Orono police handing out challenge coins as symbol of gratitude to community members

ORONO, Maine — Resurrecting an old tradition at the Orono Police Department, officers will hand out challenge coins to people who do something good for the community. 

Orono Police Chief Josh Ewing said that he started the program around 2004 but ended it after the department ran out of coins and discontinued the practice. 

“It died for years,” he said. 

Last summer, Ewing decided to bring it back. Exchanging challenge coins has been a longstanding tradition in the military and law enforcement and over the years, it’s even been adopted by U.S. presidents and some federal agencies.

Challenge coins were historically used by military branches to demonstrate a soldier’s allegiance, although some historians debate how the practice first started.

Some believe that the tradition started in a bar in Vietnam during the war, when service members had to present a challenge coin or enemy bullet to get in. According to Ewing, when officers ran into other agencies in a bar, they had to show a coin as pride for their unit. 

Although the tradition has evolved over the years, it’s still maintained, he said. More often, agencies will exchange challenge coins with others at trainings, conferences and events. A cup full of challenge coins Ewing has collected throughout his career is sitting on a shelf in his office.

Giving out challenge coins to community members is just a way to show the department’s appreciation, Ewing explained. 

Recently, the department has handed out challenge coins to a few people who have served the community. Officers awarded a coin to a resident who volunteered to lead a rape aggression defense training, and later gave two more to the town’s crossing guards for their help. 

Over Christmas, Ewing gifted a coin to Master Sgt. Kevin Tillman, a former U.S. Army medic who caught national attention in 1991 for borrowing a saxophone from a John Bapst High School band member and playing “Star-Spangled Banner” to welcome soldiers returning home from deployment in Operation Desert Storm. 

[20 years later, sax-playing soldier helps John Bapst band send off troops]

People can receive coins for other service acts, like calling in drunk drivers, Ewing said. This year, the department purchased 100 coins to give out to people who do something commendable for the community. 

It’s a symbol of recognition, said Ewing. 

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.