On this day during the early 1960s, the 5th SFG (A) was activated at Ft. Bragg, NC. One of the most storied units during the Vietnam War, the 5th SFG has been the vanguard of Special Forces units in Operation Enduring Freedom and during the Global War on Terror.
The 5th SFG like all of the U.S. Army Special Forces draws its lineage from the OSS troops of World War II and to a lesser extent, the 1st Special Service Force, also from WWII. Today the 5th SFG is primarily responsible for operations within the CENTCOM area of responsibility as part of the Special Operations Command, Central (SOCCENT). The 5th SFG specializes in operations in the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa (HOA).
Vietnam War Honors:
With the “Wars of Liberation” or guerrilla wars springing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States was no longer employing troops with a knowledge of Unconventional Warfare.
President Kennedy authorized the formation of several Special Forces groups to counter this threat. The troops would be steeped in guerrilla warfare and trained at the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, NC. Kennedy visited the base in 1962 and was impressed with the troops, their commander, General William Yarborough and their mission.
He authorized the troops wearing of the distinctive Green Beret as “A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” The 5th SFG wore a beret flash of solid black at the time. After service in Vietnam, the unit would change it to a different flash with an added diagonal yellow stripe with three narrow red over-stripes, which was inspired by the flag of South Vietnam.
The unit reverted back to the simple black flash in 1985 but in March of 2016, in an effort to draw lineage to those veterans from Vietnam, the unit would change back to the Vietnam era beret flash.
The Green Berets of the 5th SFG began deploying to Vietnam in 1962 on 6th month TDY missions. But in early 1965, the entire unit moved to Vietnam and would remain there until March 15, 1971, when the unit officially withdrew from the country and returned to Ft. Bragg. However, small units from within the group would remain in Vietnam until the country’s fall in 1975.
CIDG, SOG Buildup:
Perhaps the greatest paramilitary force the United States has ever trained with the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG). The CIDG program was begun by the CIA in 1961 to counter Viet Cong (Communist) infiltration and takeover of the ethnic minority population centers in the countrysides of Vietnam.
Centering mostly on the mountainous Montagnard people, who were distrusted and hated by both the North Vietnamese and lowland South Vietnamese, the marriage between the simple mountain people and the Green Berets was a perfect union.
The Green Berets would send an A-Team into a small village and recruit the local tribesmen into CIDG “Strikers” and then build a camp that could defend the base, the surrounding area and interdict Viet Cong activities and influence in the area.
The CIDG program was incredibly successful. The 5th SFG at its peak had 84 A-Camps and over 42,000 Strikers under their command. The 5th SFG also trained several Mobile Strike Force Command units, locally known as “Mike Force” units that were quick reaction forces that could rapidly deploy to any A-Camp in country that was under attack or siege. Led by American and Australian Special Forces troops, they provided valuable QRF, search and rescue support as well as search and destroy capabilities.
The programs were disbanded after the U.S. withdrawal in 1971 and converted to Vietnamese Ranger Battalions.
The Green Berets of the 5th SFG were also the majority of the troops that comprised the MACVSOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observation Group). This unit conducted special operations in Laos, and Cambodia as well as Vietnam.
These small covert unit missions diverted up to 40,000 North Vietnamese troops to cover their infiltration routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The casualty rate for the elite SOG teams was around 100 percent. Despite this, the men continued to operate at a very high rate and they killed an average of 158 enemy troops for every American lost.
When the 5th SFG left Vietnam there would be 20 SF men awarded the Medal of Honor.
Other “Cold War” Deployments:
The 5th SFG took part in combat operations during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The group was called upon to conduct operations in Southwest Asia in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The group deployed in August 1990 and returned in April 1991.
From the USASOC web page, 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 Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf would call “the glue that held the coalition together.” The group also conducted Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, and Combat Search and Rescue Missions.
Operation Enduring Freedom:
Just after the hijackings of 9/11, President Bush authorized the 5th SFG to set up an operational base in Afghanistan to conduct unconventional warfare against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorists behind the 9/11 attacks. The SF teams were to initiate contact with both CIA Special Activities Division and the Afghan members of the Northern Alliance.
The two SF A-Teams ODA 555 and ODA 595 with Air Force Combat Controllers inserted into Afghanistan hundreds of miles away from U.S. support. There they linked up with their CIA and Northern Alliance allies and began operations that would oust the Taliban from the country.
The troops were issued horses as this was the only suitable transportation available in the mountainous region. They would become the first U.S. soldiers to ride into combat on horseback since the early days of 1942 in the Philippines.
When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw the pictures of the SF and AF men on horseback, he shared it with the press and the 5th SFG men became known as the “Horse Soldiers” and a statue was created by a sculptor and resides now in New York City as America’s response to 9/11.
The Green Berets of the 5th SFG would go on to serve in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the fall of the Baath Regime in 2003 through the final withdrawal of U.S. Forces and the end of Operation New Dawn in 2011, 5th SFG (A) has conducted Special Operations in support of Coalition Forces and the Iraqi government
The 5th SFG currently still operates in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria as well as many other countries in their area of operation. The men of “The Legion” will celebrate their unit’s birthday from many places around the globe but will have a tip of the Beret to those who came before them back 57 years ago.
Photos: US Army