1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) 2018 Unit Challenge Coin

1SFG_TNFew modern Special Forces Groups (SFGs) can trace their lineage to the pre-WWII era; but for one select group of men, its unit transcends time. It follows a distinctive path through the last half century of conflicts to become one of the most elite in the US military. The men of the 1st SFG, or “Devil’s Brigade”, have become some of the most renown in special operations and it is fitting the unit’s new challenge coin draws from its past, as much as set foot into its future.

Originally established as the First Special Service Force 1942, the 1st SFG was a dual American-Canadian unit that trained at Ft. William Henery Harrison, Montana and

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1st SFG Display, SOF Museum, Ft. Bragg

operated fearlessly in the Pacific and Mediterranean theatres under the unit’s first Commander, LTC Robert T. Frederick. [1] During WWII, the 1st SFG use of unconventional and psychological warfare quickly earning the group’s nickname “The Devil’s Brigade” by wary Germans. [2] This adage was also thanks to the men in the 1stSFG covering their faces in black shoe polish to avoid detection during night-time operations or raids while leaving stickers (designed by LTC Fredrick) on dead Germans as a form of psychological operations. The stickers themselves depicted the 1st SFG’s arrowhead shield and “Das dicke Ende kommt noch,” written in red and translates to “The worst is yet to come”. There, while in the Pacific theatre the 1st SFG partnered with Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services, to partner and mentor local guerrilla forces known as “Kachin Rangers” to harass Japanese lines throughout World War II. However, after the end of World War II in the Pacific, and America’s political attention increasingly focused on Europe, the 1st SFG was deactivated 1944 at Ft. Bragg. [3]

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1st SFG Display, SOF Museum, Ft. Bragg

By 1957 the 1st SFG was again reactivated in Ft. Buckner, Okinawa amid growing political and military focus in Asian theatres, such as China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan. Over the next 15 years the 1st SFG saw extensive operations in its Asia-Pacific theatre of operations, earning almost 300 awards in valor and the Meritorious Unit Citation. The unit also participated in humanitarian missions to assist victims of floods and famine, earing the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation in 1973. However, time and politics determine when the men of the 1st SFG answer the President’s call, and in 1974 the 1st SFG was again deactivated due to force reductions in a growing downturn following Vietnam.

That call would take another 10 years.

On March 2, 1984 the 1stBattalion, 1st SFG was again reactivated at Ft. Bragg and headquartered at Torii Station, Okinawa. By September that same year the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were reestablished at Ft. Lewis-McCord. The intent was for the 1st SFG to provide improved expeditionary and logistical capabilities into the Asia-Pacific theatre; however, following the regimental reactivation of the 3rd Special Forces Group in 1990, the 1st SFG was quickly realigned as part of the 3rd SFG’s organizational matrix and geared for special operations. Over the next decade Operational Detachment “Alphas” (ODAs) of the 1st SFG deployed to support of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in; Haiti, Central Asia, Bosnia, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

These experiences put 1st SFG as the lead candidate to be responsible for counterterrorism operations in the Asia-Pacific theatre following the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. Deploying first to Afghanistan on President George Bush’s orders, and then serving back-to-back rotations into the Philippines, the 1st SFG lead and mentored the Armed Forces of the Philippines into a robust fighting force. In addition, the 1st SFG brought medical care to many of the indigenous people and formulating a solid relationship with the local citizens. Through the early 2000’s the 1st SFG would conduct continual rotations with its Philippine partners, forging them into competent anti-terrorism units while supporting multiple tours in Operation IRAQ FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM to include an entire battalion deployment to Afghanistan in 2004. In 2006, the 1st SFG expanded once more, adding a Support Battalion to its organization to enhance increased expeditionary capabilities. Other deployments then included Operation NEW DAWN (2010), Operation INHERENT RESOLVE (2014), and Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT (2015).

Today much of the 1st SFG’s operations are sensitive, but the unit and its members remain at the forefront of America’s war on terrorism. It’s area of operations include over 30 countries in the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) area allowing it to train by, with, and through various host-nations. In June, 2017 the 1st SFG celebrated its 60th Anniversary by holing a series of unique events that brought together former members of the elite unit with those of today. [4]

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) 2018 Unit Challenge Coin

In an effort to bring the history and heritage of the 1st SFG to life, artist Frank Allen was commissioned to renew the unit a new challenge coin in mid-2018. The process, and Allen’s tenacity, would lead to one of the most detailed coins he has ever provided to Special Operations. His finished coin is 2.5” in diameter, and coated in a proprietary “armor” finish provided by the coin’s manufacturer.

Obverse

IMG_1505Centered, and most prominent on the coin’s obverse, is the 1stSFG’s namesake, a “Black Devil” in 3D. Allen strove to maintain the unit’s heritage be keeping the devil’s body lines and color scheme, to include the black skin, red eyes, and fanged mouth bearing a V-42 dagger. However; Allen leveraged new technology in manufacturing, spending hours reviewing sculptures, images of Greco wrestlers, and bodybuilders to ensure the most accurate muscle tone and definition was added to the finished design. The devil, originally designed by the 1st SFG’s first Commander LTC Robert T. Frederick in 1942, bears a textured red “arrowhead” shield with white “USA-CANADA” lettering. This shield is a direct association to the unit’s dual establishment between American and Canadian soldiers and its then unofficial mantra “The Braves.” The devil also bears a red spear that also has a red spear-tip with the same “USA-CANADA” lettering. Attached to the spear are two black banners with “F.S.S.F” (First Special Service Forces – the original designation of the 1st SFG) and “Black Devils” in white lettering. The devil appears in front of the 1st Special Forces Group flash in Asian Gold. The flash is also in honor of former President John F. Kennedy to whom supported the unit and often visited. The obverse’s background is also Asian emerald-green denoting the direct association of the 1stSFG to its Pacific theatre of operations and headquarters in Japan. Enclosing the background is raised gold lettering against a black background denoting the unit’s official designation “1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) and its current motto “The Professionals.” Separating both of these are the Special Forces insignia of crossed arrows representing the asymmetrical nature of Special Forces.

Reverse

IMG_1506On the coin’s reverse, and centered, is the black Special Forces crest. Established in 1960, and adopted in 1984 as the official regimental crest, it features two crossed arrows under a V-42 dagger with a scroll that reads “De Oppresso Liber” – the Latin Special Forces motto of “Free the Oppressed.” [5]It should be noted that in 1942 the 1st SFG, in its predecessor unit as the First Special Service Force, was the first unconventional unit to wear the crossed arrows as their branch insignia. Centered on the V-42 is a brass “1” denoting the 1st SFG’s numerical designation. Behind these features is a large red Japanese torii, a traditional symbol for a sacred gateway and represents the 1st SFGs responsibilities as gatekeeper to Asia. The reverse of the background is similar to the challenge coin’s obverse in Asian emerald-green and also has a black border on which is written “First in Asia” in raised lettering. This quote symbolizes the role and legacy of the 1st SFG as being the lead force for the United States into Asia. Also, in the border appear three raised lightning bolts in brass symbolizing the three domains on which Special Forces project their abilities to strike; air, land, and water.

Bringing History of the 1stSpecial Forces Group Challenge Coin Forward

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Frank Allen’s “Black Devil” design

During design, Allen underwent multiple revisions of the 1st SFG challenge coin in his desire to utmost accuracy and detail. Allen worked with unit representatives to ensure the previous 1st SFG’s coin was updated using modern minting technology, with advanced hard coating, while still keeping with the unit’s legacy and heritage of design. Once production is finished, a number of these coins will be presented to the 1st SFG Commander and Senior Enlisted.

At least one other 1st SFG challenge coin, possibly commemorative, was identified during research but it features the historic 1942 “Black Devil” design and is one not recognized by the unit.

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Sources Cited

[1] Joseph A. Springer, The Black Devil Brigade: The True Story of the First Special Service Force in World War II, Pacifica Military History (September 1, 2001).

[2] Ted Kemp, A Commemorative History: First Special Service Force (Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing, 1995).

[3] US Army Special Operations Command, “1st SFG (A) History,”USASOC HQ, accessed at: https://www.soc.mil/USASFC/Groups/1st/1stSFGHistory.html.

[4] Alexandra Weiskopf, (MAJ), “1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Celebrates 60th Anniversary with Living History Training Event”, US ArmyHomepage, June 23, 2017. Accessed online at: https://www.army.mil.

[5] US Army Special Operations Command,“Special Forces Crest,”USASOC HQ, accessed at: https://www.soc.mil/USASFC/SFCrest.html.

Coordination provided to Public Affairs Office, 1st Special Forces Group.

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