MARSOC Cultural Support Team Custom Unit Coin

Admin Note: This month’s second featured challenge coin comes from Eric Richards, Chief Innovator at Phoenix Challenge Coins. Eric and I share many common values and interests to the challenge coin community, and to learn more, and see where you can find “The Commander’s Challenge” article on Special Operations Task Force – Central click here to learn more…



By Eric Richards

As a long time special operations challenge coin collector I always enjoy that special thrill I get when I have the opportunity to add a rare or long sought after coin to my collection. The enjoyment I get from such acquisitions however pales in comparison to the pride I feel when I am privileged enough to be able to work directly with a custom project commissioner and the warriors which are on the front lines serving our nation. It’s always an honor and a pleasure to work with and mint every one of these custom military coin projects.


Today I’m going to be talking about a rare coin in the special operations realm that is made even rarer by the fact that it was commissioned by a new small and elite team within that community. It was made by a MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command) CST or Cultural Support Team. This particular team was embedded with a USASOC 1st SFG ODA in the Zer E Koh Valley in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom 14. They were assigned to SOTF-West, for those who may not know the Zerkoh Valley (alternately Zirko, Zer-e-koh) runs for 30 miles through Shindand District, Herat Province, Afghanistan. Below is a picture of the coin I made for them.

As you can see the design was done at 1.75”x3mm thick (using Brass as a base metal, and die struck as the minting process) in a classic and traditional round style. We integrated a tri-plated design (meaning that this custom challenge coin had 3 different types of plating. Black Nickel, Shiny Gold and Shiny Silver). There were only 50 of these made and most of these went to those who worked closely with the team and supported them.

To add some additional visual appeal to the design and tone down the ‘shininess’ of this custom coin we added a micro sandblasted texture to the recessed metal on both sides of the challenge coin design. The Arrowhead was electro-plated in black nickel to contrast with the Shiny gold and silver in the EGA that overlays the arrowhead in 3D. For those who have not seen it in person, black nickel really is something that changes appearance based on the light it’s in and adds some serious wow factor to a custom challenge coin design.

RosyThe back side of the coin is really where this particular CST team shows it’s pride, warrior nature, and a nod towards ladies serving America in various wartime and civilian roles throughout history. The team chose and featured on their deployment coin the famous image most refer to as ‘Rosie the Riveter’ (Actually titled “We Can Do it”)as depicted by artist J. Howard Miller.

In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was hired by the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of posters for the war effort. One of these posters became the famous “We Can Do It!” image—an image that in later years would also be called “Rosie the Riveter”, though it was never given this title during the war. Miller is thought to have based his “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press International wire service photograph taken of Ann Arbor, Michigan, factory worker Geraldine Hoff (later Doyle), who was 17 and briefly working as a metal-stamping machine operator. The intent of the poster was to keep production up by boosting morale, not to recruit more women workers. It was shown only to Westinghouse employees in the Midwest during a two-week period in February 1943, then it disappeared for nearly four decades. During the war, the name “Rosie” was not associated with the image, and it was not about women’s empowerment. It was only later, in the early 1980s, that the Miller poster was rediscovered and became famous, associated with feminism, and often mistakenly called “Rosie The Riveter”.[1][2][3][4]


I’m sure you’re probably wondering why a bunch of warriors in ‘the corps’ especially from a tip of the spear unit like MARSOC would choose ‘Rosie the Riveter’ for a call sign? Well to be honest this is not your ‘run of the mill’ MARSOC det. In fact a CST or Cultural Support Team is an interesting and unique war fighting tool the USMC pioneered and the other services have implemented as part of their war fighting strategy.

Since early 2009 teams of female U.S. Marines, known as Female Engagement Teams (FETs), have been deployed in Afghanistan as part of the U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) effort.[5] Initially, they were drawn from troops already on the ground and received little training, but in April 2010 the first forty Marines selected and trained specifically to work as FETs deployed to Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan. Their mission? To engage Afghan women, the “other half” of the population whose hearts and minds need to be won over to ensure the success of the COIN campaign. COIN, a traditional mainstay of colonial rule, was resurrected as an appropriate strategy. General David Petraeus, who had success with population-centric warfare in Iraq, also led its adoption in Afghanistan under General Stanley McChrystal in 2009.

COIN aims to build confidence in the Afghan government and its allies, that is “to win the hearts and minds” of the population, and thus weaken the insurgency in Afghanistan which relies on support for the fighters from the population. Reaching Afghan women, and tapping into their knowledge of the local customs and developments, should have been central to U.S. and allied efforts in Afghanistan from the beginning of the U.S. engagement in 2001, but it took until 2009 (and the formal adoption of COIN) before anyone began directly engaging Afghan women (c.f. Jones 2010). And – it took a while longer for the military to become supportive of the idea. At this point, it is not only the U.S. Marines who are deploying FETs, but allies (like the British) and other military branches (like the U.S. army) have also officially begun developing such teams. Indeed, “coalition forces have formed informal female engagement teams (FETs), mainly from tactical and provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs forces, and agribusiness development teams” for the past decade, Holliday (2012) points out. “However, U.S. Army efforts remain ad hoc and disorganized, and training and employment are not standardized.”[6][7]

The reality is that the CST, FET’s and other similar adaptations are really high bred models of civil affairs units and it seems that the USMC has started to formalize that with their recruiting and as they further build out their CST capabilities. This is corroborated by MARSOC itself in ‘vague terms’ on their recruiting page.

“CST Mission: To support Marine Special Operations by engaging Afghan Families in a persistent manner at the village-level in order to build a community of resiliency against insurgency and increase support for Afghan governance. The Cultural Support Team concept has emerged from previous programs aimed at cultural awareness and builds upon previous tenets.”[8]

No matter the origins, it’s the implementation and the effectiveness of the teams that matter in their roles of supporting their mission. By many accounts these units have done a lot of good and as such have gained a special place in USMC and MARSOC history. These lady warriors have garnered enough success and accolades that even the white house took notice. Take a few minutes to watch this YouTube video produced by the white house. “Female Engagement Teams: Women in the U.S. Marines Building Relationships.” Available here on YouTube. (3 mins.)

Now that you’ve had a chance to learn a little more about MARSOC CST’s I think that you’ll understand why this is such a rare and treasured unit coin to have in your collection. I hope that someday one of you reading this will get the chance to have one in yours.

About the Author: Eric Richards is the Chief Innovation Officer at the premier US Challenge Coin minting company Phoenix Challenge Coins™. He’s an inventor, entrepreneur, innovator, and custom challenge coin collector who has written a variety of challenge coin related blog articles. You can see some of our work here at


Work Cited

1. Sharp, Gwen; Wade, Lisa (January 4, 2011). “Sociological Images: Secrets of a feminist icon”. Contexts 10 (2): 82–83. ISSN 1536-5042.

2. “‘Rosie the Riveter’ is not the same as ‘We Can Do It!'”. Docs Populi. Retrieved January 23, 2012. Excerpted from: Cushing, Lincoln; Drescher, Tim (2009). Agitate! Educate! Organize!: American Labor Posters. ILR Press/Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-7427-2.

3. Kimble, James J.; Olson, Lester C. (Winter 2006). “Visual Rhetoric Representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and Misconception in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ Poster”. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9 (4): 533–569.

4. Bird, William L.; Rubenstein, Harry R. (1998). Design for Victory: World War II posters on the American home front. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 78. ISBN 1-56898-140-6

5. Their inspiration were all-female teams of the Lioness Program in Iraq as well as another Marine Corps effort, the Iraqi Women’s Engagement Program (Watson 2011).

6. Since January 2011,the U.S. Army has been training female soldiers for “Cultural Support Teams” (CSTs), which work with special operations teams.

7. Counterinsurgency and Gender: The Case of the Female Engagement Teams By Annick T.R. Wibben and Keally McBride on July 17, 2012



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