Challenge coins for Intel grads

Marina Boyle, Managing editor

For centuries, leaders across cultures have used challenge coins to commemorate bravery, service and strength. Bringing this tradition into the present, the Intelligence Studies department is issuing challenge coins to its successful graduates.

A challenge coin is a metal coin that features a special design, using the symbol or insignia of an esteemed group. They are given to confirm organization membership or to recognize a special achievement. This year, six Intelligence Studies students who graduated in December received the coins. The tradition continues into May for the remainder of the graduating seniors.

The Intelligence Studies Department coin features the emblem for the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies & Applied Sciences on one side and an image of Mercyhurst’s Old Main on the other.

For many students who will go into the military or the intelligence and national security fields, this coin might be the first of many.Assistant professor of Intelligence Studies Fred Hoffman, Ph. D. has a collection of challenge coins from his years of experience in the military, as does Bill Welch, instructor of Intelligence Studies.

“I have every challenge coin I ever received on display in my office. Receiving one is always a very pleasant experience, and so is looking at them years later, remembering not only the circumstances under which I received each coin, but also the people I knew and served with back then,” Hoffman said.

His challenge coins amount to close to 50 accolades over 30 years.

“Challenge coins have been used in the military for decades, and more recently they’ve started to appear in civilian organizations and companies, too. According to one story, the practice dates back to the Vietnam War, when a U.S. Army bar run by infantrymen tried to keep non-infantrymen away by forcing “outsiders” to buy drinks for everyone at the bar if they could not provide proof that they’d personally been in combat,” Hoffman said. “At first, soldiers would produce bullets, grenades, rockets and other things, but fortunately that changed to soldiers showing a coin with their unit insignia.”

So as well as an honor, the coins serve another unlikely purpose – a way to avoid footing the bill. In military culture, groups of soldiers who walk into a bar place their challenge coin on the table, and the last to do so buys that round.

The practice has spread today beyond the military, and no doubt our alumni may be springing them on one another at gatherings at The Roost in the future!