The secret handshakes are secret no more.
in the last two weeks have snapped pictures showing President Barack
Obama handing challenge coins to military personnel, according to an AOL.com report on May 21.
The known ritual has long been one that presidents have sought
to keep away from public images, but AP photojournalist Susan Walsh
and AFP/Getty photographer Brendan Smialowski both caught Obama in the
act during recent visits to Arkansas and San Diego, AOL.com’s report
Military challenge coins (actually medals) date
back to World War II and began as British sixpence that served to be
membership tokens for a military drinking club, Michele Orzano wrote
in a 2000 Coin World article.
as military officials determined to discourage the emphasis on
drinking, award coins began to surface,” Orzano wrote. "These are
actually medals as they bear no denomination and have no legal tender
status. Often they are presented by commanders to recognize the
individual achievements of military personnel or a particular military
Photography blogger Larry Downing refers to
the presidential challenge-coin handoff as a “secret handshake” in a 2012 blog post.
and ending as quickly as a bullet, the ritual is performed out in
plain sight and almost always in the presence of others,” Downing
wrote, noting how the exchange is done during an otherwise
normal-seeming handshake. "And just like that the longstanding
military tradition of giving away a 'challenge coin' is over in the
blink of an eye. A small, shiny medallion riding inside the palm of
one hand and seamlessly ending up in the other; similar to the
practice of slipping the folded $20 dollar bill to the maitre d’ on
At least that’s how it’s supposed to go