Tempers Flare Among Special Forces Vets Over New Unit's Beret — And Mission

news
Army/photoillustration

The U.S. Army is an institution steeped in tradition and respect for those that have come before. Soldiers are often required to memorize their unit’s history and the names that have brought credit to the unit in combat.


An argument over that history has ignited a social-media firestorm this weekend, as images surfaced of the olive-drab beret that will reportedly be issued to soldiers assigned to the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (1st SFAB). The images, surfaced by soldiersystems.net, show the SFAB’s headgear to be uncomfortably similar to the green beret worn by elite Special Forces soldiers.

Marty Skovlund Jr.

The Army “has not announced any decision on heraldry for its Security Force Assistance Brigades,” service spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith told Task and Purpose in an email Oct. 28. But multiple sources assigned to the 1st SFAB who are familiar with the issues confirmed to Task & Purpose that an olive-drab beret is planned as the official headgear of the unit; it is slated to make its first public appearance in a ceremony scheduled for November.  

‘All of these decisions… came from Gen. Milley’

This is not the first time the Army has dealt with a tradition-flouting beret controversy. In 2001, all U.S. soldiers were ordered to wear a black beret by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. Black berets had traditionally been reserved for soldiers assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the decision brought a massive backlash from the Ranger community. (The Army modified that decision in 2011, ordering regular soldiers back to wearing patrol caps, with the beret reserved for special occasions.)

Given that history, pushback against the new olive-drab beret plan was inevitable — but the nastiness directed at some of 1st SFAB’s soldiers online has leaders concerned.

One senior NCO currently assigned to the 1st SFAB, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, told Task and Purpose that the key decisions came from top Army leadership. “All of these decisions — beret color, patch, flash, crest, name, etc. — came from General Milley,” the NCO said, referring to Gen. Mark A. Milley, the current Army chief of staff and a Special Forces-qualified soldier who previously served in the 5th Special Forces Group.

The Army personnel who originally conceived of the new unit were all former Rangers and Special Forces, and the SFAB adopts many standards from those units, the senior NCO explained. Because of that, Milley suggested an olive-drab beret as a sort of middle ground between the Rangers’ khaki headgear and the Special Forces’ green one.

‘We aren’t here because we’re trying to be SF’

The beret controversy isn’t the only issue many veterans have with the 1st SFAB. Some within the Special Forces community were already casting a side-eye at the new unit’s patch, nickname, and mission. The patch resembles the old MACV-Recondo patch used in Vietnam by some SF soldiers; it includes a tab that initially said “Advise-Assist” until recently, when it was changed to read “Combat Advisor.”

Adam Weinstein

The 1st SFAB’s adopted nickname, “The Legion,” has historically been associated with the 5th Special Forces Group.

One active-duty Special Forces NCO currently assigned to 5th Special Forces Group told Task and Purpose he was “shocked and disappointed” by the SFAB’s OD beret. “It disrespects our green berets and detracts from President Kennedy’s intent when he first approved the wear of the green beret,” he said. “This is a symbol of a legacy that has been created by the sweat and blood of thousands of men. It’s earned, not given away.”

But the NCO was especially incensed by the 1st SFAB’s nickname, which some in his unit perceived as a direct snub. “Any other [Special Forces] Group, for them to call themselves the Legion... even that would be disrespectful to 5th Group, let alone any other unit in the Army,” he said.

The mission of the 1st SFAB — to be combat advisors who assist foreign partner forces — is very similar to the long-standing core mission of Special Forces, who specialize in foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare. Because SF units have been stretched so thin since the beginning of the war on terror, other units — both conventional and special operations alike — have had to pick up the slack. It’s estimated that the United States currently has troops in as many as 138 different countries; in many cases, Special Forces in train, advise, and assist roles form the bulk of the U.S. presence. And as previously reported by Task and Purpose, Milley expects that the demand for Army advise and assist missions “will increase and not decrease” in coming years.

The 1st SFAB is meant to address the growing demand for advise and assist capabilities, but their mission is different from Special Forces’, the senior NCO told Task & Purpose. “This is a conventional unit with conventional soldiers who have been vetted” to train other conventional forces, he said. “We aren't here because we are trying to be SF. We all volunteered because we believe in the mission.”

‘We are trying to get ready for this brigade’s first deployment’

That hasn’t deterred critics from mobilizing online. Derek Gannon, a retired Special Forces NCO, started a Change.org petition to “Stop issuance of the Green Beret to the U.S. Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade” after consulting with many others in the Special Forces community. The petition page, which includes the full lyrics to “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” has more than 67,000 signatures, just shy of its goal of 75,000.

Screenshot

Gannon told Task & Purpose that the issue was pretty cut and dried. “After reading and listening to other Green Berets discuss this issue, it seems like this is a direct rip off of our heritage,” he said. “We’re protective of the origins of our beret and the name ‘The Legion’; and it seems much of this was co-opted from the Special Forces heritage and tradition.”

The petition, he said, “was designed to unify the collective disapproval of the Special Forces community, both active and veteran,” and bring it to the attention of the Army Special Operations Command “as well as the Army at large.”

The 1st SFAB senior NCO said he understands that perspective — to a point. “People have the right to be angry, but they need to direct their anger in the right direction,” he said. “I’m just frustrated over some of the [social media] posts bashing the soldiers in our unit. The soldiers are trying to do the right thing.”

The organization “is far from perfect because we are brand new,” he added. “We are trying to get ready for this brigade’s first deployment.”

That, he said, mattered more than symbols.

“If they took away the beret, changed the patch, and changed our name,” he said, “we would still be in this unit because of the mission.”

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the Defense Department's authority to prosecute retired service members for crimes they commit, even after retirement.

The court on Tuesday chose not to hear the case of a retired Marine who was court-martialed for a sexual assault he committed three months after leaving the service in August 2015. By not accepting the case, Larrabee v. the United States, the court upheld the status quo: that military retirees are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Read More Show Less
A formation of U.S. Army soldiers with III Corps and Fort Hood honor the American flag as they lower it during the Retreat ceremony March 27, 2014. Retreat is conducted at the end of the day, every day, to honor the flag, which is raised during the Reveille ceremony each morning. All activity on the base stops for the duration of both ceremonies as soldiers pause, face the flag, and salute. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment) (Photo Credit: Sgt. Ken Scar)

Soldiers and their spouses told Fort Hood brass and housing officials Thursday night about horrific conditions inside on-post housing, ranging from blooms of mold and lead paint to infestations of snakes and cockroaches and dangerously faulty window screens.

Read More Show Less
c1.staticflickr.com

When President Trump spoke of Islamic State last week, he described the group as all but defeated, even in the digital realm.

"For a period of time, they used the internet better than we did. They used the internet brilliantly, but now it's not so brilliant," the president said. "And now the people on the internet that used to look up to them and say how wonderful and brilliant they are are not thinking of them as being so brilliant."

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. Stevon A. Booker, a 3rd Infantry Division Soldier who was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment and killed in action in Iraq in 2003, is depicted in a photo illustration alongside the Distinguished Service Cross medal, which he is slated to posthumously receive for his heroic actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, April 5, 2018, in Pittsburgh, Pa. (U.S. Army)

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Army has announced it will upgrade a former 3rd Infantry Division soldier's Silver Star to a Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery during the unit's "Thunder Run" attack on Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003.

Read More Show Less
KCNA

HANOI (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the U.S. secretary of state he did not want his children to live with the burden of nuclear weapons, a former CIA officer involved in high-level diplomacy over the North's weapons was quoted as saying on Saturday.

Read More Show Less