The Challenge Coin Tradition

February 22, 2017

Veterans and those well-versed in military traditions might be familiar with a unique token of military service: the Challenge Coin. A Challenge Coin symbolizes a unit’s identity and brotherhood, and is characterized by various identifiers – such as insignias or emblems. Challenge Coins are traditionally traded or presented between team members as a symbol of pride, military affiliation and connection. They’re also used as tools for strengthening morale and showing support during difficult times. Read more here.

Challenge Coins are a cherished part of a military career, serving as a reminder of the experience of fighting for our country, and also the support given during conflict. As Michael Barrett, CCF’s Director of Veteran Affairs, shares, his Challenge Coins all hold a special place in his heart.

“I have been both fortunate and privileged to have received so many Challenge Coins throughout my 20-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps,” said Michael. “Each coin represents a story, an event or accomplishment where recognition was given. I have received coins from the most senior levels of military authority, the FBI, senators, congressmen and even the president.”

Even though Michael has been the beneficiary of numerous Challenge Coins, he says the Purple Heart Challenge Coin engraved with his rank is the one that really stands out in his collection.

“My Marines presented this coin to me after I returned home from being wounded in Iraq in 2004,” Michael recalls. “It reminds me of how selfless one can be when faced with adversity − even death. I am here today because of them, because of their unhesitating willingness to sacrifice themselves to protect a fellow Marine in need. It is a debt owed that I can never repay. Saying thank you is just not enough when you’ve been given a second chance at life. Although the coin itself has no monetary value, it remains priceless.”

Some say the Challenge Coin tradition dates back at least 50 years, and may go as far back as nearly 100. Some legends claim they were in use during the time of the Roman Empire. But more contemporary stories follow the tale of an American fighter pilot shot down during World War I. After landing behind enemy lines in German territory, the pilot was captured and held in a detention facility that was later attacked by British forces. He quickly escaped, but was detained by French soldiers. They initially thought he was German, but he was able to convince them to spare him after using a Challenge Coin as an identifier of his nationality. The French recognized it, and the pilot was released. That story remains part of Challenge Coin lore to this day.

Today, Challenge Coins have taken on a deeper meaning. They’ve become symbols of community and shared experiences between military of all kinds, whether active, retired or civilian personnel within government agencies. They’re also shared with special guests and visiting dignitaries, including past presidents such as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The Challenge Coin tradition has even inspired other countries to take part. They’re also offered as a signifier of special achievement, usually presented by Unit Commanders to members of their team who have shown exemplary strength and courage. Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have all created their own Challenge Coin experiences, handed back and forth as a sign of respect and honor between their military personnel. No matter which country or military arm is presenting someone with a Challenge Coin, it’s considered a high honor.

In keeping with Carrington’s mandate of supporting and honoring our proud U.S. military, we now have two sizes of Challenge Coins designed by Michael Barrett. The coins were borne of Michael’s experiences throughout his military career, and through the work he has done with CCF.

“Throughout my career in the U.S. Marine Corps, I had a coin that represented my Unit and Command, typically with our logo − something inscribed that symbolized who we are and what we represent,” Michael shares. “Retired from the military and now an Associate at Carrington, I quickly found great pride in the Carrington Company, CCF and all they have and continue to do for our military and their families. Like my time in the military, I thought we should have a token that represents us all: a Carrington Challenge Coin. Our coin represents who we are, what we do, how we do it and who we do it for.”

The Carrington Coins signify our commitment to military causes, but also honor our hard work and support of one another as team members working toward a common goal of bettering the world around us. The coins represent the dedication and support that all of us give to CCF and the organizations we support. CCF Challenge Coins will be presented on special occasions by Michael Barrett, Shelly Lawrence and members of the CCF Board to those who CCF feels deserve special recognition for their support. We look forward to sharing these storied coins with our partners and military as a token of appreciation for all that they do.

The Carrington Challenge Coin (also pictured at top). 

Here's a look at Michael Barrett's impressive Challenge Coin collection.