Sometimes we don’t value things until we realize what they represent.  

Last summer I accepted a project to assist the Alabama Army National Guard with making a brochure for an upcoming event. I worked hard on the project and helped the soldier who served as the Guard’s point of contact. We tried to include as much information as we could and still keep the material simple enough so that non-military people could understand it. Afterward he sent me a sample of the brochure in an envelope. I felt something inside the envelop before I discarded it. I reached in and pulled out a gold-colored token of appreciation.

Personally, I am in the season of life that requires I downsize my belongings, and I have given away dozens of pieces of jewelry and things I have collected throughout the years. Few of my collectibles were of any monetary value, but several were associated with someone who had given me an item or represented a special place I have been.

I gave the items to others who would appreciate them. My new medallion felt special, though, and I placed it on a shelf alongside a patriotic holiday ornament a relative gave me.

Recently I was assigned to help two other soldiers create an advertisement for the 167th Theater Sustainment Command. When I left the interview, Col. Steven G. Shepherd shook my hand and left me holding another medallion. I thanked him, drove home, and placed it next to my other one.

Later that night, I told one of my sisters about the gifts.

“Wow,” she said. “Those are military coins, and they are highly prized among soldiers.”

Her soldier son-in-law received two for outstanding service, and he treasures them.

I wanted to know more about these coins. A website called “The Balance” had an excellent article about the history of sharing coins. (

They are called “challenge coins” and have grown in popularity throughout the years. Unlike the even more prized medals worn only by soldiers, they are often given to civilians. In addition, law enforcement and governmental agencies trade these coins.

The coins’ history, according to the article I read, is fascinating. The story, if true, tells how a “coin” once saved a soldier’s life. An American fighter pilot carried in his pocket a commemorative coin given to him before deployment. After he was shot down in Germany during WWI, the enemy placed him in a detention facility that was later attacked by British forces. He escaped. French soldiers found him and, thinking he was a German, were about to kill him, despite his telling them he was American. Only after he showed them his coin did they realize he was an ally and then spared his life. Whether or not that incident sparked a trend, -- and it certainly is a good story – coins have grown in popularity. Or perhaps the coins’ popularity is based only on soldiers’ penchant for being rewarded for courage and gratitude. Regardless of the origin, dignitaries, even presidents, began to award challenge coins to honor those who assisted them in some way as they went about defending our nation.

Improvements in technology in the past 10 years have allowed many governmental entities to create coins printed on both sides that include multiple designs. Some even have an insert for a photograph, and others have unique edges and shapes. An industry consisting of several challenge-coin companies now exists.

The particular soldier who gave me my first challenge coin is serving this year in Afghanistan.

Each time I walk past my shelf where the coin lies, I say a short prayer for his safety and the family he told me he was leaving behind here in Calhoun County. Most everyone in today’s society recognizes the sacrifices made by members of our Armed Forces, and we are not the first generations to do so.

Tokens are, and always have been, a part of mankind’s history and date back to the beginning of recorded history, such as trading or owning precious stones.

The Greeks carved wooden rings from certain trees thought to contain special powers.

Modern and ancient civilizations have always worn tokens to represent things important to them, such as metal jewelry and items in the shape of eagles, crosses, stars, and circles: the list is unlimited.

Challenge coins for our soldiers are important to them and to others. Like most Americans I recognize that our soldiers’ service is monumental compared to the miniscule service I can make to the defense of our country. My challenge coins will not be things I give away anytime soon.

Downsizing does not include giving away such meaningful items.

Email Sherry at