Tactical Tailor

Terry Baldwin – 5th Group Reflashing Ceremony

flash

The 5th Group Flash in Vietnam overlaid multiple bands in the colors of the flag of South Vietnam on the existing Group flash. And the gold and red stripes also acknowledged 1st and 7th Group augmentation in the first years of the mission in country. Although in practice those non-5th Group TDY teams tended to wear their parent Group’s flashes. The primary intent was that the modification of the black with white trim Group flash showed solidarity with our South Vietnamese partners. Of course that was also during a time when we actually made a point of wearing berets in the field. In other words it was a mission specific change to the flash and was clearly meant to apply only to ongoing operations in Vietnam.

Technically the Group flash should have reverted to the pre-war design after the Group’s colors returned to Fort Bragg in 1971. However, after ten years of war, the Vietnam version of the flash WAS the 5th Group flash to members of the Group who had served there. Most had never worn the original flash. They had lost buddies and fought and bled wearing the flash with the gold and red stripes and that was their flash. And there is a strong and abiding desire from those veterans to preserve that heritage. I have always respected that. So at that point the purpose of the stripes changed…forever. It wasn’t about the mission in Vietnam anymore. The stripes had become in essence a “battle streamer” commemorating the Group’s service and sacrifice in that war. That service included 786 honored dead; many times that number wounded; thirty Medals of Honor and hundreds of other medals for valor. A proud record by every measure.

In 1985 the Group leadership decided to do what had not been done in 1971 and return the Group’s flash to the earlier configuration. There was logic to their decision. The stripes had not originally been meant to be a permanent modification. The Group’s area of orientation had changed and the country of South Vietnam no longer existed. And by that time, the majority of the Group’s members had never served in Vietnam. There was also some thought that the Group needed to close that chapter of its history and reinvent its self. Removing the stripes did not mean that the Group also discarded its storied Vietnam history. On the contrary, 5th Group has always held the heroes of that conflict in the highest esteem – but to some it certainly felt that way. So that decision remains divisive and deeply controversial to this day.

I grew up in 5th Group and spent many years there before and during GWOT. I got there after the transition back to the original flash. For me at least, and I’d say for most of us on duty at the time it seemed reasonable to retire the Vietnam flash and reclaim our original version. Frankly it wasn’t a topic of much discussion as I recall. That is not surprising. Just as most SF guys are not gun guys or gear guys, most are not history or heraldry buffs either. They’ll wear whatever flash they are authorized to wear with pride and not give it much additional thought. In that time we had plenty of work to do and there just wasn’t that much angst in the ranks about the change or the symbolism. Now after years and years of contingency operations and war most of the serving veterans today have lost buddies and fought and bled wearing the original black flash. It is indeed “my” 5th Group Flash. The one I went to war with and I suspect many of the current members of the Legion feel the same way. That sentiment is certainly deserving of respect as well.

In 1996 the Group leadership changed the background for the parachute badge worn on the dress uniform. Moving from the generic Special Forces gold and teal oval to a version that represented the Group flash of the Vietnam era; black with white border and the red and gold diagonal stripes (see photo). The intention had been to also change the flash back to the same configuration concurrently. But that was simply a political bridge too far at the time. But not anymore. The current Group leadership seized the opportunity facilitated in no small part because the current Army Chief of Staff, GEN Milley, is a former Team Leader in 5th Group. So last week (22, 23 March), I was one of many guests at the 5th Group Reflashing Ceremony held at Fort Campbell. It was a great ceremony. Joyful rather than solemn. A celebration and a rededication of the Group’s past, present and future in its entirety.

5th Group is still very busy. There is much work to be done so I doubt there will be much time for any angst in the ranks with this new change either. The ODA members that I spoke to in those two days seemed genuinely pleased with this particular transition. And why shouldn’t they be? Returning the Vietnam battle streamer to a position of prominence can only serve to enhance the historic symbolism of the Group flash. Nothing has been taken away from anyone and it disrespects no one. In my opinion it is an awesome privilege to carry all of those colors forward. An opportunity that I never had. A display of mutual and enduring respect for the contributions of all the veterans and current soldiers of the Legion. My congratulations to all the members of 5th Group past and present and best wishes to those who have the honor to still be serving. De Oppresso Liber!

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30 Responses to “Terry Baldwin – 5th Group Reflashing Ceremony”

  1. Diddler says:

    Respectfully, I disagree. Homage was paid to the past by still using the Vietnam era flash as a wing backer. This is the GWOT era, not the Vietnam era. The GWOT era/original flash is “my flash.” While I appreciate the sacrifices and contributions of the men who fought in Southeast Asia, this is our time. Just as they felt slighted when the flash went back to black, I feel the same way now. I wore the black flash in honor of the guys I pulled off the field.

    Ultimately it doesn’t change anything. Legionnaires will still conduct business, regardless of which flash they aren’t wearing. I still feel irked, however, because it was “our” flash.

    • Redbeard33 says:

      Totally agree with you.

      DOL

      • Terry B. says:

        Diddler / Redbeard,

        You’re the guys I wrote this for. And while I don’t agree, I respect your position.

        But over time I hope you will come to understand that the Group’s history and heritage doesn’t start when you or I join nor does it end when you and I eventually leave.

        It doesn’t have anything to do with eras or specific uniform accessories. It is about remembering and honoring service and sacrifice. Every member of the Legion’s service and sacrifice.

        That history even extends back before 5th Group was activated. To WW II and the FSSF and Jedburghs like Banks and Singlaub. Before green berets or flashes.

        And that history still to be written can and will extend far into the future. As long as those serving now and tomorrow continue to keep the faith with all of those that came before. Not just those of “your time”.

        VR TLB

        • Redbeard33 says:

          Fair enough, Terry.

          Either way, thanks for the write up and keep up the good work.

        • Riceball says:

          Although I was not Army, much less SF, I have to agree with this not having anything to do with a specific eras and such. If the Army did that then you could never change the design of any flash or unit patch because of the history of the era that it was designed in. Either that or you’d have to change it every so often to represent the era it’s in so that every generation will have “their” design.

          Having said that, I can understand why the Army changed the design of the flash back to its original design but they really should have done that back when they originally planned on doing it and not some 14 years later. At that point they should have just kept it as is since everybody associated the revised design with 5th Group. But I guess Big Army is always going to do the silly things that Big Army likes to do.

        • Diddler says:

          The Legion’s history is long and storied to be sure. I don’t agree with your position that going back to the Vietnam flash is about honoring everyone who ever served in that unit. What about the guys who served pre-flash or black flash version 1? Going to suggest going sans wing backer to honor the guys who didn’t have berets? Maybe I’m an idiot, but I’ve heard no convincing argument that will actually make me understand how going to an era specific flash is meant to honor everyone who died in the service of that unit throughout the years.

          Ultimately that’s my point. Organizations ebb and flow. People will always try to make things their own. We’re all guilty of it to an extent. The way that things were last month showed honor to all, in my opinion. Vietnam wing backer for that era and the black and white flash pays homage to the pre Vietnam and post Vietnam guys. I’m pretty sure no one who served pre beret feels slighted that we started wearing them.

          You can’t make everyone happy. As always I agree reading your pieces, even if we disagree.

    • Sean says:

      I’m not army, but I agree with Diddler as well. To me it seems like a rather arbitrary change. Did they just give a reason for why it was changing all of a sudden, or was this done “just because”?

  2. AbnMedOps says:

    Excellent write-up.

  3. majrod says:

    Making a unit specific emblem specific to any conflict will always be problematic. So in the future when a command decides to tweak the flash to communicate “solidarity” to the locals will that become the unit’s identifying insignia because it was a larger/longer conflict that might have more dead?

    Inclusion is the key to military organizations. It binds us together instead of setting us apart. I remember Korean War and Vietnam vets complaining about their treatment by WWII vets in the VFW. On a different scale we perpetuate these conflicts instead of banding together to share lessons and stop some of the insanity gripping the services today.

    • Terry B. says:

      majrod,

      5th Group was activated to provide a C2 HQ for SF in Vietnam specifically. The decision to put the stripes on came only a year later.

      Vietnam served as a combat crucible that shaped and defined modern Special Forces and 5th Group. So it is fair to say that Vietnam will always have special historical significance and therefore deserves visible recognition.

      In fact, if not for the impressive combat record of the 5th Group in Vietnam, it might very well have been deactivated in 1971 or shortly thereafter in the Post-war drawdown of SF.

      And to you first point, since we don’t wear berets in the field anymore that is not likely to ever be an issue now or in the future for any SF Group.

      TLB

  4. MapajorDa says:

    Terry B, first of all big fan of your articles, keep them coming.

    I disagree with you on this. In your second paragraph, you do a great job of illustrating the mindset of guys running the Vietnam era flash during the war, what it meant to them, and how they felt when it was changed back after the war. You then tie than into the GWOT generation and “our” black flash. I think everyone in 5th (or really anywhere in the community) can understand that. A symbol that SF men from particular eras associate with their war (respectively)

    If the email had essentially said “we’re changing the flash so it matches the jump wings, get it done suspense date of XXXX” (basically no “real” reason other than, well, Army Reason) nobody would have batted an eye. But when they provide a “reason” of honoring a specific flash/era/contribution,we just don’t know any other way to take it than as a slight towards “ours”…which is weird because I’ve never had to care about a flash before reading the email, much less justifying my preference for certain ones.

    At the end of the day, its a piece of fabric, and its changed. If Flashgate has shown us anything, its that (a) we will get fired up and polarize over things that previously were complete non-issues and (b) someone should tell the CMD Team that there are some other things going on we could be worrying about.

    • Diddler says:

      Well said. Essentially what I was getting at but clearly not so well.

    • Terry B. says:

      MapajorDa,

      I knew that I wasn’t going to convince everyone. But I thought it was worth trying. I was surprised when this first got posted on SSD a couple of months ago to hear negative comments. I knew it wasn’t something most guys in Group spent much time worrying about.

      Those of us who have been around a little longer know this subject has percolated up and down for many, many years. Frankly I hope this is the last time it comes up. And I have some personal guilt about the subject. It is apparent that the people of my generation (and earlier) should have resolved this sooner rather than later.

      The last thing I will say is the original black flash didn’t go anywhere in Vietnam nor has it gone anywhere now. It has always been the foundation of the Group’s identification whether the stripes are there or not.

      TLB

      • MapajorDa says:

        No worries, its a good writeup (as always)

        The SSD articles, and their resulting comments/arguments, have been quite civilized…especially compared to some of the SF Facebook Groups’ arguments.

        Bloodbath.

  5. DesignatedDiver says:

    Thanks for the perspective Terry B.

    I also disagree with you but more importantly, the decision itself.

    MapajorDa did well at describing the true reason for the majority of the push backlash from the current guys (which there is far more of than you think) and Diddler dismantles any existing logic in the core of what is claimed as the “sound” reasoning for the change.

    Diddler’s point seems to be undeniable…how does switching to an era specific flash honor all eras of the Group? I’m asking you, not in an a-hole way but for the sake of the topic’s progression. It’s almost as if that question ends all arguments and the conclusion is that the decision was in fact ridiculously foolish.

    On a personal note, I was in the formation when the change happened and thought it was not just ironic but downright disgusting to see men from the Vietnam era, who we can all agree were slighted when “their” flash changed to “our” flash, so enthusiastic to walk up to us and hand out “their” flash as we were standing at ‘parade rest’.

    If we were at ‘rest’ or in a whole other setting, there would have been a far more exciting dialogue between the two eras.

    Me, I was offered “their” flash twice and said “no thanks” both times which ruffled a few feathers, enough to have two more retired guys approach me and look in to my reasoning.

    Moral of the story…’parade rest’ may have saved my career.

    The red/yellow striped wing backing was a significant way to honor the Vietnam era, changing the beret flash back to red/yellow striped injects quite a bit of dilution to the intent to honor all eras.

    Can’t do both at once and the sequence of these decisions over the years illuminates how dumb they all were.

    • Terry B. says:

      DesignatedDiver,

      Yes, I suppose it comes down to that doesn’t it. “Your flash’, “my flash” and somehow it seems too hard for too many to accept anything as “our flash”. Right now.

      The Vietnam era guys were “disgusting” to you? Really? They were only offering you something they hold in very high esteem.

      I would think you could at least try to be hospitable and respectful even if you don’t agree with the decision. They more than earned that much from all of us.

      TLB

      • DesignatedDiver says:

        I wouldn’t necessarily say that those individual men were disgusting, my thoughts were that it was a gross example of hypocrisy. The entire event was disgusting for sure and that was my point you took wrong.

        More importantly though, how can the current flash be “our flash”?

        It’s clearly the Vietnam era flash where as the all black with white border is the flash that precedes it and also the GWOT flash. Look at the justification for the change, even as you describe it. The change was to honor that era, which begs the question…is the GWOT era (still ongoing mind you) not worthy of leaving the flash alone?

        Don’t forget the core of the issue when making assumptions of what’s too hard for some to accept as “our flash” right now. The 5th Group flash right now is the Vietnam era flash which isn’t a bad thing, like an old 5th Grouper said to me recently, “it’s the flash we cut our teeth on”. The bad thing, the part that disintegrates any remaining integrity, is the justification…honor all by honoring only one. That statement alone grinds against everything good about the competency of teams.

        Hospitable and respectful…that street goes both ways.

        • Terry B. says:

          DesignatedDiver,

          I just don’t see this as a zero sum game. Re-emphasizing a significant portion of the Group’s history does not mean that we are thereby somehow subtracting respect from the other portions.

          The way I see it, the men who fell in Vietnam are just as much my brothers as those that fell during my time in Group…or in the future. All of them.

          If we commemorate a building to one faller hero, of any era, we are certainly not disrespecting the rest. By remembering one we do indeed remember all.

          VR TLB

          • DesignatedDiver says:

            Respectfully, I still disagree.

            We already were emphasizing the Vietnam portion of 5th Group’s History with the wing backing.

            The building doesn’t identify us as 5th Group, the flash does. Not the buildings, not the patch, not even the beret and certainly not the war. The flash does however and I feel that it still wouldn’t matter if the smoke wasn’t blown up everyone’s butt on this.

      • bulldog76 says:

        he would turn down jedburgh wings from a ww2 vet from the sounds of it

        • DesignatedDiver says:

          Correct, I would.

          Tell me all about 5th Group wearing Jedburgh wings at any time in the past.

  6. DesignatedDiver says:

    Also, aren’t the beret flashes and associated eras depicted in your article wrong?

    I’m pretty sure it should be:

    60-62 : All black
    62-64 : Black with white border
    64-85 : Black with white border and red/yellow stripes
    85-16 : Black with white border

    • Terry B. says:

      DesignatedDiver,

      I used Sutherland’s book (Special Forces of the US Army, 1952-1982) as my reference for the early days. He says the black flash was approved in Oct 61 (of course an unauthorized version may very well have been worn earlier). The Group was officially activated in Set 61 – but was obviously forming in the year or so prior. I just didn’t try to capture this period on the slide.

      Apparently the white border was a “local invention”. Worn by members of the Group almost immediately but was not approved until 64. Likewise, the official authorization of the flash with stripes was 64 but versions had already been worn in country as early as 62.

      That is about as accurate a picture of the early days as I have been able to put together.

      TLB

      • SSD says:

        I see Sutherland’s work as the most comprehensive history of the early days of SF,

        • Terry B. says:

          SSD, I agree. Good discussion so far.

          I have thought of another example – mostly in response to majrod’s comment about “conflict specific emblems” being problematic. I was present when W.A.D. took the colors of the newly activated Ranger Regiment and 3rd Ranger Battalion at Ft Benning in 1984.

          Most won’t remember now, but there was quite the controversy when it was revealed that the Regiment would be reverting back to the unapproved WW II Ranger Scroll. A small number of people actually thought that the officially approved Blue Diamond or even the Merrill’s Marauders patch would be more historically appropriate.

          But most argued passionately, much like some of the comments here, that reverting back to the WW II insignia would be disrespectful to the “Airborne Ranger” units of Korea and Vietnam as well as the 2 pre-existing Ranger Battalions that already had battalion specific “Ranger Airborne” scrolls.

          When talking about how to honor all of a Unit’s History sometimes going back to the beginning is ultimately the most right thing to do. Even if it is not popular with everyone initially. I expect – and hope – that will be what happens in regards to the 5th Group Flash.

          TLB

          • DesignatedDiver says:

            Wait, isn’t “going back to the beginning” for 5th Group manifests in an all black flash sans white border?

            • Terry B. says:

              DesignatedDiver,

              “Back to the beginning” as in the beginning of 5th Group’s combat history. Everything that came before that was organizing, standing up, training and filling the ranks. All important pre-cursors but as you mentioned not where we as an organization “cut our teeth”.

              The first ever deployments of 5th Group’s ODAs was to Vietnam and combat. There was no real prior history. And as near as I can tell, in country all those teams wore (locally produced apparently) flashes with the red and gold stripes.

              As I noted above, Vietnam was the combat crucible that shaped and defined all of modern Special Forces as well as 5th Group. Therefore, I am simply arguing, Vietnam has and always will have a unique historical significance to the Group.

              You agree – at least in part – with that premise because you acknowledge that it was right to use the red and gold stripe pattern as the wing backing. I approve of the Group’s leadership taking it one step further with the flash and you strongly disagree with that decision.

              Fair enough. We have reached the agree to disagree point. All I can say now is good luck to you and all the members of the Legion. Stay safe.

              VR TLB

              • DesignatedDiver says:

                Roger that and like any team room debate, I’d be handing you a cold one at this point.

                You be safe, thanks for everything you’ve done and continue to do.

                DOL Legion brother.