#FOXSportsSalutes: Ritual of the armed forces challenge coin

Miami Marlins pitcher Mike Dunn does a lot of work with armed forces away from the mound.

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

FORT BRAGG, N.C. — One of the more unique traditions in the armed forces is the exchanging of challenge coins, but for Miami Marlins reliever Mike Dunn, the ritual of giving and receiving the medallions has resulted in a growing collection of memories from soldiers and officers all across the country.

The practice of carrying the coins dates back several generations, and each coin identifies the particular unit or squadron to which the soldier carrying it belongs. The coins, which generally bear matching symbols or mottos, are to be carried at all times, and “coin checks” are not uncommon — with penalties awaiting those who go out without them.

In addition to intra-squad use, the coins can be passed on to others in recognition of a visit or an event, with the exchange symbolizing a connection forged between a soldier and someone outside their battalion.

Dunn received his first coin in 2011 from a former soldier who is a security officer at Sun Life Stadium, and through the Little Warrior Project and base visits like FOX Sports’ Spring Training to the Troops at Fort Bragg this week, his collection has grown to nearly 20.

“This is the first time I’ve been to a military base, but by working through the Little Warriors, I’ve received a few through that,” Dunn said. “We’ve gone to the VA hospitals, and I got one there. And after we aired one of the first events with the Little Warrior Project during a game on TV, I actually received a coin in the mail. Someone had seen it, and the guy wrote me a letter, and it was awesome for him to do that.

The FOX Sports version of the coin.  

“I still have the letter,” Dunn added, “because I intend to send him one of my coins back.”

When a civilian is given a coin — which can come in varying shapes, sizes and colors, depending on the unit — it represents a true bond formed with the soldier who hands it out, a unique and fulfilling experience for those who receive them.

“It’s a complete honor to receive a coin from somebody, especially the four I received here,” Dunn said. “To get the commander’s coin, especially — not everyone in this unit has that coin, and to receive one, it means a lot, because they don’t just go around handing them out.”

In addition to collecting coins of his own, Dunn has spent part of the week awarding FOX Sports-branded coins to soldiers he interacted with during the various activities he participated in across the installation — from obstacle courses and tower jumps to parachute rigging competitions and Wiffle Ball games.

Dunn says: "It’s a complete honor to receive a coin from somebody, especially the four I received here."

“I don’t know how many I came with, probably close to 40, and I’ve got three left,” Dunn said. “To me, I would love to give every one of these guys here my coin, but when I sit down and talk to them and get to know their stories and really just kind of connect with them, I give them my coin with the message that I work with the Little Warriors down in Miami, and if they know anybody in the area, to reach out so we can get them out to the ballpark”

Dunn first got involved with the Little Warrior Foundation in 2012, inspired by a fishing trip with the Wounded Warrior Foundation as part of the Marlins’ Fan Fest. The Little Warrior Foundation’s mission is to help the families of deployed soldiers, particularly the children “because we know that when parents are called to serve, the child serve right alongside them,” the foundation’s motto reads.

AROUND THE HORN

“We spent probably six hours on the boat talking to them,” he said. “And during those hours on the boat, it really hit home that that’s where I wanted to focus my time and my energy — connecting with the wounded warriors and all of those who fight for my rights and our country.”

In connection with the organization, the Marlins bring out Little Warrior families for each Monday home game, allowing kids to watch batting practice from the field, meet players, get autographs and enjoy the game.

“Whether it’s the husband or wife who is overseas serving, the families sometimes need that help, and what we try to do is just make a fun event,” Dunn said. “We want to bring them out and let them have a good time, so they can watch the game and break up the normalcy of the day, and get some excitement.”

Between his work with the Little Warrior Foundation and the trip to Fort Bragg, Dunn has been able to build a collection of challenge coins that serve reminders of his interactions with military members and their families, and his hope is that he can keep working with and providing assistance to troops, further growing his assortment.

“Some people like to display them in frames or cases, but I think I’d like to get a glass table,” Dunn said. “I want to get something that I can continue to add to.”