Beret for Soldiers of 1st SFAB – Concern in SF Community

SFAB Beret - The 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) may soon wear a distinctive beret.

SFAB Beret – The rumors that Soldiers of the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) will be issued a distinctive headgear – an SFAB beret are possibly true. Over the past week the social media frequented by current and past members of the Special Forces community has been ablaze with comments, memes, and commentary about the SFAB beret. A recent news article by defense reporter Meghann Myers stated that an Army official confirmed on Friday, October 27th that a colored beret would be issued to Soldiers in the 1st SFAB. [1]

Beret, Tab, and Nickname. It appears, based on photos posted on Instagram by SFAB Soldiers, that the SFAB beret will be a shade of green very close to the green beret worn by Special Forces Soldiers. Apparently the SFAB Soldiers will wear a tab as well – pictures on the Internet show different versions – one saying “Advise Assist” and the other “Combat Advisor”. The nickname of the 5th Special Forces Group is “The Legion”. Well, initial reports indicate that the 1st SFAB is calling itself the legion. Some members of the Special Forces community are calling this ‘cultural appropriation’!

Green Beret Hat

History of the Green Beret. The members of Special Forces wore the Green Beret as an unofficial headgear in the early 1950s – following the lead of elite European units that wore various colored berets that marked them as highly-trained and specialized airborne or special operations units. In October 1961 President John F. Kennedy visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina where he met with Special Force leaders and visited SF units. Kennedy was a fierce advocate of unconventional warfare and he recognized the unique abilities of SF. He issued a Presidential Directive that made the famous green hat the official headgear of U.S. Army Special Forces – headgear that he called a “Symbol of Excellence”. [2] This recognition of Special Forces by the president has been an important part of Special Forces culture – and it is remembered by the Special Forces community in an annual Green Beret wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery. The exact shade of green for the beret that SFAB Soldiers will wear has not yet been officially released; although some reports say it is an ‘olive drab’.

SFAB Beret - 1st SFAB and Special Forces Tabs

Shoulder Tabs. The most commonly known shoulder tabs in the U.S. Army – the Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces Tabs – are for Soldiers who have undergone difficult training courses or belong to elite units. There are a number of official shoulder tabs in addition to Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces – “ARNG Honor Guard”, “Honor Guard”, “President’s Hundred”, and “Sapper”. [3] The Special Forces Tab was approved in 1983 by the Chief of Staff of the Army for those personnel who graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). [4] The Fort Benning website is displaying the “Advise Assist” tab while some Instagram photos depict tabs above the 1st SFAB shoulder patch that say “Combat Advisor”.

SFAB Beret - Shoulder patch for 1st SFAB, USASOC, Special Forces, and MACV Recondo School
Shoulder patch for 1st SFAB, USASOC, Special Forces, and MACV Recondo School (Vietnam)

Unit Shoulder Patch. The new patch for the 1st SFAB is similar to the Special Forces shoulder sleeve insignia. The SF patch, approved in 1955, is authorized for wear by members of the U.S. Special Forces Command and it’s subordinate units. [5] Some online commentators have compared it to the Vietnam-era Special Forces MACV Recondo patch – the shape being inverted. However, a Google search shows this distinctive shape was used by Recondo elements of many U.S. Army units during that era. [6] The 1st SFAB patch does share a distinctive shape and have a sword.

“The Legion”. For quite a few years the 5th Special Forces Group has used “The Legion” as an unofficial nickname for their unit. The origin of the ‘Legion’ reference appears to be in the period after Desert Storm in late 1991; although some Internet sources say it goes back to the ’80s. The graphic above “We are the Legion, A Legion of Honor” is from a recruiting brochure for the 1st SFAB found on its website. [7]

Image from Change.org petition about the SFAB Beret.
Image from Change.org petition about the SFAB Beret. (Photo credit TSGT Maria L. Taylor, USAF, March 15, 2001, taken during a Fallen Soldier Ceremony at Ramstein AIr Base, Germany).

Petition. An online campaign to stop the issuance of the Green Beret to the U.S. Army 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade has developed some momentum. It has generated thousands of online signatures. [8] The petition claims that:

“The 1st SFAB command has stolen our heritage by co-opting the legendary “Recondo” patch from our Vietnam era Green Berets, stolen the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group’s unofficial name of “The Legion” and made as their own.

This petition also demands the 1st SFAB cease all usage of Green Beret unit history and heritage as their own, such as the usage of the arrowhead unit patch and the OSS dagger likeness as well.”

What’s Ahead? The Chief of Staff of the Army, General Milley, is a long-tabber. However, he is also a big supporter of the SFABs. [9] It will be interesting to see how the Army handles this controversial situation. Hopefully over the next few weeks we will find that some of the reporting is false; and that some of the issues are quietly taken care of. The SFABs will certainly gain a lot in working with the SF community during its training for deployments and while deployed downrange on advisory missions. [10]


Footnotes:

[1] “The rumors are true: New berets for the Army’s military training advisers”Army Times, October 28, 2017.

[2] See Special Forces Culture, on specialforceshistory.com
www.specialforceshistory.info/culture/culture.html

[3] See more about the other shoulder tabs (besides Airborne, Ranger, and Special Forces) at the Army’s Institute of Heraldry.

[4] Learn more about the Special Forces Tab at the Army’s Institute of Heraldry.

[5] Learn more about the Special Forces Shoulder Sleeve Insignia on the United States Army Special Forces Command website.
www.soc.mil/USASFC/Sleeve.html

[6] The 5th Special Forces Group ran a Recondo course in Vietnam. Graduates received a Recondo badge. Ebay will sell you a ‘Recondo’ patch from any Army unit you can name!
www.ebay.com/bhp/recondo-patch. 

[7] “The Legion’ graphic is taken from a brochure posted on the 1st SFAB recruiting page on the Fort Benning Website. (accessed October 29, 2017).
www.benning.army.mil/tenant/1SFAB/Join.html
(The above link was deactivated on Tuesday, October 31, 2017).
Click here to read the SFAB Recruiting Brochure.

[8] View the online petition on Change.org.

[9] See “Advisory brigades to be established by U.S. Army”SOFREP, June 29, 2016.

[10] See SOF and the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs), SOF News, June 21, 2017.

Other News Reports on the SFAB Beret –

“Petition to Stop the Issuance of the Green Beret to Non SF Units”Rogue Right, October 28, 2017.

References:

Website – 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade
www.benning.army.mil/tenant/1SFAB/index.html

Facebook for 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade
www.facebook.com/1SFAB/

Additional Readings on the SFABs:

SFA Paper -“Building Armies, Building Nations” (RAND, Oct 2017), SOF News, October 25, 2017.

All Things SFAB – Explainer of Security Force Assistance Brigades, SOF News, October 10, 2017.

SOF and the Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs), SOF News, June 21, 2017.