Navy budgetary belt-tightening may have reached a new – if temporary – low. Officials have frozen the purchase of commanders’ coins -- also known as “challenge coins” - using Defense Department dollars.
In a May 13 message to the fleet, the Navy said commanders may no longer use appropriated funds to buy the coins or other unofficial gifts and morale boosters. The brass coins, emblazoned with a unit designation and handed out by commanders for a job well done, or simply because, have routinely been ordered at every command level – on up to the President – for years. The tradition of the coins started
The coins get their name from a tradition within the military in which one servicemember or veteran presents another with a unit coin. If the other individual can't produce their own unit coin, that person owes the other a favor, which usually means they're buying the next round. The tradition of the coins have stretched well beyond the military in recent years, which some say has degraded the original meaning of the coins.
But the Navy has deemed them not mission essential, and so using appropriated funds to buy them, or any other items for presentation, “such as plaques, ball caps, etc., is suspended until further notice.”
Commanders are still free to hand out whatever coins, plaques, caps and whatnot they previously purchased with appropriated funds in accordance with existing policy, according to the message. They may also use so-called “representation funds” to buy the items if they are to be part of an official event honoring select high-ranking Defense Department officials, prominent citizens or foreign dignitaries. Or, if those select individuals are taking part in the event.
But for the time being, commanders who want to present such items to their own personnel as an award will have to dig into their own pockets for the cash, just as existing regulations say they are supposed to do when simply giving out the coins as gifts, for unit morale or for routine job performance.