Military Stories: The Good Deeds Behind Military Challenge Coins

9 minute read

Published on: 29 Sep 2021

Last modified on: 18 Mar 2024

Military Challenge Coins
Table of Contents

Challenge coins are one of the coolest traditions in the United States armed forces. Each branch of the military exchanges challenge coins to commemorate service and acts of valor.

A great tradition survives the test of time. Challenge coins have lived to see two world wars, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Even United States Presidents now get in on the act. Presidents from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump have minted challenge coins as a gift to soldiers and foreign envoys.

Read on to learn about the good deeds behind military challenge coins. Explore fascinating military stories and the history behind challenge coins.

A Symbol of Service and Valor 

Challenge coins carry special meaning for members of the armed services. It may represent a special milestone or mission. Those who go above and beyond in the service of their nation receive a challenge coin. Senior leadership often carries challenge coins on them to award extraordinary performance or valor.

They are a great way to boost morale for the unit. Also, challenge coins can foster camaraderie within a squadron or battalion. The coin gives members something to remember their brothers and sisters in service. Challenge coins are a revered tradition in the United States armed forces. Each military branch honors its members with these coins to commemorate service and acts of valor.

Military Challenge Coins: A Tradition That Stands the Test of Time

The tradition dates back to World War I, where the first coin was minted for a squadron as a symbol of their bond. A notable story involves a lieutenant who, after being captured and escaping enemy forces, used his challenge coin to prove his identity and save his life.

Challenge coins have been interwoven with military history, enduring through pivotal global events such as both World Wars and transformative geopolitical changes. They have garnered the attention of U.S. Presidents ranging from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump, who have proudly upheld this tradition by commissioning special challenge coins to honor the valor of soldiers and to commemorate diplomatic engagements with foreign dignitaries.

The Significance of Challenge Coins

  • Special Milestones and Missions: Challenge coins often represent significant achievements or missions within the armed forces.
  • Recognition of Excellence: They are awarded by senior leadership to recognize extraordinary performance or acts of valor.
  • Morale and Camaraderie: Challenge coins boost morale and foster camaraderie, serving as a tangible reminder of the shared experiences of service members.

Inspirational Challenge Coin Stories 

In the heart of military tradition, challenge coins are not just tokens of metal; they are storied emblems of honor, courage, and solidarity. Each coin tells a tale, often heroic and sometimes poignant, capturing moments that define the ethos of military service. In this section, we delve into 'Inspirational Challenge Coin Stories'—a curated collection of remarkable narratives that showcase the profound impact these coins have had on the lives of service members. From acts of bravery that changed the course of battles to tokens of recognition that have bridged divides between nations, these stories illuminate the rich legacy and emotional resonance of challenge coins throughout military history.

Presidential Challenge Coins  

There are few greater honors than receiving a challenge coin from the President of the United States. A former public affairs Marine named Joseph Lee was surprised with a coin from President Barack Obama.

In August 2011, United States Special Operations lost 31 troops in a helicopter ambush. It was the single-largest loss of life for the Special Operations in the War on Terror.

Joseph Lee was supporting the dignified transfer of the deceased troops at Dover Air Force Base. He worked tirelessly to make the families of the deceased feel comfortable. He was surprised when President Obama came up and initiated a conversation with him. After a brief talk, the President’s aide gave him a military challenge coin as a special thank you.

President Trump has continued the challenge coin tradition. He issued coins for exemplary service in support of the 2018 North Korea and United States nuclear talks in Singapore

POW/MIA Coin  

A Prisoner of War (POW) or Missing in Action (MIA) designation is one of the most tragic in the military. In each major war, the United States designated thousands of soldiers as POW or MIA.

In rare cases, POWs were returned by the adversary. At the end of the Vietnam War, nearly 700 American troops were returned. Nearly 50 years later, there are still more than 1600 troops unaccounted for.

To survive a POW designation is rare and warrants recognition. These brave individuals receive the POW-MIA coin. It features the flag of the National League of POW/MIA and has a barbed wire design to symbolize their prison.

Congressional Medal of Honor  

The Congressional Medal of Honor is one of the nation’s highest achievements. Congress issues a Medal of Honor coin when a soldier goes above and beyond in the line of duty.

There is no statute of limitations on this award. In fact, the Merrill’s Marauders from WWII recently received the Medal of Honor.

The Marauders were on a secret mission in the jungles of Burma in 1944. They traveled on foot to capture a Japanese airfield. The intent was to open up a supply chain between India and China.

Thousands of troops went in and only 200 were left when the mission concluded. Today, only nine Marauders are still alive. The Marauders are deserving recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor challenge coin.

Friday the 13th Navy Challenge Coin

It is not easy to become a Chief Petty Officer in the United States Navy. In the enlisted ranks, you start off as an E-1 seaman recruit. If you rise up the ranks to an E-7, you will be a Chief Petty Officer. This rank means that you acquired technical expertise. In addition, you are a leader of fellow enlisted men and women.

One reason that this rank is such a big deal is that you gain access to the Chief Petty Officer mess hall. You now receive better food aboard ships without a long wait.

To commemorate achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer, a Friday the 13th challenge coin is issued. The coin features the face of infamous Halloween legend Jason Voorhees who was featured in the Friday the 13th movies.

The date is significant because this is when the coin creators were accepted into the mess hall. With Halloween season upon us, we view this as one of the most unique and rare coins.

The Sniper's Coin: Marksmanship and Valor

In the realm of military operations, snipers are known for their precision, patience, and the critical role they play in mission success. A lesser-known tradition among sniper units is the issuance of a challenge coin after a sniper completes their first successful mission.

These coins often bear the marksman's insignia and a solitary figure of a sniper, symbolizing the solitary nature of their duty. One such story comes from a sniper in Afghanistan who, after a grueling 72-hour stakeout, successfully neutralized a high-value target. Upon his return, his commanding officer presented him with a coin that bore the inscription, "One Shot, One Kill," recognizing the sniper's skill and unwavering focus.

The White Feather Sniper

One of the most legendary snipers in American history was Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock of the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Known for wearing a white feather in his hat which became his trademark, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills. His exploits were so renowned that the North Vietnamese Army placed a bounty on his head. It's said that if challenge coins had been a tradition during his time, Hathcock would have certainly been awarded a Sniper's Coin for his unmatched marksmanship and valor, which inspired both fear and respect in the hearts of his enemies.

Military Challenge Coin: The Night Stalkers' Coin — Mastery of the Night Sky

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, are recognized for their extraordinary night-time operations. Pilots and crew members who have flown a certain number of combat missions under the cover of darkness are awarded a unique challenge coin.

This coin features an image of a helicopter hovering silently over a nocturnal landscape, encapsulating the essence of their motto: "Night Stalkers Don't Quit." One notable instance was when a Night Stalker pilot adeptly maneuvered his damaged aircraft back to base under enemy fire, saving his crew and passengers. For his bravery and skill, he was awarded the Night Stalkers coin, a token of his daring and dedication to the mission.

The Submariner's Deep Dive Coin: Bravery Beneath the Waves

Submarine crews operate in an environment where the margin for error is slim, and the consequences of mistakes are grave. To honor the successful completion of a submariner's first dive, a tradition has emerged where a coin is presented as a welcome to the "silent service."

These coins often feature the submarine's crest and are sometimes made from metal that includes material from the submarine itself. In one account, a young submariner aboard the USS Virginia successfully troubleshooted a critical system failure during a deep dive, ensuring the safety of the vessel and crew. His actions earned him the Deep Dive coin, a recognition of his calm under pressure and mastery of his craft.

Reflecting on the Legacy of Military Challenge Coins

The tradition of serving in the United States armed forces is a distinguished and honorable path, marked by the bravery and sacrifice of those who wear the uniform. To commemorate this service, a unique and enduring custom prevails: the exchange of military challenge coins.

These tokens of honor serve not just as collectibles but as tangible reminders of the camaraderie and commitment shared among soldiers. While each coin has its story and significance, certain coins carry profound meaning, resonating with the collective spirit of the military community. Among these, the POW/MIA challenge coin stands as a somber emblem of hope and remembrance for prisoners of war and those missing in action, a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom. Similarly, the Presidential challenge coin is a coveted artifact that symbolizes the highest level of recognition from the nation's commander-in-chief. These coins, and the stories they carry, are cherished keepsakes that honor the valor and dedication of military personnel, past and present.

If you want to purchase a military challenge coin, complete our form today for a price quote.


Heather studied business and technology at Texas State University and has been with Custom Challenge Coins for over 4 years and counting. :) When she is not managing the technical sides of Custom Challenge Coins she is writing informational articles and posting cool pictures of our coins. If you would like your coin order that we manufactured to be featured on our website please reach out to

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