Challenge Coin Review: The token of hardship from GS-JJ

12 mins read

I’ve put some time into thinking about some of the physical struggles I have introduced into my life. After all, if you can buy an avocado at any time of year, anywhere in the world, we’re not living under the same restrictive systems that got us here. That’s both a gift and a curse – it provides convenience but removes a degree of built-in hardship. A challenge coin is the token to celebrate the hardship we volunteer for.

In 2017, I signed up for the GoRuck Challenge. At GoRuck, I was tested. When you pass the event, you’re given a patch. I managed to ‘get my patch’ at the end of the night. At the very end of the event, something unique happened. Cadre Jake held a patch to my chest and punched it in place. That felt very cermonial. A rite.

I emailed GoRuck about it.

Much to my surprise, I received a very detailed response from Cadre Jake a few days later. As soon as my phone reported his name on the screen, I rushed to see what his reply might hold.

Thank you for your question. The ceremony of finishing an ‘act’ (a military exercise that is considered extremely difficult and is engraved in the historical curriculum of a units training) is considered a mile stone in a journey. When it is all said and done you have earned you right of passage to this point. Now you are ready to enter the next stage. This is emphasized either by receiving a pin, beret or some item of memorabilia from a commander or someone that has done it before you.

Historically, the fist to the chest was used to push a units pin slightly into the muscular portion of soldiers chest. It stings a little, but at that moment your on such a high you don’t really feel it. This has since been reduced to a firm fist to the chest and handing of the pin to the soldier, however the meaning remains the same. ‘Acts’ are obvious stages in military training and just like finishing a tough or a heavy or light it is just 1 event, preparing you for future events.

The mental endurance required to finish an event or an ‘act’ is more then the average day to day life experience and this is why they are done.

Cadre Jake, Goruck

I distinctly remember receiving my patch – I remember Cadre Jack punching my chest and ‘coming online’ as my brain sparked back to life. It meant something to complete that and further, to have such a strong, unmistakable signal to accompany that completion.

In every day life, we don’t have these signals.

We’re lost in a wash of work, multimedia and social rules but when faced with significant moments like buying a house, getting married or having a baby, many secular families don’t have specific rites of passage through which to fully express the meaningful events that have taken place. Sure, there are bachelor parties, baby showers or housewarming parties but in many cases, I feel like those events have become little more than hyper-commercialized gift parades.

Later, after I’d passed my recruit program with the Fire Department, I was given my first challenge coin. I was told the presumed history of that precious token, too. Here’s the tale told by an official source; the dot-gov website for challenge coins.

The most well-known story that the internet produced linked the challenge coin tradition back to World War I. As the U.S. started building up its Army Air Service, many men volunteered to serve. One of those men was a wealthy lieutenant who wanted to give each member of his unit a memento, so he ordered several coin-sized bronze medallions to be made.

The lieutenant put his own medallion in a small leather pouch that he wore around his neck. A short time later, his plane was shot down over Germany. He survived but was captured by a German patrol, who took all of his identifiable items so he would have no way to identify himself if he escaped. What they didn’t take was the small pouch with the medallion.

The lieutenant was taken to a small town near the front lines of the war. Despite his lack of ID, he managed to find some civilian clothing and escaped anyway, eventually stumbling into a French outpost. Wary of anyone not in uniform, the French soldiers didn’t recognize his accent and immediately assumed he was an enemy.

They initially planned to execute him, since they couldn’t ID him. But the lieutenant, remembering he still had the small pouch around his neck, pulled out the coin to show the soldiers his unit’s insignia. One of the Frenchmen recognized that insignia, so he was spared.

Instead of being executed, the lieutenant was given a bottle of wine, probably as a form of reparation for his initial treatment. When he finally made it back to his squadron, it became a tradition for all service members to carry a unit-emblazoned coin at all times, just in case.

Inside DOD

When I recieved my Fire Department challenge coin, I was inducted into a club. Membership is granted only to those who can pass the test, figuratively and literally.

I knew that someday, I’d get a challenge coin produced for SIXFEET.

And then, along came Ice.

Ice emailed me unprovoked. A cold email to see if I’d be down to work with GS-JJ, a producer of patches and coins.

We came to a pretty standard agreement – if GS-JJ would provide some patches and coins for SIXFEET, I’d write a review about my experience. After we agreed on the particulars, I set out on the design process.

One half of the SIXFEET challenge coin.

Luckily, I’m pretty handy with Photoshop. So, I got to putting together some ideas for a coin and a simple morale patch. I chose to have a patch produced to fit the typical rucksack hook and loop rectangle – 2×3″. For a coin, I took a number of swings at different designed but eventually settled on a design that displays a handful of common phrases around here; ‘this is not a hobby’, ‘time effort pace and cadence’, ‘work beats worry’.

The team at GS-JJ was honestly amazing to work with. Responsive, clear, polite and professional. We went back and forth on design options without a day of lag between messages. We finally squared away the design and, after some digital ‘proofs’ to approve, the manufacturing process began.

Designing a coin

The other side of the SIXFEET challenge coin.

A few weeks later, a package was waiting for me on my front doorstep. To say that I was impressed with the quality of the coins and patches produced by GS-JJ would be a dramatic understatement.

I have had patches produced before. The embroidery featured on the patches I designed was perfect. The hook and loop on the reverse side created a strong attachment to my ruck and the patch themselves are good and stiff.

When we were in the design phase, I was looking for the patch to have the ‘Multicam Black’ pattern I’ve adopted for the text. We found that to be difficult to reproduce at the required scale. GS-JJ was clear about that. Instead of just trying to do it, shipping out a sub-par patch and washing their hands of another customer, they were honest about the expected outcome. I was really happy with that interaction – it felt like they were invested in the process as much as I was. As if they were actually focused on making a product that I’d be happy with – I can’t say the same for some of the patch makers I’ve worked with.

Finally, the challenge coin.

This. Thing. Is. Awesome.

It’s heavy. It’s bold. It’s numbered!

So – I didn’t even know this was possible, but on the edge of the coin, the crew at GS-JJ was able to individually number each coin. Therefore, enhancing the rarity of each one. That’s an AWESOME feature.

I even received a 3d-modelled video of the coin, click here to check it out!

The coin came out exactly as I had envisioned. It’s kind of difficult to imagine what a physical object will look like from a computer screen, but GS-JJ made it happen.

If your organization is in the market for a challenge coin, patch or token of achievement, I would boldly recommend GS-JJ. The team is easy to work with. From design to delivery, I didn’t see any reason to suggest otherwise.

This post is a sponsored partnership with GS-JJ, but the content I’ve written here is truthful and based on my personal experience.

For all custom challenge coins, firefighter challenge coins, police challenge coins, army challenge coins, navy challenge coins, visit GS-JJ.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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