Resources: The Challenge Coin
The History of the Challenge Coin
During WWI, American volunteers from all parts of the country filled the newly formed flying squadrons. Some were wealthy scions attending colleges such as Harvard and Yale who quit mid-term to join the war. In one squadron a lieutenant ordered medallions struck on solid bronze carrying the squadron emblem for every member of his squadron. He carried his medallion in a pouch around his neck. Shortly after acquiring the medallions, the pilot's aircraft was severely damaged by ground fire. He was forced to land behind enemy lines and was immediately captured by a German patrol. In order to discourage his escape, the Germans took his uniform and all personal identification except for the small leather pouch around his neck not realizing the significance of the coin.
Taking advantage of a bombardment that night, he escaped. However, he was without personal identification. He succeeded in avoiding German patrols and reached the front lines. With great difficulty he crossed no-man's land. Eventually he stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French in his sector had been plagued by saboteurs. The saboteurs sometimes masqueraded as civilians and wore civilian clothes. Not recognizing the young pilot's American accent and since he had no uniform or any form of identification, the French thought he was a saboteur and were going to execute him. Just in time he remembered the coin in the leather pouch. He showed the coin to his would be executioners. His French captors recognized the squadron symbol on the coin and delayed long enough to confirm his identity whereupon they shared a bottle of wine with him. They were challenging him to prove that he was one of them, that they shared the same cause and the coin saved his life.
Back at his squadron, and after hearing his story, it became a tradition to ensure that all members carried their coin at all times. This was accomplished by a challenge conducted in the following manner:
Challenge Coin Rules
- The challenge is initiated by drawing your coin, holding it in the air by whatever means possible and state, shout or otherwise verbally acknowledge that you are initiating a coin check. You may also place it or strike it on a hard surface such as a table. If you accidently drop your coin, and it makes an audible sound it is still considered a challenge.
- The response consists of all those present responding in a like manner within 15 seconds. At the time of the challenge you are allowed one step and an arm’s reach to locate your coin. All coin holders present will participate during a challenge. A response can be with any other challenge coin.
- If there is a challenge and a person is unable to respond then the individual(s) without their coin are required to buy a meal of choice for the individual who issued the challenge.
- If everyone being challenged responds with their coin then the person who challenged is required to buy a meal for all those he/she challenged.
- Failure to buy a meal is considered despicable and a failure of unit trust. Some units require that you return your coin should you do so.
- Coin checks are allowed anytime, anywhere and anyplace.
- There are no exceptions to the rules.
- An organizational or unit coin is a coin. Belt buckles are belt buckles, key chains are key chains. However a coin placed in some fashion around the neck is considered a coin.
- You are responsible for your coin. If someone else is looking at or accidently drops your coin on a hard surface you are responsible for the consequences of the challenge. However, no one can borrow your coin and force a challenge.
- Once you agree to carry a coin it comes with an obligation of group loyalty and traditions of the coin. Don't accept a coin if you do not share the values and beliefs of the group shared with a willingness to respect the traditions of the challenge coin.
History of the GWG Coin
Bill Westfall began law enforcement as an Alaskan State Trooper in the 1968. He was 24 years old and was excited about the job, but was caught up more in the spirit of the adventure than the obligations of the work. Shortly after while talking with an uncle who was a lawyer, judge and long time public servant who he had always greatly admired he was told that "If you do that job properly there is nothing more noble you will do with your life." He never forgot the statement, realizing that he could understand the constitutional limitations of the job, but if he didn't believe in the sanctity of the law, when tempted he may violate the law. What Bill's uncle understood is that what we believe is sometimes more important than what we know. What we believe ultimately will drive the level of our performance. Bill's uncle's quote is contained on one side of the GWG coin.
On the outer edge of the coin are words like "honor", "duty", " nobility", " leadership", words that are constantly repeated by law enforcement, firefighters, EMS personnel, nurses when asked what they value or believe about their profession.
On the reverse side of the "Legacy Coin" is a torch and the words " Passing of the torch" coupled with a verse from John McCrea's WWI poem, "In Flanders Fields" . This coin is often called the legacy coin and is given to individuals that have been mentored by a teacher or leader, it's given to a friend or sometimes it is given by a father or mother to a son or daughter, or other family member.
On the reverse side of "The Leadership Test Coin" is the four prong leadership test taught in GWG leadership seminars. If you carry either of these coins, you do so with an obligation to those ideals it embraces and all challenge coin rules apply.
May you carry the coin in good spirit, good health and always with a sense of nobility.