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Army's 5th Special Forces Group to Resurrect Vietnam-Era Beret Flash

The Army's 5th Special Forces Group's existing beret flash (left) is a black shield-shaped embroidered item with a semicircular base. The new flash (right) reverts back to include alternating yellow and scarlet stripes. (Army Institute of Heraldry)
The Army's 5th Special Forces Group's existing beret flash (left) is a black shield-shaped embroidered item with a semicircular base. The new flash (right) reverts back to include alternating yellow and scarlet stripes. (Army Institute of Heraldry)

The 5th Special Forces Group is headed back to its Vietnam past for its future beret flash. The all-black U-shaped shield it has worn on its Green Berets since the mid-1980s is being retired in favor of the Vietnam-era flash that was both a nod toward the Republic of Vietnam as well as the two Special Forces groups that preceded the 5th into the war. "We are going to be reverting back to what we wore during the Vietnam conflict," Sgt. Jacob Mahaffey, a spokesman for the group, told Military.com. "It may be in the April or May time frame." An announcement posted Nov. 18 on Facebook noted the change would occur during a March 23 ceremony at Gabriel Field, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Mahaffey said the date is subject to change and that the service would likely announce a date certain this week. "Everyone I've talked to around here is fine with" the change, he said. "A lot of the older guys I've talked to, the veterans, are really excited about it. It means more to the group than the solid black." Cliff Newman, executive director of the Special Forces Association, said 2016 will be "the 55th anniversary of the 5th Special Forces Group, and this change is to honor that history and especially those who did not return." Retired Col. John Tobin, president of the association, said the change was done "within the 5th SFGA [Airborne] and the Regiment." "I would not presume to speak for the active duty troops concerning the matter," he wrote in an email. Within the SF community, there is disagreement over the colors and pattern of the Vietnam Era flash -- three red stripes divided and bordered by yellow stripes. The scheme is same as the flag of the Republic of Vietnam. But the association states the yellow and red stripes pay honor to the 1st and 7th Special Forces Groups, respectively, which deployed to Vietnam prior to the 5th going over in 1964 -- not the flag. When the band was struck from the flash in the mid-80s, however, it was 5th SFG Commander Col. James Guest who attributed the colors and pattern to the South Vietnamese flag. Guest argued that the colors of another country's flag should not be part of a Special Forces flash and also pointed out that the flag and the Republic of Vietnam no longer existed, according to a posting on the website ProfessionalSoldiers.com, which cites as its source the 1990 book, "Special Forces of the U.S. Army," by Ian Sutherland.

On the same website, which is mostly private, one writer said the only reason he could think of for the change "is that Hollywood has made that flash famous." "People that have no idea who the [Green Berets] are or what Special Forces is recognize that flash" from movies, wrote someone identified as Team Sergeant. "If that's what 5th SFG (A)'s leadership thinks is important, that's their business," wrote another commenter identified as Peregrino. "Personally, I think it's indefensible (translated as "stupid beyond belief") but then what do I know. After all, I left 5th for 7th in 1983 and never looked back." But if history -- in particular Vietnam history -- at the heart of it, wrote another identified as CW3SF, "20 yrs from now they will have to bring back the black flash for all of the [Global War on Terror] vets." --Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the "5th SFGA" in Col. Tobin's comment as the "5th SFG [Association]."

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