Tag Archives: ODA

2013 Operational Detachment Alpha 5216 Unit Challenge Coins, Ver. 1-3

5th_special_forces_group_by_hendronix-d34nkc2More recently, elements from 5th Special Forces Group (SFG) again returned to Afghanistan in 2013 to train and advise Arab units participating in the international coalition and Afghan security forces. Additionally, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) units continue to deploy throughout the CENTCOM area of operations conducting exercises and training with Special Operations forces from other nations throughout the Middle East and Africa. One of these ODA’s was 5216 (formerly 546). Upon ODA 5216’s return for Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) XX (March – September 2013), the unit’s mission was to strengthen and mentor elements of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in the Helmand River Valley of southern Afghanistan. This effort would strengthen the local Afghans to defend themselves against Taliban forces threatening regional stability. During this rotation ODA 5216 based their operations out of Village Stability Platform (VSP) Zombalay (referred to by the ODA as “Zombieland”), which was initially a British installation but became a operations base for the SFG following the UK’s withdrawal from the region. Their mission was one where contact with the enemy was readily available, and despite the dangers and continual firefights the men of ODA 5216 and their Afghan counterparts worked diligently to push back the Taliban influence. (click here to see a helmet cam from a firefight with members of ODA 5216) Upon the end of the ODA’s tour, the unit closed Zombalay and turned security responsibility over to their trained ALP forces.

Upon their return from OEF XX, soldiers of ODA 5216 decided to hold a charity event to sponsor the Green Beret Foundation, a non-profit charity designed to aid family members of fallen SF members. Included in the event was an auction wherein the unit commissioned several versions of their unit’s challenge coin and other unique items to raise funds. Items included (among the coins); a limited edition watch, signature knife, unit shirts, unit patch, a hat, a flag flown at Zombalay with certificate, artwork, and a beer stein. Sum-total the auction raised over $5k dollars that will go to aid families of the fallen. In addition, similar items were placed in the unit’s museum at Ft. Campbell.

As Soldiers of the 5th SFG continue to serve on battlefields around the world, they uphold the highest of standards as paragons of the Special Forces motto, De Opresso Liber, “to liberate the oppressed”.

Green Berets are now more important than ever in the fight against global terrorism. Since the 9/11 attacks, Green Berets, working with our allies, have captured numerous Taliban and AQ members, disassembled terrorists cells and cut off funding to those groups in other countries. Green Berets continue to work with local governments, militaries and police forces to watch and hunt down growing terror networks around the globe.

Challenge Coins

Example of laster etching on outer rim
Example of laster etching

The 2013 unit challenge coin of the 5th SFG, ODA 5216, is representative of the unit’s time in OEF XX, the design of which was internally developed by a relative of the group’s medic. Measuring approximately 2” tall, the unit’s challenge coin is uniquely shaped to resemble the Special Forces unit flash found on their beret and minted by Phoenix Challenge Coins in three different versions – each representing a unique requirement for ODA 5216. Following the initial order to ODA 5216, the dies used to create the coins were destroyed to ensure no fraudulent copies could be minted. Interestingly, along the outer edge is also another anti-counterfeit measure with a laser-etched name to the recipient or group, the SF Group, and unit’s designator. The three versions share the same design (an Obverse with SF crest with crossed arrows, dagger, and scroll reading “De Oppresso Liber”, and the Reverse with ODA 5215’s internal design) however their materials and intended purposes differ;


Version 1 – In antique silver and baked enamel paints, 300 coins were minted to be distributed among the ODA 5216 team and used to hand out to fellow co-workers, friends, and family that greatly influenced and assisted the ODA in completing its mission. Of the 300 made, 13 were done with the 12 names of the ODA’s unit members and 1 for Military Working Dog handler who deployed with the team.

Version 2 and 3 – The other two versions of the ODA 5216 challenge coin came in variations of the Phoenix Challenge Coin Armor™. This is a specialized coating that protects and hardens the coin and its colors to resist wear and scratching. All three versions of the ODA 5216 Challenge Coin for OEF XX share the SF crest design on the Obverse. Per the Institute of Heraldry, the SF unit crest is described as,

A silver color metal and enamel device 1 1/8 inches (2.86 cm) in height consisting of a pair of silver arrows in saltire, points up and surmounted at their junction by a silver dagger with black handle point up; all over and between a black motto scroll arcing to base and inscribed “DE OPPRESSO LIBER” in silver letters. The crest is the crossed arrow collar insignia (insignia of branch) of the First Special Force, in World War II. The motto is translated as “From Oppression We Will Liberate Them.” The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 8 July 1960. (TIOH n.d.)


As previously stated, the Reverse of ODA 5216’s OEF XX unit challenge coin was designed by the sister of the unit’s medic. Taken from a piece of old Soviet propaganda and modified to include an M4 (later versions in the design changed the M4 to a SCAR 17 Heavy used by the unit for long range use), the Reverse demonstrates the fortitude of the unit while surviving the harshness of “Zombieland”. All three versions of the unit’s challenge coin share the same stylized ODA soldier, centered on a positive/negative radial field in alternating black and white to illustrate the solder holding a SCAR-17 Heavy outstretched in his left hand, while bearing the flag of the United States over his right shoulder. Under the soldier is a blackened (or white depending on the version) scroll reading “ODA 5216” in military stencilized text. It should be noted that the Reverse of the ODA 5212 OEF XX challenge coin is done in the same three materials as the Obverse, using Phoenix Challenge Coin Armor coatings to improve the coin’s resiliency.

Works Cited

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).

Contributions provided by Eric Richards, Phoenix Challenge Coins. Coordination provided with MAJ Brandon Bissel, Public Affairs Officer, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).