“We had no precedent, no manuals. Herb Brucker and I developed our own program – the Army left us alone.”
—Col. Aaron Bank, USA (Ret.), first commander of 10th Special Forces Group
Authorized on June 19, 1952, and based in Fort Carson, Colo., 10th Special Forces Group is America’s oldest Special Forces unit. Activated at the height of the Cold War, its original mission was to plan and train for guerrilla operations in the communist bloc nations of Eastern Europe in the event that the Cold War turned hot. Since then 10th SFG’s mission has expanded to include combat, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, and humanitarian missions. Though its primary area of operations is Europe as part of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), 10th SFG also conducts operations in the Middle East and Africa.
Tenth SFG began as a squad-sized unit commanded by Maj. (later Col.) Aaron Bank. Even its name, 10th SFG, was part of a Cold War disinformation effort. Though the first unit of its kind, the decision was made to name it the 10th, implying to the Soviets that there were nine other SF units. Of his recruiting, Bank later recalled, “We didn’t just take the Airborne, but the cream of the Airborne – the hard-bitten troopers who were willing to take calculated risks and face challenges that conventional units need never be concerned with.” Volunteers included men who had served in the OSS, 1st Special Service Force, and the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), better known as Merrill’s Marauders, all units formed during World War II. Thanks to the Lodge-Philbin Act of 1950 that authorized the recruiting of foreign nationals, offering them U.S. citizenship after two years of honorable service, Bank was able to recruit dispossessed Eastern Europeans living in Western Europe. This helped establish the language and culture capability that has since become a hallmark of Special Forces.
Tenth SFG is also responsible for Special Forces’ distinctive headgear. Two men are credited as being the “Fathers of the Green Beret,” then-Captains Herb Brucker and Roger Pezzelle. In 1953, Bruckner had as his inspiration the berets worn by the British SAS and Parachute Regiment, respectively. Bruckner designed a distinctive green beret and in 1954, Pezzelle’s command became the first SF unit to wear the unauthorized headgear. Despite having to pay for the green beret out of their own pockets, soon every SF soldier was wearing the distinctive headgear. The green beret became an official part of the Special Forces uniform when President John F. Kennedy authorized it in 1961.
In November 1953, 10th SFG was divided, with half the soldiers deployed to a base in Bad Tolz, West Germany, and the other half remained at Fort Bragg, becoming the core of 77th SFG, later 7th SFG. During the same period, 10th SFG emerged briefly from the shadows, appearing in episode TV448 of the Army’s documentary television program The Big Picture, which the service produced regularly between 1951 and 1964.
Tenth SFG has a long history of operations on the African continent. Their first mission, covert, occurred in 1960. On July 1 of that year, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (now Zaire) got its independence from Belgium. By autumn, the country had plunged into civil war, putting at risk thousands of European and American lives. Tenth SFG received orders to covertly send a team to assist in the evacuation. Then-1st Lt. Sully H. de Fontaine was handed the mission. De Fontaine selected five volunteers: Vladimir Sobichevsky, George Yosich, “Pop” Grant, Charles Ernest “Snake” Hoskins, and Stefan Mazak. Sobichevsky would retire after 37 years with the rank of colonel, Yosich would retire a command sergeant major after 28 years of service, and Hoskins and Mazak would be killed in action in Vietnam, with Hoskins earning a posthumous Medal of Honor. Coordinating their part of the operation with Belgian paratroopers, who would hold the international media’s attention, over a period of nine days De Fontaine and his team successfully evacuated 239 refugees without suffering a single casualty. De Fontaine would retire in 1976 after 37 years of service with the rank of colonel.
Tenth SFG’s tradition of secrecy continues to this day. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Boston Herald reported that its “penchant for secrecy is so exacting the base publicist didn’t know the unit had gone to war until they were on their way home from Operation Desert Storm.”
Tenth SFG has recently returned to Africa. Members of the unit are presently participating in the search to find and neutralize the terrorist Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.