What Are Challenge Coins (And How Do I Get One?)

There are over 25 million first responders currently working in America.

First responders are the people who work as parts of organized teams to intervene when there are emergencies and natural disasters. These include firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and more.

With such a large community of first responders, there are traditions. One of the most widespread of these is challenge coins.

Keep reading to learn more about these coins.

What Are Challenge Coins?

A challenge coin is a metal disc that is inscribed with a symbol, number, words, or some combination of the three. These custom coins are used to prove your affiliation to a specific first responders unit.

It’s believed that the tradition of membership coins started in World War One. Allied armies would give their soldiers small bronze coins so that if they were wrongfully captured they could prove their membership to the Allies.

This idea of membership coins has changed over the decades and is now a membership token more than anything else. There are firefighter challenge coins, military challenge coins, and more. Challenge coins are awarded on the completion of specific challenges, usually as some kind of bonding ritual for the team.

Depending on who’s distributing the coins, they range in their specificity. Some coins might just have the wider department logo, while others will have specific colors and numbers indicating which branch, location, or troop.

How Do They Work?

Socially, challenge coins build the community. Someone who is no longer in the same troop will feel in community with a newer member who has recently earned that same coin.

Practically, challenge coins bring their owners some privileges. Depending on the event and the rank of a challenge coin, they can secure a person’s entry into events or access to better seating.

Challenge coins are also often used as tokens to challenge other first responders in casual settings. This is known as the challenge game.

When buying drinks together, challenge coin etiquette means that when someone is challenged, if they don’t have their coin on them they have to pay the challenger a penalty, like buying them a drink. If everyone present has their coins, then the person who made the challenge has to buy a round of drinks.

Can I Get a Challenge Coin?

If you’re a member of a first responder or military unit, then it’s probably only a matter of time until you earn a challenge coin. The coins are most commonly awarded when attending special events, doing something noteworthy, or completing team challenges. You might also earn one after being part of the team for a certain amount of time.

It is possible to bypass the award of these coins and buy one straight from the source. But this ignores the “challenge” part of the challenge coin concept.

Understanding First Responder Traditions

Now that you’ve got an insight into how challenge coins work, you understand one of the most established first responder traditions.

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