Secretary of the Interior Ryan K. Zinke

Stories abound regarding the quirks and foibles of some of the appointed members of the Executive Branch. Some are troublesome while others seem to be personality-based that seems different from what some consider the norm.

In an article that appeared in The Washington Post, it was reported that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has the department fly a special flag on top of the agency’s building in Washington, D.C. when he is in the office. On days Zinke is not in the office, a flag is raised for Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.

Zinke, the former Montana congressman, is a former Navy SEAL commander and may have adopted this tradition from his time in the service.

Zinke also commissioned personalized challenge coins to give to staff and visitors.

Challenge Coin commissioned by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Challenge coins began as a military tradition during World War I when Ivy League students went to war and created these coins as an act of camaraderie. The challenge is that when a member draws his or her challenge coin and slaps it on the table, others must produce their challenge coin. If someone does not have their challenge coin, that person must buy a round of drinks for the group.

Typically, a challenge coin is a small medal, usually no larger than 2-inches in diameter, with the insignia or emblem of the organization. Two-sided challenge coins may have the emblem of the service on the front and the back has the emblem of the division or other representative services. Challenge coins are traditionally given by a commander in recognition of special achievement or can be exchanged as recognition for visiting an organization.

Receiving a challenge coin, especially from a high ranking official is supposed to be considered an honor.

Over the last 15 years, challenge coins became popular outside of the military as retired service members began to work in other areas of the government. The tradition has even been adopted by state and local governments and sometimes used to help raise money for municipal projects.

While most agencies have challenge coins, Zinke may be the only secretary to have one personalized. There was no report on the cost of the coins to taxpayers.

Although having a personalized challenge coin along with his flag ritual is unusual for a Cabinet-level official, there appears nothing wrong with him doing this. Zinke appears to have enthusiastically embraced his job at the Department of the Interior and if he uses the challenge coin to help reward department employees, then this is a good move on his part.


  • Official portrait of Secretary Zinke courtesy of the Department of the Interior.
  • Zinke Challenge Coin image courtesy of The Washington Post.

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