In 2001, I arrived in Keflavik, Iceland on a freezing cold Friday evening and instantly wondered why I had picked this duty station. That night we were taken to the supply warehouse and were all issued eighty pounds of cold weather gear. The next morning we were on our first training hike which culminated with a traditional hike up Mount Olfus. Upon reaching the top we were all welcomed to the command and presented with the Marine Corps Security Force Company Keflavik Iceland Challenge Coin.
Members of the armed forces continue a long-standing tradition with the carrying of a special coin to symbolize unit identity and espirt de corps. These are known to generations of military Service Members as challenge coins, they are still valued by troops in all branches of the armed forces.
A challenge coin is either a small coin or medallion that bears an organization’s insignia or emblem and is carried by the members of that organization. In the past, units used the coins to prove they were in fact part of unit when challenged on the battlefield. Today, units use them more for the aspect of enhancing the morale of a unit.
There are many stories detailing the origins of the challenge coin. According to most, challenge coins started during World War I. American volunteers from all over the country filled the newly-formed flying squadrons. One of these squadrons had medallions forged with the unit’s emblem that were then given to all the pilots. Soon after the medallions were given out, an aircraft was damaged and forced to land behind enemy lines. The pilot was captured by a German patrol. When the pilot saw the opportunity to escape during a nighttime raid, he fled to the front lines. He was caught by the French, convicted as a saboteur and sentenced to be executed. The only proof that he could present at the time was the medallion hung around his neck. His would-be executioner, instead of shooting him, gave him a bottle of wine.
The tradition that now carries over is to make sure all members of a unit are carrying their challenge coins at all time. They do this by challenging each other by presenting their coins. If a member does not have their coin on them they are then required to buy a drink for the challenger and everyone with a coin.
We at the Center for Deployment Psychology are proud to follow with the tradition of the armed forces. In doing so, we have created our own challenge coin and have presented it to every member of the staff. We also look forward to presenting our coins to those that support us in our mission to train both military and civilian behavioral health professionals to provide high-quality deployment-related behavioral health services to military personnel and their families. Our goal is to assist in the development of culturally aware and clinically competent providers serving military members and their families.
Mr. Micah Norgard is the Executive Assistant to the CDP Deputy Director and the CDP Director of Military Programs. He has been with the Center for three months since his Honorable Discharge from the United States Marine Corps.