The 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) was formed on June 24, 1957, and is 62 years old* this week. The 1st SFG (A) is the SF group tasked with an area of operations within the Asia-Pacific theater, although many of the group’s teams have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United States Army Special Operations Command lists the lineage back to the First Special Service Force. The combined Canadian-American unit, known as the “Devil’s Brigade,” was known for its daring and successful raids in the Mediterranean theater of operation.
Detachment 101 of the Office of Strategic Services is also considered a key predecessor of the 1st SFG (A). This unit raised and led a guerrilla force known as the “Kachin Rangers,” which disrupted the enemy behind Japanese lines in Southeast Asia during World War II.
When the 1st SFG (A) was formed initially on June 24, 1957, it was stationed at Camp Buckner, Okinawa. Lt. Col. Albert Scott Madding was the first commander and Robert L. Voss was the first Sergeant Major of the unit. Sergeant Voss recently celebrated his 92nd birthday.
With insurgencies cropping up all over in Asia, the 1st SFG (A) would be battle-tested and gainfully employed in nations all over the region. During the next 17 years, the unit would garner nearly 300 awards for valor, carrying out a variety of missions in the Pacific region, including civic action, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, reconnaissance and disaster relief. The 1st SFG (A) saw extensive combat in Vietnam as well as in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Soldiers from the 1st SFG (A) were awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation.
One of the first American troops killed in Vietnam was Capt. Harry Cramer. Captain Cramer was the commander of a Mobile Training Team assigned to the 1st SFG (A) and tasked to train indigenous Special Forces units in a variety of military skills. In June of 1957, the team was assigned to Nha Trang, Vietnam training South Vietnamese SF in raids, ambushes, and similar skills.
Prior to the class graduation, they were conducting field exercises on October 21, 1957, when a South Vietnamese soldier was attempting to throw a lit block of melinite (a French military high explosive) when it prematurely detonated. Captain Cramer and the student were killed instantly. Several SF members (both American and Vietnamese) were wounded. The melinite was found to have deteriorated in storage and was unstable.
The 1st SFG (A) was also awarded the Philippines’ Presidential Unit Citation for humanitarian disaster relief, giving aid to the Filipino people suffering from floods and famine.
As the conflict in Vietnam wound down, so did the Army’s Special Forces numbers. The Army slashed SF groups from seven to just three, and the 1st SFG (A) was deactivated on June 28, 1974 at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
After less than ten years, the 1st Special Forces Group was re-activated due to a need for unconventional warfare in the Asia-Pacific region. A Company 1st Battalion, 1st SFG (A) was re-activated on March 15, 1984 at Ft. Bragg.
The remainder of A Company and the rest of 1st Battalion were assembled and deployed to Torii Station, Okinawa, during the spring and summer of 1984. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, along with Headquarters and Service Company reactivated on September 4, 1984, at Fort Lewis, Washington, now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The 1st SFG (A) activated the Group Support Battalion on June 30, 2006, which provided increased expeditionary logistical capabilities of the group when they were deployed. The group then activated the 4th Battalion on August 15, 2011, to enhance the group’s expeditionary capabilities and support the very high OPTEMPO of all of the SOCOM units, especially Special Forces units.
There are about 30 countries in the 1st Group’s Area of Operation, and on any given day, they can be found in the majority of those countries training our allied SF units. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, Green Berets from the 1st SFG (A) provided outstanding support of U.S. objectives during Operation Enduring Freedom in the Philippines.
Entire battalions of the 1st SFG (A) deployed to conduct unconventional warfare in the southern Philippines by, with and through the Armed Forces of the Philippines in order to assist the government of the Philippines in the destruction of terrorist organizations and the separation of the population from terrorist organizations.
Over the next three years, the 1st SFG (A) trained six light infantry battalions, three light reaction companies, treating over 31,000 Filipinos in MEDCAP events. The group also provided operations and intelligence fusion teams to assist the Filipino government in targeting terrorist cells.
The truly joint effort between the 1st SF and their Filipino counterparts completely cleansed the province of Basilan, which had been a haven for terrorists. The 1st SFG (A) was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation on January 24, 2004, for its outstanding meritorious performance in a difficult and challenging mission while supporting the Global War on Terror in Asia.
Today, 1st SFG (A) continues to support the Global War on Terror with operations in the Philippines, Iraq, and Afghanistan as well as routinely deploying to countries all over the area of operations, to support the United States’ goals and objectives in the region.
The Green Berets of the 1st SFG (A) wear a flash of “Asian Gold” with a black border commemorating the death of President John F. Kennedy. Sgt. Maj. Francis Ruddy, one of the original members of the 1st SFG (A), placed his beret on the grave of President Kennedy at his funeral. Normally, only the parent services were allowed to place headgear on the grave of the president, but arrangements were made to change protocol for this solemn occasion.
Congratulations again to the 1st SFG (A) on the event of its 62nd birthday and hopefully, many more successful years that the Green Berets in Asia will enjoy at Joint Lewis-McChord and on Okinawa.
*While the date of the 24th would be the 62nd anniversary of the unit’s activation, the ten-year window of deactivation means that the unit has only been active for 52 of those years.