Following the lineage of the 5th Special Forces Group (SFG) reads much like a role-call on some of this nation’s most involved conflicts; Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, even going back to World War II. Reflecting this lineage are the men whom are among some of the most elite and well-trained the US military. Nicknamed “The Legion” after the Roman Legionaries of old, today the 5th SFG holds command over Special Operations Central Command (SOCCENT) within the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility and includes countries in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, and Horn of Africa. Their missions are among some of the most dangerous, and represent the tip of the spear of American strategic efforts.
Formed as part of the 1st Special Service Force in the pre-WWII days, the predecessors of the 5th SFG were part of a joint Canadian-American unit at Ft. William Henry Harrison, Montana. Following service throughout the WWII European theatre, the Regiment was disbanded in 1944, and remained so until April 15th, 1960 when it was reactivated concurrently as part of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion and re-designated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. It would take a year to reconstitute the unit with men of sufficient skill and fortitude, but by September 21st, 1961 the 5th SFG was formally reactivated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and ready to enter Vietnam. (History Channel n.d.)
For the next decade, the 5th SFG involvement in the Vietnam conflict would be one of the longest and most dangerous, earning the unit a number of Presidential and unit citations. Deployed in February 1965 as part of President Kennedy’s plans to counter growing insurgency efforts by the North Vietnam Army (NVA), the 5th SFG took on the historic role of Special Operations as advisors to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) mentoring and assisting the South’s meager military forces. This effort would continue until March 1970 when the unit formally began its redeployed back to the United States as part of the close to the Vietnam War. A year later the 5th SFG was formally recognized in a return ceremony at Ft. Bragg on March 5th, 1971. For its involvement members of the 5th SFG earned 18 Medals of Honor, making it the most decorated unit for its size in Vietnam. Members of the 5th SFG continued to gather intelligence in Southeast Asia until the collapse of the South Vietnamese government on April 29th, 1975.
In the interlude between the close of Vietnam and the next conflict, the 5th SFG was relocated from Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to its new home in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in 1988. Following this, until the mid 90’s the 5th SFG worked to mentor and develop Afghan anti-mine teams as part of Operation SALAM.
Yet the 1990’s meant little rest for the 5th SFG. In mid-1990 a former US supported dictator had outlived his usefulness and turned his barbarism against his own people. For this atrocities, and invasion into neighboring Kuwait, then President George H.W. Bush sent 5th Group to lead assault elements against Saddam Hussein and his military forces (then the world’s third largest standing Army). For their part, the 5th SFG had over 106 teams conducting the full spectrum of special operations. Commenting on their impact, General Norman Schwarzkopf stated the 5th SFG was “the eyes and ears” of the conventional forces and the “glue that held the coalition together.” Between 1990 and 1995 the 5th SFG would be awarded multiple unit citations to include; the Southwest Asia Service Medal, Saudi Arabia Kuwait Liberation Medal, Kuwaiti Kuwait Liberation Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Valorous Unit Award. In conjunction, and demonstrating the unit’s ability to serve on multiple fronts, during 1992 the US deployed elements of the 5th SFG as part of UN Resolution 794 and Operation RESTORE HOPE in Somalia. The unit would also deploy smaller teams to Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo. (Army Times n.d.)
The next time the 5th SFG would see service would be in response to the terror attacks on 9/11 and involved deployment to Afghanistan in September 2001. For their role, the 5th SFG would deploy Operational Detachment Alphas (ODA) as part of joint CIA operations to pave the way for conventional forces to invade Afghanistan. To commemorate much of the unit’s unique operational missions throughout the country, and honor those who participated, the unit can trace their service through a series of coins attributed to the unit and its members – some as recently as the 2015 Task Force Dagger Commemorative Challenge Coin.
Additionally, the 5th SFG had involvement with part of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and the capture of Dictator Saddam Hussein under Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula (CJSOTF-AP). In 2010, a compilation of ODA 754 in Iraq was posted on YouTube highlighting the unit’s work in the field and interacting with local civilians. (Army 2010)
Today the 5th SFG consists of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company, four Special Operations Battalions, and one Group Support Battalions and remains extremely active; with much of its current mission profile remains clandestine. However, given the extensive lineage and training of its members it is assured the 5th SFG will remain at the forefront of our nations conflicts. At a recent ceremony guest speaker Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, remarked that,
Fifth Group from day one until today has always been populated by heroes. The proudest moments of my life was wearing the green beret in the 5th Special Forces Group. (5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs Office 2015)
5th Special Forces “V” Roman Legion Challenge Coin Ver. 1
The 5th Special Forces Group has had a large variety of challenge coins associated to its lineage and units. Thus artist, 5th SFG veteran, and former Task Force Dagger member Frank Allen sought to design a coin in 2015 that could be presented to members of the 5th SFG and represent the full honors of the unit. The first version of the “Legion” coin is 2.5” in diameter and was manufactured overseas in reverse 3D with a clear-coat epoxy dome to both sides of the coin to protect the designs. In recognition of those assigned to the unit, the first version of the Roman Legion challenge coins were presented to the senior Warrant Officer, Command Sergeant Major, Executive Officer, Deputy and Commanding Officer for the 5th SFG and 12 members of the unit who won the Best Team competition of 2015.
Featured on the first version’s Obverse is the unit’s all-black flash with white outer border it had held from 1985 to 2016, with the Special Forces Regimental Insignia centered on top denoting the unit’s association to Special Operations. According to the Institute of Heraldry the Regimental Insignia features,
A silver color metal and enamel device 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” (Liberate From Oppression, a motto translated as “From Oppression We Will Liberate Them.”) in silver letters. The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 8 July 1960. The insignia of the 1st Special Forces was authorized to be worn by personnel of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) and its subordinate units on 7 March 1991. (The Institute of Heraldry n.d.)
Surmounting the flash and along the edge is “5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)” in gold lettering with two 3D engraved wreath branches near the bottom. At the bottom of the outer edge is the 5th SFG’s nickname “The Legion” also in gold lettering. Recently the 5th SFG reverted from its all black flash encompassed in a white border to its previous Vietnam-era flash with yellow and red lines as a nod to the unit’s predecessors whom established much of the unit’s first history. (Special Forces Association n.d.)
On the Reverse of the first version, against a field of black is a soldier of the 5th SFG in raised 3D burnished silver in full kit and an M4 SOPMOD with a cartridge being ejected denoting the fighting spirit of “The Legion”. Additionally, denoting the throwback to the unit’s nickname, the soldier wears a Roman Gallic legionnaire helmet with red crest. Further alluding to the unit’s legionnaire association, surrounding the edge is the Romanian laurel wreath in etched 3D that in ancient Greece was seen as the symbol of martial victory, crowning a successful commander following their triumph. In modern context it is seen as the symbol of victory. Finally, at the one o’clock position is the Roman numeral “V” in gold associating the coin to the 5th Group.
5th Special Forces “V” Roman Legion Challenge Coin Ver. 2
In 2016, a revision of the “V” Roman Legion Challenge Coin was completed with its design and manufacture brought back to the United States. In comparison to the original version, the second featured a full raised 3D design. Additionally, higher detail was given to the Reverse with more color and focus paid to the soldier, equipment, and laurel wreath. Of note, on the second version the plumage features on the helm of the soldier, and the fired 5.56 NATO cartridge appear in polished brass for added realism and action orientation. Yet as a whole, the second version remained consistent in design while the epoxy domes were replaced with a proprietary baked clear coat of enamel to protect the colors, and an added coat of “shiny” Armor Shield™ from the manufacturer that gave the features of the soldier and laurel wreath added emphasis.
5th Special Forces “V” Roman Legion Challenge Coin Ver. 3
To acknowledge the reflagging of the 5th SFG in 2016 from its all-black flash with white border, to its Vietnam-era colors, the “V” Roman Legion Challenge Coin was completely redesigned to reflect the modern aspects of the new unit. (Special Forces Association n.d.) The third version remains 2.5” in diameter; however, features new symbolism eluding to the 5th SFG and its unique lineage. As with the second version, the manufacturer used a clear coat of enamel to protect the coin’s colors with a coat of “shiny” Armor Shield™ that gave the third version of the “Legion” coin added emphasis. Additionally, an anti-counterfeit feature was added to the outer edge of the coin not typically visible from directly on, however for security concerns and with respect to both the unit members, artist, and manufacturer those will be omitted from this article.
On the Obverse of the third version the new 5th SFG flash appears against a field of black. Per the Institute of Heraldry the new flash features symbolize,
A black shield-shaped item with a semi-circular base 2 1/4 inches in height and 1 7/8 inches in width overall, divided diagonally from upper left to lower right by alternating yellow and scarlet stripes; all within a 1/8 inch white border. The beret flash was approved on 25 November 2015.(Institute of Heraldry n.d.)
According to official Army records, the original version of this design goes back to October, 1964, when then 5th SFG (A) Commander, Col. John H. Spears, petitioned the Department of the Army to officially approve a modified 5th SFG (A) flash with diagonal yellow and red stripes. These stripes were added to the then all-black and white 5th SFG (A) flash to represent 1st and 7th Special Forces Groups, which sent teams to Vietnam in the early days of the conflict. Additionally, the yellow and red stripes were the same colors as the Republic of Vietnam flag and served to honor Group’s commitment to its Vietnamese and Montagnard partners. The request was approved in December 1964. (Special Forces Association n.d.)
As in the first and second versions, the Special Forces crest appears on top of the new 5th SFG flash, with “5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)” in 3D gold lettering and separated by two wreath branches near the bottom. At the bottom of the outer edge is the 5th SFG’s nickname “The Legion” also in 3D gold lettering. Continuing with the tradition, in recognition of those assigned to the unit, the third version of the 5th Group “Legion” challenge coins will be presented to the senior Warrant Officer, Command Sergeant Major, Executive Officer, Deputy and Commanding Officer for the 5th SFG and 12 members of the unit who win the Best Team competition of 2016.
The Reverse of the third version has been completely redesigned. Centered is a large black Roman numeral “V” against a jungle green (or Special Forces green) field denoting the numeric value of 5th Group. Centered and on top, is also the silver crossed arrows and a full color V-42 dagger associated to Special Forces. According to the USSOCOM homepage,
The Special Forces crest insignia was adopted in 1960 and approved as the Special Forces regimental designator in 1984. Its design reflects both the lineage and mission of Special Forces. In 1890, the crossed arrows were officially prescribed as uniform insignia for the U.S. Army Indian Scouts who served in the American west from 1860 through 1939. In 1942, during World War II, a joint U.S./Canadian special operations unit was established to conduct operations behind enemy lines. Members of this First Special Service Force wore the historic crossed arrows as their branch insignia. In the current Special Forces crest, the intersecting dagger represents the V-42 dagger issued to each member of the force. (US Special Operations Command n.d.) (US Army Special Forces Groups (Airborne) n.d.)
In a text scroll above these features is the 5th SFG new motto “Primus” in bronze lettering above the upward tip of the V-42 dagger. This Latin word was chosen for the unit and third version of the challenge coin for its root meaning of “First” or “Of the First Rank”. It was taken from the Latin phrase “Primus Pilus” who was the commander to the First File (cohort) in a Roman legion, and whose unit comprised the most elite and seasoned soldiers. (Order of Centurions 2012) The Primus Pilus often led his men into battle from the front, thus became associated with the term “Tip of the Spear” and historically suffered from high casualty rates. It is perhaps no coincidence that the placement of “Primus” at the tip of the V-42 dagger denotes the warrior’s ethos of 5th SFG to serve just as the Primus Pilus would among Special Operations – at the tip of the spear. The soldiers of the first cohort led the legion into battle and selection only came through ascension of the other cohorts and proving themselves in battle, while the Primus Pilus was by appointment only. Another Latin phrase associated with “Primus” is “Primus Inter Pares” or “First Among Equals”. As with the previous versions, surrounding the edge of the Reverse is the Roman laurel wreath. However in the third version, the laurel wreath is true to the artist’s vision and is a raised 3D feature, whereas in the first version it was an etched feature to create the illusion of a 3-dimenstional space. As consistent with the previous versions, the wreath was seen in ancient Greece as the symbol of martial victory, crowning a successful commander following their triumph. In modern context it is seen as the symbol of victory.
Contributions provided by Frank Allen, US Army (Ret). Coordination provided by U.S. Army Maj. Kamil Sztalkoper, Public Affairs Officer, 5th Special Forces Group.
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