Profile: 5th Special Forces Group

Col. Christopher Conner 5th Special Forces Group

The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) derives its lineage from two units of World War II fame --The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the First Special Service Force ("The Devils Brigade"). The OSS was formed in 1941 to collect intelligence and wage secret operations behind enemy lines. Small teams of OSS operatives parachuted behind enemy lines in both Europe and Asia to lead partisans against the Axis Forces. From these guerrilla operations came the nucleus of men and techniques that would form the Special Forces Regiment.    

The First Special Service Forces was a combined Canadian-American Force constituted July 5, 1942, in the Army of the United States as Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force. The Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force was first activated and trained at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana. The Force participated in the Italian Campaign and saw additional action in Southern France. The Force was disbanded in Menton, France on Feb. 6, 1945. The unit was reconstituted in the regular Army on April 15, 1960, designated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces Regiment. 

On Sept. 21, 1961 at Fort Bragg, N.C., the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was officially activated. Just one year later, elements of the 5th Special Forces Group began serving temporary duty tours in the Republic of Vietnam. Full deployment of the Group was completed in February 1965. Units from within the Group deployed from its operational base at Nha Trang to the four military regions of South Vietnam. Operational detachments established and manned camps at 254 different locations to train and lead indigenous forces of the Civilian Irregular Defense Groups, and regular units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam.  The 5th SFG (A) also formed specialized units that conducted special reconnaissance and direct action missions. 

Despite being one of the smallest units engaged in the Vietnam conflict, the Group’s colors fly 20 campaign streamers.  Soldiers from the Group are among the most highly decorated warriors in the history of our nation. Sixteen Medals of Honor were awarded (eight posthumously). The Group is awarded the Presidential Unit Citation (Army) Vietnam 1966 to 1968, The Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) Vietnam 1968; Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Vietnam 1964; and Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal, 1st Class, Vietnam 1968 to 1970.  On March 5, 1971, the colors of the 5th SFG (A) were returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., by a  94-man contingent led by then Col. (Maj. Gen. Retired) Michael D. Healy, thereby terminating their official Vietnam service.

The 5th SFG (A) remained at Fort Bragg until June 10, 1988, when the Group colors were cased at a ceremony marking its departure from Fort Bragg. Subsequently, the colors were officially uncased at its new home at Fort Campbell.

The 5th SFG (A) added to its rich combat history during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In August 1990, the Group was called upon to conduct operations in Southwest Asia in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During this crisis, elements of 5th Group, comprising 106 special operations teams, performed a myriad of missions that spanned the scope of operations: supporting coalition warfare; conducting foreign internal defense missions with Saudi Arabian Land Forces, performing special reconnaissance, border surveillance, direct action, combat search and rescue missions; and advising and assisting a pan-Arab force larger than six U.S. divisions, and conducting civil military operations training and liaison with the Kuwaitis. In the words of the CENTCOM Commander, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, "Special Forces were the eyes and ears on the ground." A new chapter in coalition warfare was written while new military relationships were forged which continue their importance today. On June 11, 1993, the Valorous Unit Award was presented to the 5th SFG (A) for service during Operation Desert Storm from Jan. 17, 1991 to Feb. 28, 1991."  

In August 1992, four months prior to the deployment of any other U.S. forces, 5th SFG (A) conducted operations in the country of Somalia. Soldiers of the Group deployed in support of U.S. and United Nations Forces and conducted unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance and coalition support. 

Throughout the 1990s, 5th Group elements conducted missions in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Soldiers from the Group also executed contingency operations and training missions throughout Northeast Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia.

Within hours of the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, Soldiers from 5th SFG (A) were being deployed in support of the Global War on Terror. Together with indigenous forces, the Group succeeded in ending Taliban rule in Afghanistan, enabling the Afghan people to choose their own destiny while denying terrorist organizations of their primary base of support. The Group received two Presidential Unit Citations in recognition of its service in Afghanistan. The 5th SFG (A) has also played a key role in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition to unconventional warfare and direct action missions conducted throughout Iraq, the Group has trained Iraqi military and security forces to enable them to carry on the fight against extremism on behalf of the long-suffering Iraqi populace. 

As requirements related to the Global War on Terror continued to increase, U.S. Special Operations Command received authorization to add one Special Forces Battalion to each of its active duty Special Forces Groups.  U.S. Army Special Operations Command issued Permanent Order 193-7 on July 12, 2006, directing 5th Group to prepare for activation of a 4th Battalion. The Group formed an activation cell on June 4,  2007. Over the next year, a very small number of Officers, a strong cadre of NCOs, and a contingent of new Special Forces and Support Soldiers came together to build the foundation for this new organization. The new Battalion was activated on Aug. 8, 2008.

Today, 5th SFG (A) teams are deploying throughout Southwest Asia and Africa and the Soldiers continue to live the Special Forces motto--"To Liberate the Oppressed." 

Units:   Headquarters and Headquarters Company    1st Battalion  2nd Battalion  3rd Battalion  4th Battalion  Group Support Battalion

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