In early February of 2012, I was contacted by Maj. Brian “Blue” Simms, member of Task Force ODIN (name is an acronym for Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize). It is a United States Army aviation battalion created in August 2006 to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) operations to combat insurgent operators of improvised explosive devices in Iraq.
The unit was formed at Fort Hood, Texas, and first deployed in October 2006. An Army article says the unit is meant to meet "the critical requirement to 'win back the roads' using Army Aviation assets to maintain a persistent stare over demonstrated at-risk areas for IEDs." Army leaders said they created the unit because the United States Air Force provided inadequate or inaccurate close air support. ODIN is the Army's only unit that flies the MQ-1C Warrior unmanned aerial vehicle. Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the extended-range multi-purpose hybrid UAV has an advanced sensor package incorporating electro-optical sensors, including FLIR, and synthetic aperture radar together with a laser rangefinder and a laser designator, the latter for "painting" targets for strikes with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. By September 2007, the Warrior-Alpha had flown more than 6,000 hours and had contributed to the killing of 3,000 insurgents in Iraq. The Task Force trains operators for active, reserve, and Army National Guard. These analysts work with every type of unit including the military's top secret units. Task Force ODIN received a Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for their work with the 25th Infantry Division. The Army formed a similar unit in Afghanistan, where information provided by ODIN had resulted in the killing or capture of 365 militant leaders, detained 1,335 insurgent foot soldiers, and killed another 1,031 Taliban.
The TF Odin was about to become 306th Military Intelligence Battalion, and the battalion command decided to create two challenge coins for the unit. A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. Such coins can also be awarded for excellence. In addition, they are also collected by service members. Being a big fan of my work, Brian wanted to see if I could help with the design. As I mentioned, the initial plan was to create two coins: one regular and another one specifically for the upcoming Afghanistan rotation. The idea of the unit coin was in the works for quite some time, and Brian supplied multiple ideas and drafts in form of several PowerPoint presentations. The timeframe for the coin was very tight – I would have only two weeks to come up with final draft for the first coin. I also happened to be extremely busy at the time, with few projects on the go. Nevertheless, I decided to accept the challenge, especially considering the fact that this would be my first challenge coin project. As I already mentioned, there was extensive amount of materials provided, however they already had their own version if the final draft, which they were about to present to several manufacturers for quotes. In fact, their final draft wasn’t bad at all (see below); I liked the overall idea. However, I was not blown away by implementation – it needed some serious professional touch. And so I got to work.
First off, the central image of the coin – the Viking’s face had to be re-designed from scratch, since they were using a copyrighted image found on DeviantArt, and were yet to hear back from the designer… Also, the coin could greatly benefit from my 3D technique when it came to the insignia elements of the design. I also decided to revamp all the fonts and overall composition. They also opted for black metal look with raised silver and gold elements, so the right textures were paramount. I had less than a week to come up with my version of the final draft, and there it was… They immediately liked it although a few minor changes were suggested. The changes were made, and version 2.1, which you can find below, was born.
At this point, they liked my design to such extent that the battalion's CO made a radical decision: to combine a unit coin with an Afghan rotation coin into just one. However, this would mean a serious re-design of the back. They suggested that 3D map of Afghanistan should be added to the mix (see below).
I instantly disliked the idea of 3D map… First off, it had a serious potential of resembling a giant cow pie in the middle of the design. Secondly, it wouldn’t be obvious enough to convey the Afghan connection, since not everyone is intimately familiar with geography Afghanistan. And so I came up with my own idea for the back of the coin. It also helped that I already developed this idea earlier for my World Heraldry project. The premise was to combine Afghanistan’s flag, map and coat of arms into one full-color 3D-looking design. This time unit command was sold, and the final version 3.2 was approved for production. My first challenge coin was about to manifest in black metal silver and gold. Can’t wait to have one of these babies in my hand…