In 2008, the U.S Army Special Forces Command (SFC) began the expansion of the basic force structure of the active-duty Special Forces Groups (SFGs). Beginning in August 2008, SFC stood up the first of five new SF battalions that make up its gains under the Zone 4 growth plan that came about after the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). In addition, SFC got new leadership at headquarters and maintained its roles and missions around the globe in what was a busy and interesting year.
On June 17, Brig. Gen. Michael S. Repass took over command of SFC from Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko. Previously, Repass commanded 10th SFG and was executive officer at Special Operations Command-Europe. Assisting Repass is SFC’s new Command Sgt. Maj. (CSM) Mario G. Vigil, who relieved CSM Parry L. Baer on April 17. Vigil had previously been the senior enlisted advisor at 5th SFG. A 1975 graduate of the “Q-Course,” Vigil was originally trained as a Special Forces medic (18D).
1st Special Forces Group
1st SFG held a change of command ceremony on July 17, where Col. Randolph R. Binford accepted command from Col. Eric P. Wendt, who isdeploying to Iraq to serve with the Multi-National Corps. Binford previously commanded a battalion in 3rd SFG, along with serving in Afghanistan. He joined the new 1st SFG CSM Jeffery D. Stigall, taking over from Michael A. Sherlock, who transferred to Special Operations Command-Korea. CSM Stigall previously had been CSM of 3rd Battalion, 10th SFG at Fort Carson, Colo.
The soldiers of 1st SFG spent much of 2008 training and exercising with numerous and diverse U.S. allies in the Pacific Rim. 1st SFG participated in a pair of Joint Cooperative and Training (JCET) operations in the Philippines. Operation Balance Piston, which ran from July to September, was just one of the dozens of JCET missions that SFC conducted with 25 allied nations in 2008. In August, 1st SFG took part in Ulchi Freedom Guardian in South Korea. The world’s largest computerized war game, Ulchi Freedom Guardian primarily focuses on defending Korea in a series of synchronized staff exercises. The 1st SFG also led the development in 2008 of new personal combat techniques with the Modern Army Combatives Program. The group is also beginning preparations to stand up their 4th Battalion, which is scheduled for 2011.
3rd Special Forces Group
On July 10, 3rd SFG welcomed a new commander, Col. Gus Benton II, who had previously commanded Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF)-Afghanistan and 2nd Battalion, 3rd SFG. Benton relieved Col. Christopher K. Haas, who took over as director for legislative affairs at U.S. Special Operations Command. For the soldiers of the 3rd SFG, 2008 was a year to remember, and to get ready for the future. On Dec. 12, an awards ceremony was held where 19 Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, two Army Commendation Medals, and four Purple Hearts were presented to members of ODAs 3312 and 3214 for actions from July 2005 to November 2007, and to ODA 3336 for a single firefight in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008. In addition, earlier that same week in a separate ceremony, 43 Bronze Stars and 39 Army Commendation Medals were awarded to 3rd SFG soldiers for other actions.
3rd SFG also began in 2008 to get ready to stand up the second of the new active-duty SF battalions for SFC under the Zone 4 growth plan. Currently scheduled to stand up in August 2009, the process of building 4th Battalion/3rd SFG actually began this past year, with the standing up of the battalion/company headquarters teams and the formation of the first of 15 new ODAs.
5th Special Forces Group
It is no secret around the U.S. SOF community that 5th SFG covers what many consider the most distant, difficult, and meanest area of responsibility (AOR) in the world today for U.S. Central Command. The first SFG committed to the fight after September 11, what Lt. Gen. John Mulholland proudly calls, “the 5th Legion,” was the logical choice to be the first group to receive a fourth SF battalion under the Zone 4 growth/modernization plan. The expansion actually began in June 2007, when SFC stood up a three-man cell to plan the manning and equipping of the new battalion. Over the next 14 months, the cell worked to help stand up the new battalion and company headquarters teams, along with 15 brand-new ODAs.
On Aug. 8, the 4th Battalion of the 5th SFG was stood up at Fort Campbell, Ky. with Lt. Col. Bill Raskin in command. The new battalion is providing an immediate benefit to 5th SFG and its commander, Col. Chris Conner.
“The additional battalion will provide 5th Group more flexibility with engaging partner forces in the Middle East and Central Asia – its regional focus – and allow soldiers more dwell time at home station between combat deployments,” Conner said.
Finally, as they have since 2003, 5th SFG spent most of its time downrange, deployed, and engaged. This included splitting the job of providing the headquarters for CJSOTF-Iraq with 10th SFG for six months of 2008.
7th Special Forces Group
For the soldiers of 7th SFG, 2008 meant groundbreaking on a new home and getting ready to move. As a result of the 2005 Base Realignment andClosure (BRAC) commission, 7th SFG is scheduled to move to a new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. In November 2008, a letter of understanding (called a Record of Decision) was signed between the Army, SOCOM, and the Air Force to prepare for when 7th SFG moves in 2011. Currently, $380 million has been allocated for new facilities construction at Eglin Air Force Base, along with upgrades and modifications to the vast and varied range system.
7th SFG Commander Col. Sean Mulholland and his soldiers also got several chances to recall the recent valor and service of their group in a pair of awards ceremonies in April 2008. On April 17, a mass decoration ceremony was held in which three Silver Stars, 22 Bronze Stars, and 21 Purple Hearts were awarded. Then on April 30, Master Sgt. Brendan O’Connor was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his actions in Afghanistan on June 22, 2006. A 20-year SF veteran, O’Connor is only the second living DSC recipient since Vietnam, and was awarded for his actions during a 17½-hour-long firefight against more than 250 Taliban fighters.
10th Special Forces Group
10th SFG spent 2008 with their heads down and their backs into their jobs, staying engaged in both Iraq and across the European AOR. They continued to split headquarters duties with 5th SFG for CJSOTF-Iraq, along with conducting a wide range of combat and training operations. This included refresher training in the 10th SFG’s specialty: mountain warfare. There also was community outreach in Iraq, where Group Chaplin Maj. James Griffin taught schoolchildren in Iraq, along with sharing his experiences with stateside students in Colorado Springs upon his return.
There also was time to honor a 10th SFG soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Sean Howie, with the 2008 First Special Service Force Frederick Award for professionalism and courage under fire. During his 2007 deployment to Samarra in Iraq, Howie spent 215 continuous days in combat operations. Finally, 10th SFG has also begun work on standing up their 4th Battalion, which is scheduled to take place in 2010.
Army National Guard: 19th and 20th Special Forces Groups
In 2008, the two Army National Guard (ANG) SFGs have quietly and professionally
backed up their active-duty brethren and done the jobs that have been needed when and where required. In addition to conducting overseas missions like JCETs, both groups have been actively engaged alongside active-duty SF units. When decorations were handed out at the big award ceremony for 3rd SFG troops in December, there were 19th SFG soldiers there to pick up their fair share of the medals. The 20th SFG had their own recognitions, including a Silver Star awarded to Chief Warrant Officer 3 James B. Herring, detachment commander of ODA 2084, who extracted his team from a Taliban ambush.
Remembering Robin Moore
Like every other year since September 11, 2001, SFC has lost personnel in the line of duty. 2008, however, saw the loss of a truly unique member of the SFC family: author Robert “Robin” Moore. Best known in popular culture for writing books like The French Connection, Moore was the author of the defining book about SF: The Green Berets. When The Green Berets was published in 1965, it was a bestseller, inspiring the hit song “Ballad of the Green Berets” (for which Moore co-wrote the lyrics) along with inspiring a John Wayne movie of the same name. Moore passed away on Feb. 21, 2008, and was given the honors due to a member of SF. His is the defining book about SFC and its soldiers, and he will be long remembered for his contributions to the community.