The next batch of commemorative military coins at Washington State University will include the nation’s newest military branch: Space Force.
An updated design commissioned by the WSU Bureau of Veterans Affairs includes space force among five other military branches – Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard – which are noted on the back of the challenge coins. Veteran students receive the coins when they graduate.
WSU veterans coordinator Penny Martinez said the challenge coins are part of a military tradition dating back to World War I.
“They started as a form of immediate recognition,” Martinez said. “During my time in the service, if you are invented, it means you are recognized for something you have done.”
As an Army veteran herself, Martinez owns several pieces, but the one she is most proud of is from the Department of Defense. She carries it in her wallet.
The tradition’s origin stories describe an officer who led volunteer American pilots into the war in Europe and gave his troops custom-designed coins to boost morale, according to a WSU press release. When one of these pilots was shot down behind enemy lines, he was said to have used the coin to convince French soldiers that he was an ally.
Coins have remained popular with members of the military ever since.
“It’s a long-standing military tradition,” Martinez said. “A lot of veterans’ organizations will start their own because it’s a continuation of tradition.”
The WSU Challenge Coin was first minted in 2016 as a token of appreciation for student veterans and their contributions.
Ryan Adamson, a WSU junior and member of the Army ROTC and Army National Guard, said the coins were symbolic. He received his first challenge coin from a recruiter the day he enlisted.
After nearly three years in his service, he collected a few more pieces.
“I thought it symbolized what I’m supposed to represent in the future,” Adamson said. “Each veteran keeps his own.”
Martinez said there are at least two active duty Space Force members currently enrolled in online graduate programs at the university.
Space Force is an independent branch of the military spun off from the Air Force in December 2019, similar to how the Marine Corps spun off from the Navy. He was also notably defended by former President Donald Trump during the election campaign.
“Let’s just say the Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek jokes have spread,” she said. “In all honesty, it’s another branch of the forces, so they’ll get the respect they deserve and earn their place in the ranks. It’s new for everyone.