Friday, August 5, 2016

Earning challenge coins

Pictured is the challenge coin that Past Chief Joseph M. Lombardo Jr.
presented to Ginger Rae Dunbar.
I carry two challenge coins in my pocket every day. It’s not a lot, but it means a lot to me.

I received my first challenge coin as a journalist from a police chief as a thank you for my reporting. I earned three more as a volunteer firefighter.

I earned two during fire school at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center from lead instructor Chief Joseph M. Lombardo Jr. Of those two, he gave me one for my 96% average test score – the top in my class. Lombardo, a past fire chief at Garden City Fire Company, has a tradition to present students with a challenge coin for having a 90% or higher test score average. He informed our fire chiefs about our progress throughout the four-month “firefighter one” program. My fire chief gave me and my two fellow firefighters in my class our fire company challenge coin upon completing fire school in December 2015. They both also received a coin from Instructor Lombardo for their test score average.

When we thanked Chief Lombardo for the coin, he told us we earned it. The nine of us that walked away with a coin and the top scores of the class successfully strived to be named among the best.

Challenge coins began as military tradition, one that builds camaraderie. Service members could earn them as a medallion or a reward for valor. Many carried them as a memento. It also represents that they are a member of that organization.
 Pictured is the challenge coin that Chief Joseph M. Lombardo Jr. presented to Ginger Rae Dunbar and eight other students for having a 90 percent or higher test score average. 
I remember when Chief Lombardo told my class about his tradition and how I originally I thought, “Oh that’s really cool, but I’ll never get one.” Then I got a 98% on my first test. Chief joked with me and pretended to give me a hard time for missing a perfect score by one wrong answer. I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief when I heard my score. I studied hard and how well I did gave me the confidence and motivation to earn a coin.

I felt honored I earned a second coin from Chief Lombardo. I felt proud because of the reasons why he gave me a second coin. He said he admired my positive attitude, my passion to become a firefighter and desire to learn. I had perfect attendance in school. I asked a lot of questions, my specialty as reporter, which chief said benefited my classmates as well. I imagined that when the fire school instructors found out that I’m a journalist, that they understood why I wasn’t shy about asking questions. Several times my classmates admitted that they had the same questions as me. Chief Lombardo seemed impressed by my desire to do better with the physical skills and he gladly provided extra time practicing skills after class when I asked.

While the origin of challenge coins is unknown, they have various meanings dating back to World War I. When the Special Forces had coins to “express the unique identity and strong bond forged” between them, other units also wanted a coin to “symbolize their pride of membership in an elite group.” (

I heard one firefighter say that the coins have different meanings to different people. To me, the challenge coins are a permanent reminder of how hard I worked in fire school. I spent countless hours reading, studying and practicing skills. That’s one reason why I carry one coin from my company and one from the instructor. When I respond to calls, I carry the coins with pride. It’s almost like having those coins is a simple reminder of the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center fire school instructors saying: you have the knowledge and the skills, now apply it when the time comes. It correlates to the famous words in the fire service, “Remember your training.”

1 comment:

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