This nation owes a great deal to its elite soldiers, specifically those in Special Operations whom live by the mantra “Silent Professionals”. Among them are the men who volunteered, trained, and sacrificed to be part of the 5th Special Forces Group (SFG). And between 2009 and 2011, then COL Mark Mitchell, led the members of the 5th SFG and saw to it they maintained the time-honored traditions and tactical professionalism the Special Operations community and the 5th SFG is renowned for. Today the areas of responsibility for 5th SFG include: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Its missions include; Counterterrorism, Direct Action, Foreign Internal Defense, Special Reconnaissance, and Unconventional Warfare. Members of the 5th SFG specialize in Close Quarters Combat, Airborne, High-altitude Low-opening or HALO, SCUBA, Mobility, and Mountaineering. The challenge coins of the 5th SFG, and assigned units such as ODA 5216, exemplify Special Operations and speaks volumes why the men of the 5th SFG are known as “The Legion”.
The 5th SFG (Airborne) derives its lineage from the 1st Special Service Force (SSF), a combined Canadian-American regiment during the Second World War. The SSF was constituted on July 5th, 1942, in the United States Army, as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment (HHD), 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st SSF. (US Army 2012)
Activated on July 9th, 1942, the unit trained at Fort William-Henry Harrison, in Montana. The SSF participated in the Italian Campaign, and saw action in Southern France before being inactivated on February 6th, 1945. But this wasn’t to be the only chapter of the 5th SFG, and the unit was constituted on 15 April 1960 in the Regular Army and designated Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 5th SFG (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.
On September 21st, 1961, the 5th SFG (Airborne) was officially activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Just one year later, elements of the 5th SFG began serving temporary tours of duty in the Republic of South Vietnam, with the full deployment of the group later by February 1965. From its base at Nha Trang, the 5th SFG deployed throughout the four military regions within South Vietnam. It was during this time period that the unit’s nickname of “Legion” was first recorded to describe the close bond of the members in the 5th SFG, sharing in harsh living conditions, intense combat, and mutual experience. The Group’s Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs) established camps at 270 locations throughout South Vietnam, training and leading the indigenous forces of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups. Additionally, soldiers from the Group led units of other indigenous forces conducting reconnaissance, and direct-action missions throughout Southeast Asia. (The History Channel n.d.)
Although one of the smallest units in Vietnam, the 5th SFG Colors fly 27 campaign streamers from that conflict, and its soldiers are among the most decorated in the history of our nation. Eighteen Medals of Honor were awarded to soldiers of the 5th SFG (nine posthumously). The SFG was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, two Valorous Unit Citations, the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry (with palm) and the Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal, First Class.
On March 5th, 1971, the colors of the 5th SFG were returned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina; where the group remained until June 10th, 1988 when the colors were cased at a ceremony marking its departure from Fort Bragg. The colors were later officially uncased on June 16th, 1988 at the unit’s new home at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
The 5th SFG added to its rich history during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The 5th SFG was called upon to conduct operations in response to the Iraqi 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Group deployed in August 1990, and returned a year later in April 1991. During this time, the Group conducted Foreign Internal Defense operations in support of the Saudi Arabian land forces, and provided Coalition Support Teams to every allied contingent among the Coalition; becoming what General H. Norman Schwarzkopf would call “the glue that held the coalition together.” The 5th SFG also conducted Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action and Combat Search and Rescue Missions. For their service during Operation Desert Storm the Group was awarded the Valorous Unit Citation on June 11th, 1993.
Following Operation Desert Storm, the 5th SFG also conducted extensive security and humanitarian missions in Somalia, and was called to support operations in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.
In the wake of September 11th, 2001, the 5th SFG was called upon to play a major role in the Global War on Terror. From October 2001 through April 2002, Special Forces ODAs, or A- teams, from the 5th SFG (A) were one of the first American units deployed into Afghanistan for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF). These ODA’s of the 5th SFG conducted Unconventional Warfare against Taliban and al Qaeda (AQ) forces crippling their Command and Control and delivering devastating enemy losses. Individuals from these A-teams have been recognized in Doug Stanton’s Horse Soldier’s due to the unit’s unique requirement to advise and assist their Afghan counterparts while riding horseback, a form of transport not used in the U.S. military since the early 19th century. (Stanton 2010)
Within a six months time period the 5th SFG, now a regimental-sized force, effectively destroyed the popular base of the Taliban government and toppled the terrorist-sponsoring state of Afghanistan. The 5th SFG was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for its extraordinary accomplishments during OEF.
In honor of the victims of the 9/11 attacks each ODA carried with them pieces of steel recovered from the rubble that was the World Trade Center. At the site where each team completed its mission, they respectively buried a piece of the World Trade Center steel and a properly folded American flag. As the first unit to invade Afghanistan and take the fight to those responsible, the ceremonies would forever bond the Green Berets of the 5th SFG (A) to the New York City first responders. It was a bond formed from an understanding and an ability to relate to those first responders who risked their lives to go to the aid of others, who ran to the World Trade Center, not away, and who were climbing up stairwells, not down them.
To commemorate these small ceremonies, the Legion has presented the respective New York emergency response agencies and the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with prints depicting the locations where each piece of steel was buried.
Immediately after redeploying from OEF I to Fort Campbell, the 5th SFG began preparations for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM (OIF)… and within another six months, returned back into the CENTCOM theater of operations by January 2003. Upon the commencement of combat operations, the Group conducted the full array of Special Operation missions from; Theater Ballistic Defense in the Western Desert, to Unconventional Warfare in Southern and Central Iraq. These efforts facilitated the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s Regime.
From the opening days of OIF and the fall of the Baath Regime in 2003, through the final withdrawal of US Forces and to the end of Operation NEW DAWN in 2011, 5th SFG has provided the full spectrum of Special Operations in support of Coalition Forces and the Iraqi Government. The pinnacle of these
achievements were evident in the thousands of successful operations that targeted terrorist and insurgent networks while training and developing a capable and effective Iraqi Military, Police, and Special Operations Force. Special Forces soldiers have proven again to be our Nation’s ultimate combat multipliers, building skills and capabilities with multiple partnered nation security forces across the CENTCOM area of operations, always prepared to execute the most hazardous and sensitive special operations when and where directed.
On August 14, 2009 in a small ceremony on Gabriel Field in Fort Campbell, COL Mark Mitchell assumed command of the 5th SFG. (MAJ Olson 2009) Previously serving as the Executive Officer to then Commander COL Christopher Conner, COL Mitchell came up in rank from within the Group, including serving as COL Conner’s J-3 at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, and the ODA Company and Battalion Commander before assuming command of the 5th SFG. Prior to assuming command, COL Mitchell had also served a short tenure at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government as a National Security Fellow from the US Army War College. COL Mitchell would continue on to serve as the 5th SFG Commander until August 17th, 2011 when he himself was succeeded by COL Scott E. Brower in another ceremony at Gabriel Field. In his farewell remarks, COL Mitchell said,
In these men (5th SFG soldiers serving overseas), we have found the military equivalent of a philosopher’s stone, the elusive element sought by alchemists to turn base metals into precious metals. Time and time again, they have taken the rough, raw base materials of our foreign counterparts and, with skills that would make any alchemist jealous, turn those raw materials into pure gold.
The sterling reputation of this group is a tribute to their professionalism and dedication they present to you as soldiers. The accomplishments of this group are the direct result of their extraordinary efforts. From the bottom of my heart, to each and every one of you, thank you for all that you are, all that you do and all that you continue to do.
The future that we face today is more complex with more unknowns and more demands than we have seen in years. I welcome that environment, because it is the soldiers who stand before you and the Legionnaires that are already deployed around the world that thrive in this environment. I am confident that these soldiers will meet each and every challenge that they face. (Snow 2011) (Gresham 2012)
On Sept. 21, 2011, the 50th anniversary of the activation of the 5th SFG (A), the Group unveiled two World Trade Center structural steel columns that were recovered from Ground Zero. These columns were presented to the Group on May 27, 2011, and erected as a 9/11 Memorial on Gabriel Field on Sept. 11, 2011. The words engraved on the Memorial plaque read:
The twin steel columns, shaped in a Roman numeral V, symbolize the 5th SFG (Airborne) and are displayed to pay homage to the 2977 innocent lives lost at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001. Recovered from the remnants of the World Trade Center the columns were gifted from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to honor and pay tribute to the “Legion”.
Within days after the terrorist attack on September 11th, Green Berets deployed to conduct offensive operations against those responsible for the attack, from 2001, 5th SFG remained at the forefront in the Global War on Terror and stands ready to defend liberty and free the oppressed.
WE WILL NOT TIRE, WE WILL NOT FALTER, WE WILL NOT FAIL
The Commander’s Challenge Coin for the 5th SFG between 2009 and 2011 was designed to celebrate the unit’s unique heritage as “Legionnaires” and COL Mitchell’s tenure. Although the average rotation of a SFG Commander is only two years, little was changed to COL Mitchell’s challenge coin between versions 1 and 2 reflecting his value on the coin’s symbolism. Measuring approximately 2.25” tall and 1.5” wide, the rectangular design of the coin is angled to represent the scutum shield, commonly carried by Roman Legionnaires around 200 AD. A special note: an anti-counterfeit feature was added to the challenge coin along the outer edge in a series of laser-etched phrases which represent the ethos of COL Mitchell while serving as the unit Commander. For the purposes of maintaining this unique feature the actual wording has been excluded.
Against a field of all black gloss, the Obverse of the 5th SFG Commander’s Challenge Coin alludes to a number of both historical and current symbols associated to the 5th SFG. Centered on the Obverse is a small rectangular jeweled box inside which is the Special Forces crest adopted in 1960 and approved as the regimental designator in 1984. (United States Army Special Operations Command n.d.) Behind the jeweled box and centered on the Obverse are two sets of silver “wings” meant to draw correlation to designs frequently found on the scutum shields of Roman Legionaries. Echoing the depiction of the Special Forces crest is a gold-laced V-42 dagger symbolic with the design in the SF crest, and two crossed golden arrows that represent the asymmetric nature of Special Operations. Along the top, in raised silver lettering, is written “Legio V” which is Latin for 5th “Legion” representing the unit. Along the bottom of the Obverse is written “De Oppresso Liber” the Latin motto of Special Forces meaning, “To Liberate the Oppressed” although the actual translation varies.
Against a textured silver field, and centered on the top half is a .3/4” epoxy-coated representation of the Special Forces crest against a black beret flash. Below the crest and in the honorific position is the raised silver rank-representation of an O-6 full Colonel symbolizing the 5th Special Forces Commander. To the right is golden chevron rank of the 5th SFG’s senior enlisted Command Sergeant Major. At the top, and written in black lettering is “For Excellence” while along the bottom and below the representative ranks is the phrase “5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) ‘The Quiet Professionals’ Strength and Honor”. It should be noted the only variant between the first and second versions of these coins, which represent COL Mitchell’s tenure, is a slight variation in the coloring for the senior enlisted with the first version having no color and of the same raised silver texture as the Colonel. The latter version, representing the second half of the Commanders time with the unit, changed the senior enlisted rank to gold.
Gresham, John D. USASOC Year in Review: 2011-2012. July 7, 2012. http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/usasoc-year-in-review-2011-2012/2/ (accessed June 23, 2013).
MAJ Olson, April N. 5th Special Forces Group welcomes new commander. August 17, 2009. http://www.army.mil/article/26147/5th_Special_Forces_Group_welcomes_new_commander/ (accessed June 23, 2013).
Snow, David B. Mitchell relinquishes command to Brower. August 17, 2011. http://www.theeaglepost.us/news/article_a3398bb2-c8df-11e0-bce2-001cc4c03286.html?mode=print (accessed June 23, 2013).
Stanton, Doug. Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. New York, NY: Scribner Publishing, 2010.
The History Channel. 5th SPecial Forces Group is activated at Ft. Bragg. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/5th-special-forces-group-is-activated-at-fort-bragg (accessed August 23, 2013).
TIOH. 1st Special Forces: Coat of Arms. http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/Catalog/HeraldryMulti.aspx?CategoryId=4351&grp=2&menu=Uniformed%20Services (accessed July 14, 2014).
United States Army Special Operations Command. Special Forces Crest. http://www.soc.mil/USASFC/SFCrest.html (accessed July 14, 2014).
US Army. 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). August 14, 2012. http://www.campbell.army.mil/units/5thSFG/Pages/5thGroup.aspx (accessed June 23, 2013).
Coordination provided with MAJ Brandon Bissel, Public Affairs Officer, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).