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The Challenge: USMC Challenge Coin Rules, Coin Check Traditions

The US Marine Corps is full of traditions, and none are more fun than the challenge coin. If you are unfamiliar with the rules, this article will give you a heads-up on how to respond to coin check. Additionally, you’ll learn how to use coins to build camaraderie with your unit and those serving under you. 

USMC Challenge Coin Tradition

Marine Corps challenge coins are more than just collectibles; they serve a pivotal role in unit cohesion and morale. The primary purpose of these coins is to ensure that members carry their unit’s coin as a symbol of pride and belonging. This tradition also includes the “coin check,” a loudly announced challenge for members to produce their coins.

Challenge Coin Rules and Initiation

The rules for coin checks are informal and vary by organization. But in general, coin checks can be issued anywhere at any time by drawing and displaying the coin. A coin check begins by holding your coin up in the air or by slamming it on a table or floor and shouting “coin check!”

Interestingly, accidentally dropping a challenge coin is considered a deliberate challenge to all present.

Marines who are challenged have ten seconds to respond by showing a coin with their unit’s logo. 

Consequences of the Challenge

The consequences of a coin check add a playful yet meaningful aspect to the tradition. If a member is challenged and cannot produce their coin, they must buy drinks for the challenger and other coin holders. 

Conversely, if everyone challenged presents their coin, the challenger must buy a round for the group.

Coin Theft and Ranking

The tradition also includes variations such as the stealing of a challenge coin; if successful, the thief is owed a drink by the group. 

Furthermore, the highest-ranking coin, determined by the rank of the giver, holds a special status during challenges.

Carrying a Challenge Coin

Typically, challenge coins are carried in pockets or other easily accessible places on one’s person. A challenge can be initiated anywhere, even when undressed. The widely accepted rule is “a step and a reach,” allowing a brief moment to produce the coin. 

Presentation and Handling

Presentation of these coins is often done during a handshake, subtly transferring the coin from one individual to another. Coins are ranked not only by the rank of the giver but also by the difficulty in attaining them. 

A Coin is a Coin

Alterations such as drilling holes or attaching coins to belt buckles invalidate them as challenge coins – so no necklaces or keychains either. Coins can be worn around the neck in a pouch if not modified. 

Uses of Marine Corps Challenge Coins

Challenge coins are more than just a game to Marines. 

Recognition and Reward

Challenge coins are used as a form of recognition for outstanding service or performance, both in military and civilian spheres. They are often awarded to mark significant accomplishments, acting as a morale booster.

Career Milestones

In the Marine Corps, officers carry on the tradition of challenge coins as they progress through their careers. These coins often mark milestones and achievements, serving as a testament to a service member’s journey.

Military and Non-Military Recognition

While their origin lies in military practices, likely starting with special forces in the Vietnam War era, these coins have found their way into non-military recognition as well. For instance, student-athletes at Northeastern University have been awarded such coins.

Special Coins and Their Significance

An example of a unique challenge coin is the “Bull Dog” coin, exclusive to B-52 enlisted tail gunners. This coin symbolizes strength and courage and has become rarer since 1991.

These coins are often presented upon graduation or for exemplary acts, with the act of giving the coin typically accompanied by a handshake and a brief explanation of its significance.

The Collecting Aspect

Beyond their symbolic value, some challenge coins are also valued for their numismatic aspects. Collectors and service members alike treasure these coins, not just for their material worth but for the stories and memories they represent.

Probably the most sought after Marine Corps coin today is the USMC Armor of God challenge coin. This commemorative coin has biblical overtones and signifies faith and doing the right thing.

Though not technically challenge coins, Marine Corps silver coins are highly sought-after. 

More Than a Game

Marine Corps challenge coins are a time-honored tradition within an organization steeped in history. They are a light-hearted way to build unity, let loose, and reflect on your service.

Get inspired by our complete selection of USMC rank coins and unique Marine challenge coins

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