By Maj. April N. Olsen, 5th Special Force Group (A) PAOAugust 18, 2009
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (USASOC News Service, Aug. 17, 2009) - The Soldiers of 5th Special Forces Group bade farewell to Col. Christopher Conner and welcomed home Col. Mark Mitchell during a change of command ceremony Aug. 14.
Conner and Mitchell are considered to be two of the most experienced senior leaders in the Special Forces community, said Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, the U.S. Army Special Forces commanding general.
"Today we are saying goodbye to one of our most combat experienced senior leaders," Repass said in his remarks to the audience."
"He has served as a long-tabber in two wars and everything in between," he said. "We also welcome a commander that has also seen extensive combat in multiple theaters."
Both Conner and Mitchell have spent much of their time in Special Forces with 5th Group, including Operational Detachment-Alpha, company and battalion commands before taking the 5th Group command. When Conner took command in the summer of 2007, Mitchell served as his executive officer.
"Being a member of and commanding the 5th Special Forces Group is the highlight of my professional life because of you Soldiers of the Legion," Conner told the formation on Gabriel Field. He has served in 5th Group for much of his 20 years in Special Forces. Conner's next assignment is with the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.
During the ceremony, all three men focused their remarks on the accomplishments of the men and women of the Group, whose continued service make it one of the most enviable assignments in the SF community, according to Repass.
"I am among the many that have been quietly amazed to see and read about the Group's achievements in combat, and throughout the Middle East," Repass said. "The extraordinary has become quite the norm for some of you."
Repass recounted accomplishments the unit has seen under Conner's leadership, which include multiple deployments to Iraq, unprecedented improvements in infrastructure in group facilities on Fort Campbell, and being the first SFG in the Army to stand up a fourth line battalion of Green Berets.
"You represent a distant and storied past, full of valor, daring and distinction," Repass said. "You also represent what Special Forces has become - that is a force that achieves results on the battlefield far beyond what their numbers would otherwise indicate, their pay grades should render, and newspapers would otherwise report and have us believe."
Commenting on the unit's ability to adapt to change, Conner described an "ethos which typifies the way we operate and how we live, no matter how conditions may change, our teams will find a way to accomplish the task they have been given. These warriors over the last two years anticipated change in Iraq and actually had a large hand in creating much of it."
Highlighting the group's recent Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, Conner explained that the essence of what the group does on a daily basis during combat operations has far-reaching effects.
"Yes, we have conducted thousands of combat detention operations over the last two years capturing thousands of insurgents and high value targets, rescued children, put down violent extremists, recovered US persons of interest, and enabled the taking of Amarah without firing a single shot," he said.
"But we conducted more key leader engagements with Iraqi's, we provided more intel reports than any division on the battlefield, we conducted more training events with Iraqi partners building their capacity to provide for their own security and enabling them to engender the support of their local populace," Conner said.
During one Group rotation to Iraq, Mitchell served as Conner's J-3 at the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, overseeing many of those operations.
Mitchell expressed gratitude to be returning to Fort Campbell after a year attending Harvard's Kennedy School of Government as a National Security Fellow from the U.S. Army War College.
Following the ceremony, Mitchell said his goals for command are to continue the group's exceptional record of performance and to successfully navigate challenges.
"Challenges make life interesting," he said. "Challenges overcome make life rewarding."
While the group headquarters and several subordinate units recently returned from Iraq, other units in group recently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.