest known coins was made of brass with faded emblem and text. The modern coins are done using machines that can produce perfect designs and display 3D effects. Everything became easy with the advent of computers and digitally-operated machineries. Customizing coins for any military service group, organization, and association became easier because they can choose from a variety of themes available from different coin manufacturers.
The last decade has given coin manufacturers access to tools which makes numbering, photographic inserts, and special edgings elements possible. Virtually, everything that clients need to make their coins special and unique became available. Modern technology and innovations are making the manufacturing of these prized coins more popular to the general public.
The customary tradition of welcoming dignitaries becomes more special by presenting coins to them to show respect and gratitude. US Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have state coins for visiting diplomats and foreign visitors. They are also given to military men who fought valiantly in different battles to protect the freedom of America. Other countries like United Kingdom, Canada and Australia are doing the same.
The proliferation of coins in the market added another tradition in the modern times – the passion of collecting historical coins. It gave rise to novelty shops as well as online stores offering different kinds of customized coins. They become products which are actively traded by civilians who love to own mementos of heroism and courage.
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