In a tradition going back generations, service members receive challenge coins over the course of their careers and, someday, maybe after they’ve taken their uniform off for the last time, proudly display them on a shelf or shadowbox at home.
They’re mementos of past accomplishments and good memories; landing an awesome challenge coin from someone you respect is not something you easily forget. It’s even better when the coin is unique or, in the case of a recent Signal Basic Officer Leader Course (SBOLC) coin design, hilarious.
“The perfect challenge coin doesn’t exi……..” the post on US Army W.T.F. Moment’s Facebook page was accompanied by an image of a challenge coin designed to look exactly like a military identification card, officially called a common access card (CAC). The post has nearly 3,000 likes and almost 6,000 shares within the first two weeks since it was posted — the creator of the coin didn’t expect his idea to gain so much traction.
“I’ve seen a lot of people going out to buy these coins or requesting them, but they say ‘SBOLC’ on the coin,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Moser. “It’s interesting to me why somebody would want a Signal Basic Officer Leader Course coin at the end of the day, but I think it is so unique — or something that’s never been done. It still hasn’t hit me how it’s become this crazy request. I didn’t expect it to go viral by any means.”
There’s a lot of military symbology that only an experienced soldier could come up with, so how did a new second lieutenant come up with such a clever challenge coin?
Moser spent a decade in the Army, reaching the rank of first sergeant before going through Officer Candidate School and earning his commission. He was previously assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and the 2nd Infantry Division but is now assigned to a cyber protection brigade. When he attended SBOLC, Moser wanted to design an awesome challenge coin to celebrate the class.
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A US Army W.T.F. Moment’s administrator said the photos on the post were temporarily taken down by Facebook because the challenge coin was “flagged as an actual government ID.” Although the coin does resemble a genuine military ID, anyone who has had to suffer through mandatory annual cyber awareness training would know it’s a fake. And of course, CAC cards aren’t made of metal.
Moser broke down the coin’s many easter eggs, starting with a headshot of Jeff, the goatee and blue vest-wearing computer-generated character that many who have served in the Army will recognize. Jeff was picked for one of Moser’s two designs because the computer-imagined avatar was always present to tell guys like Moser how they were doing during the online course until it was taken out of circulation in 2019.
“Jeff was always there to tell you whether you did a good or bad job, which kind of represented the epitome of a signal officer,” Moser said. “If you don’t complete your cyber awareness training, you don’t get Internet access or [Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router] access. And that guy always told you whether you did right or wrong.”
The rest of the coin includes details from Moser’s SBOLC class. June 2023 is when his class started, and Oct. 4, 2023 is when the class of 74 graduated. No one in the class had an idea for what to point the QR code on the coin at, so Moser did what any sensible soldier would: he set it up so anyone scanning it would get ‘Rick Rolled’ via a YouTube video of Rick Astley’s 1987 song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The rank and pay grade are meant to mirror the recently graduated officers, and the back is adorned with the motto, “No comms, no bombs.” If you don’t establish proper comms before a mission, you won’t have air support to get you out of hairy situations. Their SBOLC class number and the OCS and ROTC identifiers tip a hat to the classmates’ origin.
Approximately 600 requests and orders have come in since the coin first surfaced online. Although there is plenty of comedic value in the challenge coin, Moser says there is a deeper purpose. At a time when the Army is struggling to meet its recruiting goals, and suicide is a prevalent issue in the community, Moser says this is one way to combat those issues.
“I think all of us in the Army are dead set on being a certain way: being disciplined and rigid,” Moser said. “But I think in today’s Army, we have to have a little fun and be open. And if you’re a ‘fun leader,’ soldiers are more inclined to approach you and talk to you about problems.”
Moser, who is on paternity leave taking care of his firstborn daughter, believes the way to address these widespread issues is to show they are all human.
“We have a big epidemic in the military as a whole with suicide and things of that nature. I think it kind of gets overlooked because soldiers don’t want to talk, because leaders are too rigid about things,” Moser said. “I think having fun and still promoting esprit de corps across the ranks with something as simple as a challenge coin.”
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