Jack Sommer was an active member of the U.S. Navy from 1977 to 1983. He was among nearly 5,000 people stationed on the U.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier, where the motto “teamwork is a tradition” was repeated daily.
During those years, Sommer got to see the significance of the challenge coin.
“The idea of a challenge coin is if somebody does a good job,” he explained. “The commander goes to offer recognition for a job well done, and in the palm of his hand, they transfer that organizations’ challenge coin. If you’re the recipient it’s a sign of a good job and of pride, too.”
It also presents a good-natured, competitive conversation starter for veterans.
“You’re somewhere, with a military colleague, someone says, ‘Oh yeah I was there, too,’” Sommers said. “And then the other guy goes, ‘Do you have your challenge coin to prove it?’ It’s just a symbol of belonging and pride.”
Sommer, who heads the public relations committee at Robert W. Mills Post #452, Mullica Hill’s American Legion location, decided to bring the idea of the challenge coin to the community.
Post #452 has launched the Friends of the Post Challenge Coin Campaign. Non-members of the American Legion post can gain access to the hall’s canteen and weekend events, while also pocketing a special memento by making a minimum donation of $30 to the post.
“We thought this might be a good idea to engage people and make them aware that we’re there,” Sommer noted. “The canteen is open on Friday nights, we’re open for Eagles games and we have Saturday night open mic nights out on the back lawn. This was a way to extend the invitation to the local community beyond those people that know us already.”
Sommer and the members of his American Legion post always welcome fellow veterans to join, but they also want to open their doors to the community at large. Although only veterans can join the post, anyone who is a Friend of the Post (meaning they know someone from Post #452) can have access to its hall and canteen.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Hey, we saw you had an event on Friday night but we didn’t know it was open to the public,’” Sommer said. “Technically anyone from the public can come in as long as they know a member. I always tell people as soon as you poke your head in the door, within a few minutes you’ll know a member.”
The Post #452 Challenge Coin Campaign obviously makes that access even easier.
“You walk in with that in your pocket, slap that down on that bar; that’s kind of validation,” Sommer explained. “We thought this was our way of opening the door so people could get to know us and feel welcome.”
Sommer would like to see Post #452’s hall become a welcoming social scene for all of Mullica Hill, as it was decades ago. Black and white photos of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day celebrations decorate the hall as a reminder of the post’s long history as a happening place in town.
The American Legion continues to brainstorm ways to entertain; its hall will host live music on Saturdays throughout October, as well as anyone who wants to have a drink and watch the Eagles, too, on Sundays.
But like other organizations, Post #452 suffered some financial losses within the last seven months, with the inability to use the hall for events during the pandemic. The Challenge Coin Campaign could not only help them recoup some of those losses, but help friends in town, too.
“We were thinking about how to make up for some lost revenue and what was happening in the community, with local restaurants struggling because they were closed, and a number of the local restaurants in Mullica Hill have been very supportive of us,” Sommer said. “When we first got our social club permit, where we could have a canteen to sell drinks and set up this little social network of ours, we didn’t have a whole lot of money and people from Tomato on Main, Blue Plate and Harrison House restaurants were very generous with us, donating food for our events. So what we wanted to do with this … was to utilize some of our space at the legion hall for people who want to come out for a drink but also to order a meal from one of those local restaurants to be delivered as a way to give back.”
If you’re a veteran interested in joining #452, Sommer encourages you to contact the post. And even if you’re not a member, you can help efforts within the community and have some camaraderie within the post by taking part in the Challenge Coin Campaign.