Military Wiki
5th Special Forces Group
5SFG flash.gif
5th Special Forces Group beret flash
Active 21 September 1961 – present
Country United States of America
Branch United States Army
Type Special Operations Forces
Garrison/HQ Fort Campbell
Nickname(s) The Legion
The Professionals
Engagements Vietnam War
Gulf War
Operation Enduring Freedom
Iraq War
War in Afghanistan

The 5th Special Forces Group is an active duty United States Army Special Forces (SF) Group that was activated on 21 September 1961, at the height of the Cold War. It is one of the most decorated special operations units in the United States military. The 5th SFG(A) saw extensive action in the Vietnam War. Today, 5th Group is primarily responsible for operations within the CENTCOM area of responsibility, as part of the Special Operations Command, Central (SOCCENT).

Unit history

The 5th SFG(A) traces its lineage to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Regiment, 1st Special Service Force, a combined Canadian-American organization which was constituted on 5 July 1942. It was activated four days later on 9 July at Fort William Henry Harrison, Montana. During World War II, the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded on 5 December 1944 in Villeneuve-Loubet, France.

5th Group was constituted on 15 April 1960, concurrently consolidated with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Ranger Infantry Battalion (activated 1 September 1943). The consolidated unit was redesignated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. Organic elements were constituted on 8 September 1961. 5th Group was reactivated 21 September 1961 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.[1]

On 1 October 2005, the unit was redesignated as the 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces Regiment.[1]

Vietnam War

File:Vietnam era organization chart for Special Forces groups.GIF

Special Forces Group organization in the Vietnam Era

Fearing the growing threat of the Viet Cong insurgency to the Vietnamese government, President John F. Kennedy begin activating special forces units in anticipation of their insurgency combat expertise in 1961. The 5th Special Forces Group was amongst those units activated in 1961, and while attending training at the Special Warfare Center, Kennedy visited the units and personally approved the distinctive Special Force's Green Beret.[2] The 5th SFG was first deployed as a battlefield advisory group for the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). By February 1965, it was deployed as a mainstay battle force[3] once the war was in full swing.[4] and irregular units of the Vietnam People's Army, and other communist bloc insurgents. They used unconventional and conventional warfare, and were some of the last soldiers the United States pulled out of Vietnam.

In June 1969 the killing of a suspected double agent Thai Khac Chuyen, and the attempt to cover it up, led to the arrest in July of seven officers and one non-commissioned officer of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) including the new commander, Colonel Robert B. Rheault in what became known as the “Green Beret Affair”.[5] Mr. Chuyen was working with the 5th on Project GAMMA when he underwent some ten days of rigorous interrogation and solitary confinement before being shot and dumped into the sea.[6] National newspapers and television picked up the story which became another lightning rod for anti-war feeling. Finally in September 1969 Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced that all charges would be dropped since the CIA, which may have had some involvement, refused to make its personnel available as witnesses.[7][8][9]

In April 1970, 5th SFG began reducing its number of personnel in Vietnam. Later in November and December, further reductions in personnel and extraction of companies ensued, ending in a complete withdrawal of the group by March.[10] On 5 March 1971, 5th SFG returned to Fort Bragg.[4] During their time in Vietnam, members of the unit earned 19 Medals of Honor, making it the most prominently decorated unit for its size in that conflict. Members of the unit continued to conduct intelligence operations in Southeast Asia until the collapse of the South Vietnamese government on 29 April 1975.

5th SFG(A) Honors - Vietnam War

5th Special Forces Patrol by Robert T. Coleman, U.S. Army Vietnam Combat Artists TeamVI (CAT VI 1968).

During ten years of service in Vietnam, thirteen Special Forces soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for conspicuous gallantry and exceptional heroism under fire.

Nine Special Forces soldiers of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (MAC-V SOG) also received the Medal of Honor.

* Awarded posthumously

The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a joint unconventional warfare task force created by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a subsidiary command of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). The unit would eventually consist primarily of personnel from the United States Army Special Forces. Others assigned to MACV-SOG came from the United States Navy SEALs, the United States Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Activities Division, and elements of the United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance units. The Studies and Observations Group was in fact controlled and missioned by the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and his staff at the Pentagon. After 1967 "administrative" support was provided by HQ 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, Vietnam; SOG was never assigned to or missioned by HQ 5th SFG(Abn).

In additional men of the Special Forces earned the following number of awards:

* 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Mike Team B55 conducted seek and destroy missions during January - February 1969 in the Rung Sat Special Zone (RSSZ), an area about 20 miles south-southeast of Saigon and under operational command of the US and Vietnamese Navies.

The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, earned the following unit awards in the Vietnam War:

  • Presidential Unit Citation 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Vietnam, 1 November 1966 – 31 January 1968
  • Meritorious Unit Citation 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Vietnam, 31 January – 31 December 1968
  • Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Detachment B-52, Project Delta, 15 May 1964 – 16 August 1968; Detachment A-322 (Soui Da), 18–25 August 1968; and 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1 October 1964 – 17 May 1969
  • Valorous Unit Award Detachment B-52, Project Delta, 4 March – 4 April 1968
  • Vietnam Civic Action Medal 5th Special Forces Group, (Airborne), 1 January 1968 – 24 September 1970
  • Navy Unit Commendation Detachment B-52, Project Delta, 17 April – 17 June 1967 and 15 July – 17 August 1967
  • Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Detachment A-101 (Lang Vei), Forward Operations Base 3 (Khe Sanh), and Command and Control (Da Nang), 20 January – 1 April 1968
  • Presidential Unit Citation, Studies and Observations Group MACV-SOG (Covert multi service unit controlled by the Joint Chief of Staff) awarded April 2001, Command and Control North (CCN), South (CCS) and Central (CCC), Vietnam War

United States Army Special Forces campaign participation credits number fourteen (see Campaign Participation Credit below) for the Vietnam War and range from 15 March 1962 to 31 December 1970.[11]


The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) remained at Fort Bragg until 10 June 1988, when the Group colors were cased at a ceremony marking its departure from Fort Bragg. The colors were officially uncased by Maj. Gen. Teddy G. Allen, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, Kentucky Col (now MG ret.) Harley C. Davis, Commander of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), and Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Dennison on 16 June 1988 at its new home at Fort Campbell, KY.

Late Cold War

In 1989, through ‘Operation Salam’, demining training camps for Afghans were established at Risalpur and Quetta in Pakistan under UN auspices. From 1989–1995 a total of 17,055 mine clearance personnel were trained at these camps. Part of Operation Salam’s agenda was also to impart mine awareness to Afghan refugees to identify mines and undertake due precautions.

The UNSSM for service with the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan (UNOCHA) was awarded to 5th Group soldiers who participated in this operation.

Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm

The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) added to its 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 the Army's First Special Operations Task Force, (ARSOTF), consisting of elements of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) comprising 106 special operations teams performing a wide variety of missions that spanned the scope of operations: support to coalition warfare; conducting foreign internal defense missions with the Saudi Arabian Army, performing special reconnaissance, border surveillance, direct action, combat search and rescue missions; and advising and assisting a pan-Arab equivalent force larger than six U.S. divisions, as well as conducting civil-military operations training and liaison with the Kuwaitis. The border surveillance mission assigned the 5th Special Forces was among the most vital in providing "ground truth" to the US and Pan-Arab Forces. New military relationships were forged between the US and the Arab dictatorships which continue their importance today.[4]

General Norman Schwarzkopf described the Special Forces as "the eyes and ears" of the conventional forces and the "glue that held the coalition together."[12]

During the period of 2 August 1990 – 30 November 1995, selected unnamed members were awarded the Southwest Asia Service Medal, Saudi Arabia Kuwait Liberation Medal, Kuwaiti Kuwait Liberation Medal, National Defense Service Medal and the Valorous Unit Award reference General Orders 14.

Southwest Asia

Selected members of the unit are eligible to wear the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for participating in the following activities between December 95 – 18 March 2003 in SW Asia:

  • Operation Southern Watch
  • Maritime Intercept Operation
  • Operation Vigilant Sentinel
  • Operation Northern Watch
  • Operation Desert Thunder
  • Operation Desert Fox
  • Exercise Intrinsic Action
  • Exercise Iris Gold
  • Operation Desert Spring

Operations Restore Hope & United Shield

On 3 December 1992, U.N. Security Resolution 794 authorized the U.S. led intervention "to use all necessary means to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia as soon as possible."[4] Select members were awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the United Nations Medal.

Operation Enduring Freedom

By 13 September 2001, the 5th Special Forces Group was ordered to stand up a forward headquarters to conduct operations in Afghanistan.[13] On 19 October, Operational Detachment Alpha 555, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was the first of several 5th Group teams to infiltrate into Afghanistan, and work with the Northern Alliance to bring down the Taliban government.[14]

Major Mark E. Mitchell of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Operation Enduring Freedom was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in November 2001 at Qala-i-Jang Fortress, Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

Operations Iraqi Freedom & New Dawn

During Operation Iraqi Freedom 5th SFG(A) assisted in the capture of Saddam Hussein and was deployed throughout Iraq as part of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Arabian Peninsula (CJSOTF-AP). 5th Group teamed up with various National Guard support groups from many different states: Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, New York, etc.

Subordinate units

Order of Battle (ORBAT) of the 5th SFG before the addition of a fourth battalion.

Order of Battle (ORBAT) of the 5th SFG after the addition of a fourth battalion(since Aug. 2008)

  • HHC
  • 1st Battalion
  • 2nd Battalion
  • 3rd Battalion
  • 4th Battalion
  • Group Support Battalion

5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces Regiment Honors

Campaign Participation Credit

World War II: *Aleutian Islands; *Naples-Foggia; *Anzio; *Rome-Arno; *Southern France (with arrowhead); *Rhineland

Vietnam: *Advisory; *Defense; *Counteroffensive; *Counteroffensive, Phase II; *Counteroffensive, Phase III; *Tet Counteroffensive; *Counteroffensive, Phase IV; *Counteroffensive, Phase V; *Counteroffensive, Phase VI; *Tet 69/Counteroffensive; *Summer-Fall 1969; *Winter-Spring 1970; *Sanctuary Counteroffensive; *Counteroffensive, Phase VII

Southwest Asia: *Defense of Saudi Arabia; *Liberation and Defense of Kuwait; *Cease-Fire

War on Terrorism: To be determined

  • Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for VIETNAM 1966–1968
  • Presidential Unit Citation (Army) for AFGHANISTAN 2001–2002
  • Valorous Unit Award for IRAQ-KUWAIT 1991
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for VIETNAM 1968
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1964–1969
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm for VIETNAM 1969–1970
  • Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Honor Medal, First Class for VIETNAM 1968–1970

1st Battalion additionally entitled to:

  • Army Superior Unit Award for 1992–1993

2d Battalion additionally entitled to:

  • Army Superior Unit Award for 1992–1993

3d Battalion additionally entitled to:

  • Army Superior Unit Award for 1992–1993[1]


  • COL L. H. Schweiter September 1961 – July 1962
  • COL L. E. Wills July 1962 – July 1963
  • COL G. C. Morton September 1962 – November 1963
  • COL T. Leonard November 1963 – July 1964
  • COL H. F. Roye July 1964 – August 1964
  • COL J. M. Spears August 1964 – July 1965
  • COL W. A. McKean July 1965 – June 1966
  • COL F. J. Kelly June 1966 – June 1967
  • COL J. F. Ladd June 1967 – June 1968
  • COL H. R. Aaron June 1968 – May 1969 (retired as Lieutenant General)
  • LTC C. G. Ross (Acting) May 1969
  • COL R. B. Rheault May 1969 – July 1969
  • COL A. Lemberes July 1969 – August 1969
  • COL M. D. Healy August 1969 – March 1971 (retired as Major General)
  • COL J. B. Durst March 1971 – June 1972
  • COL E. L. Keesling June 1972 – December 1973
  • COL A. C. Harris December 1973 – August 1974
  • COL R. Maladowitz August 1974 – February 1976
  • COL C. L. Stearns February 1976 – June 1977
  • COL R. A. Mountel June 1977 – December 1978
  • COL G. W. McGovern December 1978 – December 1980
  • COL H. E. Bynam June 1980 – December 1982
  • COL J. A. Guest December 1982 – June 1985 (retired as Major General)
  • COL L. W. Duggan June 1985 – June 1987
  • COL H. C. Davis June 1987 – November 1989 (retired as Major General)
  • COL J. W. Kraus November 1989 – August 1991
  • COL K. R. Bowra August 1991 – August 1993 (retired as Major General)
  • COL J. W. Noe August 1993 – August 1995
  • COL T. M. Carlin August 1995 – August 1997
  • COL D. P. Brownlee August 1997 – July 1999
  • COL C. W. Paxton July 1999 – July 2001
  • COL J. F. Mulholland July 2001 – July 2003 (active Lieutenant General)
  • COL H. E. Pagan July 2003 – July 2005 (active Brigadier General)
  • COL K. McDonnell July 2005 – July 2007
  • COL C. E. Conner July 2007 – August 2009
  • COL M. E. Mitchell August 2009 – August 2011
  • COL S. E. Brower August 2011 – present

In popular culture

  • The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was featured in the movie The Green Berets, starring John Wayne. Wayne's character, Colonel Mike Kirby, was based on Larry Alan Thorne.
  • In the 1979 war film Apocalypse Now, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz is the operations officer for the 5th Special Forces Group. Although Kurtz is a colonel, the operations officer for a Special Forces Group is normally a major or lieutenant colonel.
  • The Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon video game series features soldiers from Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, referred to as "The Ghosts" throughout the series.
  • In the Season 1 episode 10 ("West Coast Turnaround") of the television show The A-Team John "Hannibal" Smith stated the team was with the "5th Special Forces Group" in the Vietnam War and that he was the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the unit.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The United States Army Center of Military History, Force Structure and Unit History Branch, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces Regiment Lineage and Honors Information
  2. Kelly, 5–6
  3. "WORK-IN-PROGRESS, Special Forces In Indochina". Sherman, Stephen. Radix Press 2006
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
  5. Kelly, Francis John (1989) [1973]. History of Special Forces in Vietnam, 1961–1971. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, Department of the Army. p. 148. 
  6. Daytona Beach Morning Journal - Sep 27, 1969
  7. Stein, Jeff. A Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story That Changed the Course of the Vietnam War—1992. ISBN 0-312-92919-6. 
  8. Stein, Jeff. "Oh, What a Lovely War". 
  9. Seals, Bob. "The "Green Beret Affair": A Brief Introduction". 
  10. "Appendix A Chronology Of U.S. Army Special Forces 15 April 1970 1 March 1971". U.S. Army Special Forces 1961–1971. Vietnam Studies. United States Army Center of Military History. 1989 [1973]. CMH Pub 90-23. 
  11. "Appendix B: U.S. Army Special Forces Honors". U.S. Army Special Forces 1961–1971. Vietnam Studies. Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. 1989 [1973]. CMH Publication 90-23. 
  12. United States Army Special Forces Command Airborne
  13. frontline: campaign against terror: on the ground: what are the special forces?|PBS

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).