General David H. Petreaus – Commander’s ISAF Challenge Coin 2011 Ver. 5

To appreciate a challenge coin is to understand its history; what breathes life into a unit’s story, its commander, and the soldiers whom serve as part of it. On one side the challenge coins of former International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commanding General (GEN) David H. Petreaus reflect a historical period of international strategic involvement in Afghanistan, and a design tastefully reflecting that effort. Secondly, these challenge coins also inspire a significant amount of pride amongst soldiers because of the commander to whom the coin openly represents.

ISAF History

In December 2001, shortly after the war in began, UN and other world leaders met to develop the Bonn Agreement. This agreement established ISAF as the security element to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, and outlined that ISAF was to initially (1) provide security in Kabul and (2) enable a secure setting for the Afghan Transitional Authority to begin rebuilding the country. By 2003 the mission and role of ISAF had grown, and by 2006 ISAF’s mission included a majority of the combat and reconstruction effort throughout Afghanistan. [1]

Today ISAF continues to promote its security mission to “conduct security and stability operations throughout the country together with the Afghan National Security Forces and is directly involved in the development of the Afghan National Security Forces through mentoring, training and equipping”.Emphasizing a reconstruction dialogue in 2012, ISAF also aims to help “the Afghan Authorities strengthen the institutions required to fully establish good governance and rule of law and to promote human rights”. [2]

General David H. Petreaus (Ret.)

General David H. Petreaus

Headquartered in Kabul, the command of ISAF’s rotates amongst participating NATO countries and reads like a roster of great military planners. GEN David Petreaus assumed command of ISAF on July 4th, 2010 from GEN Stanley McChrystal, and became the 13th commander responsible for planning the military effort against the Taliban and al Qa’ida in Afghanistan. [3] With him, GEN Petreaus brought a wealth of knowledge and experience from Iraq 2003 as the 101st Division (AIR ASSAULT) Commanding General, commander of Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq in 2004, and commander of Multi-National Forces – Iraq in 2007. Perhaps it was no coincidence that prior to his arrivals in Iraq or Afghanistan, GEN Petreaus also oversaw the revalidation of FM-3-24 (The military’s vastly outdated manual on counterinsurgency operations). GEN Petreaus toured Afghanistan continually to see the soldiers, and listen to commanders. He remained Commander of ISAF (COMISAF) until July 18, 2011 and later completely retired from the military in August. [4] Shortly thereafter GEN Petreaus (Ret.) was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, replacing Leon Panetta. Unanimously confirmed, GEN Petreaus (Ret.) was sworn in as the current Director of the CIA on September 6, 2011.



The COMISAF Challenge Coin saw a variety of evolutions during the command of GEN Petreaus. This, the fifth variant, odd-shaped coin’s design is taken after the NATO-OTAN shield, with a symbolic Rose Compass in the obverse’s center. The compass represents the global community, and truly corresponds to the international effort of bringing security to Afghanistan. Although the actual colors of the NATO-OTAN shield are blue and white, the coin’s colors follow the subdued desert coloring necessary for active duty (this fifth version of GEN Petreaus’ challenge coin differs from the third and fourth in that those versions are brown on the Obverse while the fifth and final version was tan). Many often ask what OTAN stands for, it is in fact the French derivation of NATO standing for Organisation du traité de l’Atlantique Nord because the two official languages of NATO are English and French. Above there is simply the “ISAF” designation.



On the reverse side of the COMISAF challenge coin, GEN Petreaus placed his command flag of four-stars in front of a solid black representation of Afghanistan (it should be noted the only difference between the third and fourth variant of GEN Petreaus’s COMISAF coin was on the third variant Afghanistan appears as an off-tan color, while the fourth is a solid black). Above it, GEN Petreaus continues with the tradition he began as CENTCOM commander in 2008 by placing his signature on the challenge coin’s reverse, associating the award to GEN Petreaus personally. Soldiers often take great pride in displaying this side of the coin because one can easily identify whom it was presented by. On the top-most edge reads “For Excellence” while on the bottom is inscribed, “Commander International Security Assistance Force”.




Variants in Design

Four previous variants of the COMISAF Challenge Coin
Four previous variants of the COMISAF Challenge Coin
Four previous variants of the COMISAF Challenge Coin
Four previous variants of the COMISAF Challenge Coin

As previously mentioned, there were four previous variants of GEN Petreaus’s COMISAF challenge coin. [5] The first, and rarest, is simply matched to resemble the circular ISAF security patch and is a coin design GEN Pretraus shared during the transition of command with his predecessor GEN McCrystal. After those were all presented, the COMISAF coin transitioned to an uncommon rectangular ISAF security patch in digital ACU pattern. Finally, the most common design was presented as the NATO-OTAN shield as the third and fourth variants. Both these versions of the COMISAF coin were similar in all aspects except in the color representation of Afghanistan on the reverse (one being tan and the other black).



Works Cited

1. International Security Assistance Force. About ISAF: History. ISAF Headquarters. (accessed November 1, 2012).

2. International Security Assistance Force. About ISAF: Mission. ISAF Headquarters. (accessed November 1, 2012).

3. Chlosta, SFC Matthew. Gen. Petraeus Assumes Command of ISAF. ISAF Public Affairs Office. July 4, 2010. (accessed October 27, 2012).

4. David Ariosto, Moni Basu, Samson Desta. Petraeus hands over command in Afghanistan. World News. July 18, 2011. (accessed October 27, 2012).

5. East Meets West. GEN Petraeus’ Challenge Coin. February 19, 2011. (accessed October 28, 2012).


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