By Maj. Alexandra WeiskopfJune 23, 2017
They rucked through the woods side-by-side with their teammates. They rucked with those who served before them, and they rucked in memory of those who could ruck no more. Together, they forded water obstacles just like their predecessors did in the jungles of Vietnam and loaded rucks with wood reminding them of the weight of history.
The Soldiers of 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) celebrated their 60th Anniversary through living history June 23, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Over 100 leaders were joined by 1st SFG (A) veterans from each of the decades since 1st SFG (A) existed. Together, the Soldiers were divided into teams rucking between six points, each point representing a decade of 1st SFG (A). At the points, the teams were quizzed in historical trivia by veterans. Those answering questions correctly were rewarded by removing weight from their rucksacks. Those who failed to provide a correct answer, however, were forced to carry a teammate on a litter to the next location.
"This is a momentous occasion for 1st Special Forces Group, which activated 60 years ago in Okinawa, Japan," said Col. Guillaume Beaurpere, 1st SFG (A) commander. "We could have celebrated with an airborne operation or a formal dining in. Instead we took the opportunity to bring in living history and train side-by-side with those who came before us. Our anniversary is about the warriors in 1st Special Forces Group and the warriors that came before."
"With Soldiers across Asia, we're in a 'back to the future' situation in which we're being asked to do things these heroes have already done," he continued. "We asked them to share their history and are benefitting from their experience. If we miss the opportunity to learn from these national treasures, we miss on a great opportunity."
At one of the points, Michael Mickelson, a Vietnam-era veteran noted the biggest difference between Green Berets today and during the Vietnam-era is the manner in which they communicate with their families. During Vietnam, he said, Soldiers calling home had to use Fort Bragg, N.C. for a retransmission site, and wives had to learn radio phrases like "over" and "out" to speak with their loved-ones.
Dennis Guiler served in the 46th Special Forces Company from 1969 to 1970 in Thailand while attached to the Central Intelligence Agency. He recalled conducting long range reconnaissance operations into Laos and Cambodia. "We could not even heat our food, for fear of detection," Guiler said. "Since we couldn't add hot water to the dehydrated meals, we ate them dry, and they didn't swell up until they hit our stomachs."
Guiler said packing light and moving fast was important.
"We trained the indigenous forces to travel with us. We followed the intel leads wherever they led us," he said.
"There were so few Green Berets back then, we got a lot of stares when we came through regular airports," he said. "We were so small. We were a true band of brothers."
"We are proud of you for carrying on our legacy," he told the current members of 1st SFG (A). "We tried to do our best so you could follow in our footsteps."
As part of the anniversary festivities, the 1st SFG (A) conducted its annual organizational and family day at Shoreline Park, JBLM the day prior to the anniversary celebration. The two days of celebrations provided the opportunity for the Group's most senior veterans and forbearers to attend.
Eugene Gutierrez Jr., a World War II veteran of the First Special Service Force, from whom the 1st SFG (A) draws its lineage, flew in from McAllen, Texas.
"I am humbled to be with such a great group of men," Gutierrez said. "I feel like our experiences in World War II laid the foundation for how you all operate, so on behalf of everyone who served in the First Special Service Force in 1942, we are so proud of you men. It is great to be here, but even greater to be an American."
Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Dewey Simpson a former member of the Group, and his wife, Carolyn, flew in from North Carolina to share Simpson's history. He explained the history of the Green Beret and the significance of the 1st SFG (A) flash - gold to represent the unit's affiliation with Asia inside a black border representing mourning for President John F. Kennedy, who is responsible for authorizing the Green Beret.
"Joining the Army was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Simpson said. "These are my men, and it's good to see what they're doing and what they're going to do."
Following the round-robin training, the team conducted a dining out to further celebrate the unit's history.
"As the Group Command Sergeant Major, I am the caretaker of our legacy," said Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Labrec, 1st SFG (A). "Our history is being lost, and the 60th Anniversary is giving us the opportunity to re-claim the story of 1st Group. The heroes that came before us sacrificed for our Nation; they sacrificed for us."