1st Cavalry Division Commander’s Challenge Coin Circa 2002 – Present

1st_cav300x300The image of the US Cavalry has long been intertwined into the saga of American history. Seen as frontiersmen, their representation has been portrayed in movies, literature, and narration as soldiers astride horses, providing security, and establishing development. Although today’s digital and industrial age has seen the retirement of the horse-mounted regiment, their heritage lives on in the 1st Cavalry Division, which has seen involvement in US actions since 1855 and in almost every theatre of war in the 21st Century. Theirs is a force of rapid armored firepower and long-standing legacies that will transcend into the next generation of conflict, providing hard-hitting strike capabilities whenever called upon.

Going back to the horse-mounted days of 1855, the 1st Cavalry Division (CD) heredity stems from the reorganization of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment into the 5th Cavalry in 1861. The 5th Cavalry was involved in some of the most perilous fighting of the Civil War to include Bull Run (1861), Antietam (1862), Gettysburg (1863), Wilderness (1864), and Appomattox (1865).

1st Cavalry Horse Detachment Reenacts "The Charge"
1st Cavalry Horse Detachment Reenacts “The Charge”

As the Civil War closed in 1865, the American Frontier required the forces necessary to maneuver through the large expanses and provide security to settlers. With the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 9th Cavalry (which would one day transcend into the 1st CD), those units provided ranging patrols amid the Indian Wars and clash with the fierce Native American Sioux, Comanche, Arapaho, Apache, and Ute nations whom resisted the incursion. Made famous during this time period was COL George Armstrong Custer, whom died at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 in what became known as “Custer’s Last Stand” against a coalition of Native American tribes led by then Chieftain Crazy Horse.

With the National Defense Act of 1920, the 5th, 7th, and 8th Cavalry were merged into the 1st CD, activated on September 13th, 1921 and finalized by December 1922. With this reorganization also came other horse-mounted units, such as the 82nd Field Artillery, 13th Signal Troops, and 27th Ordnance. Major General Robert L. Howze became the 1st CD’s first Division Commander. Yet, with the Indian Wars done, the 1st CD was assigned to patrol the harsh and barren Western border with Mexico, pursuing smugglers and bandits alike. Because of this assignment, the 1st CD missed out on much of the First World War. Additionally, the 1st CD came upon hard times as the 1920’s Great Depression set in, and by the 1940’s developments in industrial manufacturing had left much of the horse-mounted regimental formations behind.

p14By World War II, the 1st CD was eager to test their spurs once more. In 1942 the 1st CD was given the moniker “First Team” by Commanding General William C. Chase whom insisted the 1st CD not always strode to be first, but the best – and now they longed to prove it. Training first in Australia with their new armor and mechanized “horses”, the division got their chance on February 29th, 1944 in an amphibious landing against the Japanese on Los Negros Island. From there, the division leapt to the Philippine island of Leyte, and on to Luzon. On January 31st, 1945 General Douglas MacAuthor ordered the 1st CD to capture Luzon from the Japanese and pioneering the first mechanized “flying column” the 1st CD became the “First in Manila”. With the rapid close of World War II, the 1st CD was again given the honor of being “First in Tokyo” as lead element in the Allied Occupational Army.

The Pusan Perimeter

Yet amid the short respite to America’s “Forgotten War”, the 1st CD served remarkably in the hills of South Korea. Despite a disparity in small arms, on July 18th, 1950 the 1st CD again conducted an amphibious landing coming ashore at Pohangdongm, South Korea. The quick action of the 1st CD halted the North’s advance at the “Pusan Perimeter”. In a series of offensive maneuvers the 1st CD pushed the North Korean Army back to the 38th parallel and then beyond, capturing the capital of North Korea on October 19th and marking another first for the division; “First to Pyongyang”. Unfortunately, the assistance of Communist China on the part of the North dashed hopes of a quick end to the conflict. As the exchanges between forces dragged on, 1st CD distinguished itself for defense of Seoul; and by January 1952, following 18 months of continual fighting, the division was rotated back to Japan. The 1st CD would again deploy to Korea in 1957 where it assumed responsibility of patrolling the Demilitarized Zone until 1965. [1]

However, the 1st CD’s redeployment home was short lived. After only being stateside for 90 days the 1st CD was reorganized to employ a new innovation to war: the first air mobile division. By October 29th, 1965 the 1st CD was engaged for the first time in Vietnam as part of the Pleiku Campaign. Other operations would follow, Pershing (1968), resisting the Tet Offensive (1968), action in Quang Tri and Hue (1968), and liberation of Marine Base Khe Sann (1969). The 1st CD became the “First into Cambodia” in May 1970 and continued fighting against the North Vietnamese until the 1st CD’s Vietnam service ended in 1972. First to go to Vietnam, last to leave was a common Cavalry saying. When describing the actions of the 1st CD, then Commanding General of US Forces in Asia General Creigton Abrams said,

“The big yellow patch does something to an individual that makes him a better soldier, a better team member, and a better American than he otherwise would not have been.”

1st CAV Air Wing - 1965
1st CAV Air Wing – 1965

Over the next two decades the 1st CD underwent multiple fielding of new and innovative equipment, such as the M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, AH-64 Attack Helicopter, M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle, OH-58D Scout Helicopter, and the first Mobile Subscriber Equipment for subordinate units. . This “Triple Capability” required extensive training for the division, with multiple rotations through Fort Irwin’s National Training Center, and several European Joint Training Exercises (REFORGER, CERTAIN STRIKE, and others). Moreover, between 1991 and 1993 the 1st CD underwent multiple reorganizations, as elements like the 3rd “Gray Wolf” Brigade were reactivated, and other units realigned to take on historic 1st CAV designations. This move effectively sealed the “First Team” as the largest division in the US Army and would prove critical to the development of the division’s mission and future operations in the years to come. [1]

1st CD Mortars in Desert Storm
1st CD Mortars in Desert Storm

Amid the tail end of the 1990 reorganization, the 1st CD was again alerted for possible deployment as tensions in the Middle East became unstable. Conducting large-scale training, the units of the 1st CD began deploying to Saudi Arabia in September as part of Operation Desert Shield, focusing on the defense of the Saudi nation and to deter Iraqi aggression. This marked the first real-world deployment for the M-1 Abrams and M2A2 Bradley. Yet before hostilities broke out, the 1st CD gained valuable experience partnering with French, Egyptian, and Syrian Coalition forces as they began to prepare for a pending counterattack against the Iraqi military. The 1st CD attempted to lure the Iraqi forces via feigned Engineer and “berm busting” actions along the Wadi al-Batin sector of the Saudi border. On February 20th, 1991 the 2nd “Blackjack” Brigade began the first offensive actions moving 10-miles into Iraq, confirming and engaging multiple enemy units. The 1st CD then surged west, north, and then east moving a massive amount of armor and logistics 300-kilometers anticipating the final engagement with Iraq’s elite Republican Guard. Yet, a ceasefire was declared before the division could finish the errant Iraqi forces, leaving them to remain in control of Baghdad. Ever the professionals and eager to see their families, the 1st CD then began the long process of redeploying south to Saudi Arabia and home. [1]

In the 1990’s the security situation in the former Republic of Yugoslavia had degenerated down to a horrific civil war. By 1998 the belligerents had finally settled on a hard-won peace and the decision was made in Washington to send America’s “First Team”. Following intensive tactical and cultural training, on April 16th, 1998 the 1st CD assumed command of Task Force Eagle in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Beginning October 7th that same year, the 1st CD began conducting enforcement operations set forth by the Dayton Accords in the hopes of extending a lasting peace initiative. In the six-month deployment, units of the 1st CD would conduct over 9,000 combat patrols, hundreds of weapon inspections, and over 1,000 local convoy escort missions across 80,000 square meters of contested lands in some of the most inhospitable and austere terrain in the region. [1]

Following the attacks of September 11th, 2001 the 1st CD would again see action as deployment orders were issued. A detachment from the 1st CD 545th Military Police Battalion initially deployed to support Operation Enduring Freedom 6306474573664a168b0o242rk1providing detainee support. Assigned to the HQ-ARCENT in Bagram, Afghanistan they represented the first elements of the 1st CD to deploy in that theatre. By 2003, dual mission requirements forced the 1st CD to divide their operational efforts between war preparations against in Iraq (as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom), and the ongoing effort in Operation Enduring Freedom. Elements of the 1-227th Aviation Battalion and 615th Aviation Support Battalion deployed in support of the Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein’s and his forces. During the war Chief Warrant Officers Willams and Young, piloting an AH-64 from the 1-227th, became the first 1st CD Prisoners of War since the Korean War. They were eventually rescued 22-days later by US Marines as Coalition forces closed in on Baghdad. Soon the Iraqi dictator and his supporting regime members were scattered and, Coalition forces assumed control of the Iraqi capital. [1]

By 2004 the rest of the 1st CD rejoined their lead elements already serving in Iraq and together the division assumed control of Task Force – Baghdad. While controlling their Area of Responsibility the 1st CD engaged in multiple lines of operations, c_23-032weeding out and destroying enemy and insurgent forces. The division also provided essential services and promoted economic and political developments to help the Iraqi people to establish the first tender roots of a democracy in their country. Under the 1st CD’s control, the Iraqi people experienced the return of national sovereignty in 2004, and the first national elections in 2005. One of the more notable engagements, the Second Battle of Fallujah, occurred during this deployment and was an effort to flush al Qa’ida in Iraq and other insurgents from their safe havens in the historic city. In anticipation of redeployment back to their garrison in Kileen, Texas the 1st CD turned over governing authority of Task Force – Baghdad to the 3rd Infantry Division in February 2005. Their return was marked by the activation of the 4th “Long Knife” Brigade Combat Team on October 18th, which would deploy and go on to serve in Iraq – 2006 (Mosul) and again in 2008 (Maysan, Muthanna, and Dhi Qar Provinces). [1]

General Anthony R. Ierardi

Today, Major General Anthony R. Ierardi continues to guide the legacy of the 1st CD as Division Commander. Previously, he served with distinction as the G-3/5/7 in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff as Director of Force Management, the G-8 in the Deputy Chief of Staff Office as Director of the Joint and Futures Office, Executive Officer for the Department of Defense Counter-IED Senior Integration Group, and as Deputy Commander for Programs in the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan. Other unit leadership positions include Commander of JTF-North at Fort Bliss, Texas, Director of Capabilities Developments at US Army Capabilities Integration Center at the TRADOC Center in Fort Monroe, Virginia, and Chief of Staff of the 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea. He has also served as Brigade Commander of the 1st “Iron” Brigade, Camp Casey, Korea and while previously assigned to Fort Hood, Texas he served as the Operations Officer (G-3) of the 1st CD and Commander of the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. Earlier in his career, MG Ierardi also served as the Commander of the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Bamberg, Germany where he was attached to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment serving in Operation Desert Storm. [2]

Command Sergeant Major James Norman

Assisting MG Ierardi as the senior enlisted member of the 1st CD is Command Sergeant Major James Norman. Entering the US Army in 1981, this California native has worked the range of enlisted positions from Team/Squad Leader, Drill Sergeant, Tank Commander, Platoon/First Sergeant, an ROTC Instructor, and Command Sergeant Major. His previous assignments include; the 109th MI BN, Fort Lewis, Washington; 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (as Command Segment Major during multiple tours to Operation Iraqi Freedom), Fort Hood, Texas; 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Camp Garry Owen, Korea; 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment (where he also deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom), Fort Hood, Texas; 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Irwin, California; 3rd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, Bad Hersfeld Germany; 2nd Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment, Fort Knox, Kentucky; and 2nd Battalion 67th Armor Regiment, Friedberg, Germany. He also deployed in support of Operation Tomodachi (Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster relief) with the U.S. Army-Japan. [3] When asked about his personal experience with the 1st CD challenge coin CSM Norman stated,

“I have served in the 1st Cavalry Division for 8 years. I am very proud of the division and its history. When I present a young Soldier with this coin, I consider it to symbolize “Duty” and “Selfless Service” – two of the seven Army Core values. I received my first challenge coin when I was a Private First Class and it was an honor to receive such a token of appreciation. Throughout my 32 years of service, I have received numerous coins. Each challenge coin has a special meaning behind it, and I consider it to be a reflection of various types of service I have done.”

1st Cavalry Division Commander’s Challenge Coin

The 1st Cavalry Divisional Challenge Coin represents as much of the unit’s history as the senior leaders whom present it. Developed circa 2002, it is shaped in the design of the 1st CD unit patch and measures 3” tall and 2.25” wide. Both sides are epoxy coated to protect the color and markings of the coin. The coin’s dimensions reflect the pride felt by members of the 1st CD and echoed by General Peter W. Chiarelli, Commanding General of the 1st CD during the unit’s OIF II deployment whom described the 1st CD shield and patch as,

“Wearing this First Team patch changes us all, to some extent. It makes us walk a little prouder and talk a little louder, because of the pride we feel for our unit. Wearing the largest patch in the Army inventory also brings with it a responsibility to be the best.”


On the Obverse is the full color representation of the 1st CD shield design. According to the 1st Cavalry Division Association and US Army Institute of Heraldry, the 1st CD design is taken as,


“On a “sunset” yellow triangular Norman Shield with rounded corners, a black diagonal stripe extends over the shield from upper left to the lower right. In the upper right, a black horse’s head cut off diagonally at the neck, appears within 1/8 inches of an Army Green border. The traditional Cavalry color of yellow and the horse’s head is symbolic of the original organizational structure of the Cavalry. The color black is symbolic of iron, alluding to the organizational transition from mounted horses to tanks and heavy armor. The black stripe, in heraldry termed a “Sable Bend”, represents a “baldric” (a standard Army issue belt worn over the right shoulder to the opposite hip – sometimes referred to as a “Sam Browne belt”), which retains either a scabbard that sheaths the trooper’s saber or revolver holster”. [4][5]

The 1st CD’s features were selected by Colonel and Mrs. Ben Dorsey, then commander of the 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, Texas, and also dubbed “Mother of the 1st Cavalry Division”. An alternative narration of the 1st CD’s shield finds the gold of the background representing the setting sun of the Texas prairie; and the wide black stripe a symbol of “service”, as represented by the troopers service stripes. The shape of the patch represents the shield of the medieval knights and all they represented in chivalry and valor. The horse’s head symbolizes the love of the cavalryman for his mount, and is placed on the patch facing forward, symbolic of the charge. Lastly, across the black diagonal band appears the text “First Team” in gold lettering denoting the moniker the 1st CD has become so widely known by.



On the Reverse the features of the 1st Cavalry Divisional Challenge Coin incorporate the symbolism of the Command Group and unique history of the 1st CD. Centered on the Reverse are two crossed cavalry sabers similar to the Cavalry insignia adopted in 1851. Above the sabers, at its peak, is the command rank of Major General (two star) representing the 1st CD Division Commander, to its left and below the rank of Brigadier General for Assistant Division Commander, and to the right is the rank of the division’s Senior Enlisted – Command Sergeant Major. Below these sabers is the infamous Cavalry “Charge” of four horsemen bearing revolvers and the Cavalry standards. This scene has been a mainstay of the 1st CD since its foundation and today is re-enacted by the 1st CD’s ceremonial Horse Cavalry Detachment. Across the top edge of the Reverse is written in ¼” bold black lettering “Live the Legend” while centered at the bottom point of the Reverse in 1/8” black lettering is “Presented for Excellence”.


Previous/Alternative Versions

Similar to other divisions, the 1st CD chose an alternative design to their Divisional Challenge Coin during its assignment overseas. This provides the division an opportunity to expand on the designs making them more specific to the theatre and mission partners, while preserving the unit’s garrison coin for continued use.

Operation Enduring Freedom XII Commander’s Challenge Coin 2011-2012 

During Operation Enduring Freedom XII, the 1st CD assumed command of RC-East in Afghanistan from the 101st Airborne on May 19th, 2011. [6] The 1st CD Commander, Major General Dan Allyn, assumed responsibility for Command Joint Task Force-1 with eight U.S., French and Polish task forces and 14 provinces that combined have a population of 7.5 million Afghans. Regional Command – East consists of 43,000 square miles and shares 450 miles of border with Pakistan.


To represent this year-long tour the 1st CD Command Group chose a 2.5” circular design with an Obverse featuring a Afghan outline in black, RC-East region identified in green, above which is the US NATO four-pointed compass. In front of these elements is the 1st CD unit crest/shield. Alternating bands of green and black denote partnering agencies on the inner band and “Regional Command East” and “Combined Joint Task Force -1” along the outer band, with each phrase separated by the two-star command rank of Major General.

The Reverse features an Afghanistan in the three national colors, with an overlaying Afghan national seal. Around the top half are symbols for the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines representing all participating Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines participating in the joint efforts of the command. Oppositely, on the bottom left are the 1st CD’s divisional ranks of two-star Commander (Major General) and one-star Assistant Divisional Commander (Brigadier General), and Division Command Sergeant Major. Along the outer edge are the unit crests of each unit assigned to the RC-East Area of Responsibility during OEF XII.

Operation Iraqi Freedom IV Commander & Command Sergeant Major Challenge Coin – 2006-2008

Likewise during the 1st CD’s deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom IV between 2006 & 2008 the 1st CD, and Major General Joseph F. Fil Jr. the Commanding General (CG) of the 1st Cavalry Division, was again responsible for Multi-National Division – Baghdad with the 1st “Iron Horse” Brigade responsible for the most populace regions. [7] The other brigades assumed responsibility throughout various areas between Iraqi North and South. For this tour, the 1st CD CG chose a 2.25” tall challenge coin with epoxy coating consistent with the division’s tradition and deployment responsibility. On the Obverse is once again the 1st CD crest/shield, however on this design the phrase “Live the Legend” in yellow text against the black horizontal band referring to the immense pride members of the 1st CD experience while assigned to the division.


On the Reverse is the yellow representation of Iraq upon which are placed the command flags for the Division Commander (two-star), Assistant Divisional Commander (one-star), and enlisted ranking for the Division Command Sergeant Major. Below and above the Iraq representation are two cavalry insignia crossed-sabers with the 1st CD unit crest/shield above them again alluding to the history of the 1st CD. Symmetrical on both sides of the crossed-sabers are the unit crests of subordinate commands that fell under the 1st CD and Multi-National Division – Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom IV and include; 25th Infantry Division, 1st Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 25th Mountain Division, and the 2nd Infantry Division. Under the crossed-sabers are the two stars representing the Division Commander, Major General Joseph F. Fil Jr. under which is written “Presented by the Command Team for Excellence in a Combat Zone”. Along the top edge of the Reverse appears the phrase “America’s First Team” again alluding to the division’s moniker of being called the “First Team”, and flanking both sides are the American and Iraqi flags symbolizing the partnership between both nations and involvement in OIF IV.


Separately, the 1st Cavalry Divisional Command Sergeant Major (DCSM) chose a similar 2” tall design for the unit’s Operation Iraqi Freedom IV tour. Again, the Obverse is the 1st CD crest/shield, with the DCSM’s call sign “Pegasus 9” printed in yellow text against the black horizontal band. Representing the issuing command, on the bottom of the Obverse is also written “DCSM” in black.

On the Reverse, the Iraqi representation again appears as a raised background; on top of which appears a bronzed three-dimensional cutout soldier in tactical vest and helmet, holding an uncased American flag. Above the Iraqi background and two the right is the enlisted insignia for Command Sergeant Major, denoting the rank of the issuing individual. Along the top edge is written “America’s First Team” in raised lettering, while at the bottom also is written “Multi-National – Division Presented for Excellence in a Combat Zone”. Unique to this coin is the Reverse edge appears as a wave-cut, giving the Reverse a three-dimensional appearance.

Works Cited

1. Public Affairs Office. 1st Cavalry Division. US Army. 15 April 2013. http://www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv/about/ (accessed 15 May 2013).

2. —. Commanding General. US Army. 15 April 2013. http://www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv/leaders/cg.aspx (accessed 16 May 2013).

3. —. Division Command Sergeant Major. US Army. 15 April 2013. http://www.hood.army.mil/1stcavdiv/leaders/dcsm.aspx (accessed 14 May 2013).

4. The 1st Cavalry Division Association. Homepage. 19 April 2013. http://www.1cda.org/ (accessed 12 May 2013).

5. The Institute of Heraldry. 1st Cavalry Division. 10 May 2013. http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Heraldry/ArmyDUISSICOA/ArmyHeraldryUnit.aspx?u=3108 (accessed 10 May 2013).

6. SGT. Browne, Kim. “1st Cav takes over Afghanistan.” The Cavalry Charge (Public Affairs Office) 2, no. 6 (June 2011): 4.

7. Boudreau, William H. Deployment History. 1996. http://www.first-team.us/tableaux/index.html#_Table_Of_Contents (accessed May 14, 2013).

Contributions provided by LTC Kirk A. Luedeke, MSG Angela D. McKinzie, and SFC David M. Green, 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Office. 


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