History of Challenge Coins
During World War I, American volunteer pilots filled newly formed flying squadrons. One particular lieutenant had medallions struck in bronze with his squadron’s insignia on it and gave them out to his men. The pilots placed the medallions into a small leather pouch and wore them on a string around their necks. One of the pilots was shot down in France, behind enemy lines and was captured. The German Army removed all items of identification from the pilot, except for his leather pouch with the medallion in it and held him as a prisoner of war (POW).
The pilot was able to escape one night and made his way back to the front lines, where he ran into a French Army outpost. The French soldiers mistook the American pilot to be a German soldier attempting to infiltrate into France, and held him as a saboteur. Because of the language barrier and the fact that the American pilot had no identification, the French soldiers prepared to execute him. The American pilot was eventually able to show the French soldiers his squadron’s medallion and one of the French officers recognized the insignia to be that of an American flying squadron. The French officer ordered his troops to free the American pilot and he gave the pilot a bottle of wine.
Back at the American pilot’s squadron, it became a tradition to ensure that all of the pilots carried their medallions in a small leather pouch around their necks for identification. This was accomplished through a challenge in the following manner:
A challenger would ask to see the medallion of another pilot. If the pilot could not produce his medallion, he was required to buy a drink of choice for the person who challenged him. The tradition has continued ever since. Many military and law enforcement units continue the tradition today.
LASD Explorer Academy Challenge Coin
Sergeant Roller began the tradition of rewarding a challenge coin to a select number of explorer recruits attending the STARS Explorer Training Academy, in 2007. Since then, less than 50 coins have been presented to recruits and explorer staff members. The challenge coins are presented in a small green pouch. The STARS Explorer Training Academy is the only LASD explorer academy to have a unique and special challenge coin.
The challenge coin is presented by the Staff Sergeant to recruits who demonstrate excellence in the areas of effort, attitude, performance, or a combination of the three. The obverse (front) of the coin shows the (now extinct) California grizzly bear, which is on every Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge, along with the flag of the United States and the flag of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The reverse (back) of the coin shows the traditional campaign cover worn by explorer academy staff.
To be awarded this challenge coin is an honor bestowed upon a very small group of explorer recruits and explorer staff. For those outstanding explorers who are challenged to show their coin and do not have it with them, they are expected to buy a soda for the challenger. If the person challenged does have their coin, the challenger must then buy the soda.
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