By becoming a member of ACM Warbirds, you'll become part of a group of enthusiasts who are sharing these wonderful aircraft with the general public. The smiles, and the absolute joy in sharing is why we do what we do.
What is a challenge coin?
There are many examples of traditions that build camaraderie in the military, but few are as well-respected as the practice of carrying a challenge coin—a small medallion or token that signifies a person is a member of an organization. Even though challenge coins have broken into the civilian population, they are still a bit of a mystery for those outside the armed forces.
Challenge Coin Origins
It's nearly impossible to definitively know why and where the tradition of challenge coins began. One of the earliest known examples of an enlisted soldier being monetarily rewarded for valour took place in Ancient Rome. If a soldier performed well in battle that day, he would receive his typical day’s pay, and a separate coin as a bonus. Some accounts say that the coin was specially minted with a mark of the legion from which it came, prompting some men to hold on to their coins as a memento, rather than spend them on women and wine. Today, the use of coins is much more nuanced. While many coins are still handed out as tokens of appreciation for a job well done, especially for those serving as part of a military operation, some administrators exchange them almost like business cards or autographs they can add to a collection. There are also coins that a soldier can use like an ID badge to prove they served with a particular unit. Still other coins are handed out to civilians for publicity, or even sold as a fund-raising tool.
The First Official Challenge Coin…Maybe
Although no one is certain how challenge coins came to be, one story dates back to World War I, when a wealthy officer had bronze medallions struck with the flying squadron’s insignia to give to his men. Shortly after, one of the young flying aces was shot down over Germany and captured. The Germans took everything on his person except the small leather pouch he wore around his neck that happened to contain his medallion. The pilot escaped and made his way to France. But the French believed he was a spy, and sentenced him to execution. In an effort to prove his identity, the pilot presented the medallion. A French soldier happened to recognize the insignia and the execution was delayed. The French confirmed his identity and sent him back to his unit.
Stories say that the challenge began in Germany after World War II. Americans stationed there took up the local tradition of conducting “pfennig checks.” The pfennig was the lowest denomination of coin in Germany, and if you didn’t have one when a check was called, you were stuck buying the beers. This evolved from a pfenning to a unit’s medallion, and members would "challenge" each other by slamming a medallion down on the bar. If any member present didn’t have his medallion, he had to buy a drink for the challenger and for anyone else that had their coin. If all the other members had their medallions, the challenger had to buy everyone drinks.
ACM Challenge coins.
Challenge coins are now being used by many different organizations. Challenge coins have become a long-lasting, highly-collectible way to show your allegiance anytime, anyplace. We use them as souvenirs, and for camaraderie, showing you are a member of an elite group who has flown in our aircraft, or has done something special to “earn” our respect and admiration. Please carry it with pride, as you may be called upon it to use it. You don’t want to be responsible for a round of drinks for a bunch of thirsty retrobates. ;)
Bottom line up front (or BLUF): ACM Warbirds of Canada call signs are given at naming ceremonies during Kangaroo Court they are usually based on how badly you've screwed something up, a play on your name, your personality, or just the silly whims of the mob of pilots. Pilots may face a "hostile renaming" under certain circumstances.
Ah, Kangaroo Court - among the best of times for fighter pilots. These parties are the highlight of the squadron social calendar. Everyone attends. Many get drunk. A few throw up. All have a good time. The plot begins with the CEO announcing the need for a Kangaroo Court. This usually happens after the squadron has accumulated some FNGs (F'ing New Guys/Girls) who need call signs. FNGs are the traditional call sign of all new arrivals to our little group, even those who have been previously been given call signs. Your past call sign is moot to your new squadron-mates. You will go through the ceremony with all the new arrivals. No mercy is given to the insolent fighter pilot who shows up at the new squadron introducing himself with his previous call sign. That's a good way to mark yourself for special attention and your bribe will need to be extra special.
Bribes, you say?
Yes bribes. Bribing by the FNGs is encouraged in preparation for the naming ceremony. The bribe is to the Judge and Special prosecutor (the committee), or the people with the final say for your call sign. Bribes are an art, not a science. They should be respectful but not audacious. Generous but not out of hand. You're trying to get right up to the line of kissing the committee's backside without crossing over. Alcohol is always welcome, as is food. That said…Your bribe is worthless and weak. You didn't guarantee anything with your bribe. Except maybe that you won't end up with the call sign "Flounder."
The ceremony itself.
The ceremony is semi-secret to keep it interesting for the FNGs. Simply put: The ceremony is among the best camaraderie the unit has. It is a time to unwind, not worry about the drudgery often involved in daily flight ops, and to partake in fighter traditions.
The call signs.
When all is said an done, the Judge will render its verdict. Call signs generally follow a few rules as many have noted:
It cannot be "too cool" like "Dagger" or "Iceman"
It cannot be "too good" for the subject in question (based solely on the judgment of your drunken friends)
It cannot be something you asked for. You cannot ask for a specific call sign. Your squadron mates give it to you. (Serious rookie mistake)
It must pass the bar test. You should be able to explain your call sign at an event and not have potential dates, random civilians, or other fighter pilots run away in embarrassment for you
For first-timers, your call sign usually revolves around something silly (or fantastic) you did during your initial few months in our group, or a play off your name
If you succeed in rubbing most of your fellow pilots the wrong way, you may be selected for hostile renaming. All bets are off. Your best hope is excessive grovelling at the feet of the committee, followed by promises of a large/expensive bribe, and a change in behaviour. Then, adopt a stoic silence and await your fate.
HOOTER: Allows gear horn to sound too often
FRIGID: Up for your own interpretation
TELUS: Always on the phone during events
PRIMER: Cannot start his airplane
SCHOOLHOUSE: May have overflown a school
SMAT: Small Man Always Talking
ZEUS: Zero Effort Unless Supervised
Many old school call signs are fairly un-PC and can't be published here.