FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- The Soldiers assigned to 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) stood in formation wearing patrol caps, awaiting the order to don berets with the new flash. On the command, each Soldier removed their beret from their pocket, adorned with the black, white, yellow and red flash, and placed it on their head.
The 5th SFG(A) conducted a beret flash changeover ceremony at Fort Campbell, Ky., March 23, 2016. During the ceremony, the Group reinstated the Vietnam-era beret flash, adding a diagonal yellow stripe and three red stripes to the existing black background with white border. The colors symbolize the 1st and 7th SFG(A) Soldiers who served under 5th SFG(A) during the conflict.
For the veterans in attendance, the ceremony brought back memories of a similar ceremony in 1961, in which President John F. Kennedy authorized Special Forces Soldiers to wear the green beret.
"They read the special order that authorized the wearing of the green beret," said Sgt. Major William Schrader, a 5th SFG(A) veteran, who participated in the 1961 ceremony. "We took our baseball caps off, threw [them] up in the air and put the beret on."
Gen. Mark Milley, Chief of Staff of the Army, was the guest speaker for the ceremony. Milley is a former SFOD-A detachment commander in the 5th SFG(A).
"This is incredible. This is only the second time in the 55-year history of 5th Special Forces Group that all these green berets have actually been in a formation together wearing soft caps and they actually know the position of parade rest," he joked.
On a more serious note, he added, "Fifth Group from day one until today has always been populated by heroes. The proudest moments of my life was wearing the green beret in the 5th Special Forces Group."
The yellow and red stripes pay homage to the Group's history in the Vietnam War and its crucible under fire.
The Legion, as 5th SFG(A) is known, was officially activated on September 21, 1961. Within a year, its Soldiers were serving temporary tours of duty in Vietnam, and the entire Group was deployed there by 1965, training and leading indigenous forces, and conducting unconventional warfare and strategic reconnaissance. These Soldiers are some of the most decorated in U.S. military history, earning 14 campaign streamers during the Vietnam conflict. Eighteen 5th Group Soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor during Vietnam, nine posthumously. Additionally, three Australian SAS Regiment members were awarded the Victorian Cross for actions while attached to 5th SFG(A) in Vietnam.
To complete the ceremony, 5th SFG(A) veterans were invited onto the field to join the formation and present the new flash to current members of the Group. The veterans included many former members of the highly-classified special operations unit Military Assistance Command, Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group, wearing their own green berets that they wore more than 50 years ago. They passed through the ranks handing out new flashes and shaking the hands of the Group's current members, green berets and maroon berets alike. This act served to tie the Group's honored past together with the present.
In a letter to current and former members of the Group, Col. Kevin Leahy, commander of 5th SFG(A), said the change "acknowledges 5th Group's history in the Vietnam War, the 785 Special Forces Soldiers lost in that conflict and the contributions of our Vietnam veterans to make The Legion the organization it is today."
This tribute did not go unnoticed by the veterans. Michael Risner, a Vietnam-era 5th SFG(A) veteran, said adding the stripes back onto the flash proves that the Unit appreciates what his generation accomplished in Vietnam.