7th Special Forces Group family celebrates golden anniversary

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2010/June/100611-02.html

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, June 11, 2010) – Past and present members of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) family joined to celebrate 50 years of storied history during a golf tournament and the 7th SFG(A) 50th Anniversary commemorative ball May 19-20 in Fayetteville, N.C.

Events kicked-off May 19 at the Bayonet golf course in Raeford, N.C., with the 3rd Annual Family Business Classic tournament. Teams comprised of Soldiers of various ranks and duty status competed to be the best in several categories, such as closest shot to the hole and best overall team score. Prizes were donated by local businesses for the winners of each category.

The following day, 7th SFG(A) Soldiers and family members dressed in their finest and attended the 7th SFG(A) 50th Anniversary formal in Fayetteville, N.C., honoring the 50 years of service and often low-profile actions 7th SFG(A) Soldiers have performed in foreign conflicts and in allied nations across the globe. Attendees ranged from eager young sergeants straight from Special Forces selection to old retirees with enough stories to keep a table entertained all night.

Though members of the group operated under preceding units during conflicts in the early 20th century, the 7th SFG(A) was officially activated in 1960. In addition to deployments in South and Central America, some early 7th SFG(A) Soldiers conducted anti-insurgency and prisoner rescue operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. In 1970, members of 7th SFG(A) and other Special Forces groups raided a P.O.W. camp in Son Tay, North Vietnam. Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Joseph Lupyak, then 7th SFG(A) Green Beret, was one of those Soldiers.

“People never heard of a lot of our accomplishments,” Lupyak said. He is one of the oldest living veterans of 7th Special Forces Group. “(Our men) were there because they loved what SF was all about. They were there because of a desire to do something great," he remembered.

The Son Tay raid was the highest profile operation 7th SFG(A) conducted during the Vietnam conflict. Though no prisoners were found, the raiders' efforts were not in vain. After the raid, much of North Vietnam's foreign support diminished.

“After (we attacked), the enemy got so scared that all the outlying camps were closed down and they moved those guys out of those bad living conditions and cages and all that stuff into the Hanoi Hilton and the developed POW camps,” Lupyak said. “They got better food and medical treatment. They were able to see one another and organize as a prisoner of war unit.”

Even as operations in Southeast Asia waned, 7th SFG(A) Soldiers continued operations in South and Central America through the years. In the early 1980s, 7th SFG(A) Soldiers trained South and Central American armies to fight Communist guerillas. One such mission took place in El Salvador, where 7th SFG(A) Soldiers trained El Salvadoran soldiers in special operations tactics.

Command Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Joseph Callahan was one of the Soldiers assigned to conduct the 7th SFG(A) mission in El Salvador. As a young sergeant and one of 50 U.S. military advisers in that country, Callahan found himself in situations that didn't fit with what was then believed to be a low-intensity conflict against Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FLMN) rebels more than once. Callahan said on one occasion, his team was moving to pick up two reconnaissance teams by helicopter when the situation erupted into an all-out battle.

“The teams were being pursued by approximately 100 guerillas,” said Callahan. “One of the teams was short two people. The second team was carrying a guy. So we put the bird down between the recon elements and the FLMN.

Callahan was later awarded a Bronze Star with “V” device for his valorous actions. He sustained shrapnel and bullet wounds along with most of the quick reaction force he led.

“Fire was pretty heavy,” said Callahan. “One of the other military advisors was wounded, the door gunner was wounded, the second door gunner was dead, the El Salvadoran pilot was shot, and the American pilot was shot, but we did make it back.”

Callahan was among the many 7th SFG(A) Soldiers to participate in Operation Just Cause, a mission promoting the upheaval of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in late 1989. Green Berets from the 7th SFG(A) were charged with securing and rebuilding the country alongside other U.S. Special Operations and conventional forces. Col. Mark Gorton, then a 1st lieutenant and with 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, worked alongside 7th SFG(A) soldiers during conflict and stability phases.

“That was a very quick conflict,” said Gorton, now the deputy commander of 7th SFG(A). “Initially we were hunting down high-value targets who the Panamanians didn't already turn in. After that, we transferred very quickly to nation building and keeping the peace and security. The Special Forces teams set right in to foreign-internal defense and reestablishing the official government of Panama. Wherever I went during that operation, I saw Green Berets doing great things.”

Gorton said working with the Special Forces in Panama inspired him, and as a result he attended the Special Forces officer selection course and later went on to command the same Operational Detachment Alpha he worked with in Panama years before.

In 1997 Gorton and a small team of 7th SFG(A) Soldiers were deployed as part of Operation Safe Border, an three-year operation which prevented war between Ecuador and Peru. The 7th SFG(A) intervened in the growing border dispute in 1995 to keep it from growing militarily before being defused diplomatically.

“We immediately stopped the fighting and drew-down both sides of the border,” said Gorton. “Then we created a demilitarized zone and conducted patrols to prevent [the enemy] from building new fighting positions or moving weapons and ammunition in. The conflict was resolved before it evolved into all-out war because we were on the ground every day, keeping the peace and living next to both sides.”

Gorton mentioned that in the years before the Global War on Terror, the group's sole focus was South and Central America, their designated area of operation. One key to stability in the region is stopping the flow of drugs through those countries. Colombia is historically one of the largest producers of illegal narcotics, yet the country has recently seen large jumps in stability and prosperity. Colombia and its armed forces received many years of attention from Brig. Gen. Sean Mulholland, who was first assigned to 7th SFG(A) as a team leader in the late 1980s.

“From what I've seen, the group's greatest accomplishment is the building of Colombian Special Operations Forces from start to finish,” said Mulholland. “The finish was operation Jaque (checkmate), where the Colombians rescued the three Americans. It’s a big, bright example of the success of 7th SFG(A) foreign internal development.”

Mulholland spent a large part of his career training the men who rescued three American contractors and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt in 2008.

We started out by building counter-guerilla and counter-drug battalions,” said Mulholland. “Finally, we earned enough trust and confidence to convince them to build a special operations unit. They formed sub-units that were Special Forces-like, Ranger-like, counter-terrorist urban shooting units, and also a SEAL unit on the west coast of Colombia.”

Mulholland served as the 7th SFG(A) commander from December 2007 to May 2009, seeing the group through a deployment in Afghanistan. Mulholland is one of many 7th SFG(A) warriors who notes the distinct parallels between the problem in Afghanistan and Colombia; a narcotics trade-fueled insurgency that puts little stock in the well-being of the average citizen.

Col. James Kraft, the current commander of 7th Special Forces Group, said this type of mission requires a steady hand that balances nation building, training of partner forces and direct action operations. Like the Colombian Special Operations before them, the Afghan National Army Commandos are making strides toward a safe and secure Afghanistan.

“Our mission in Afghanistan is FID, period,” Kraft said. “It’s in our DNA to train foreign militaries because we've been doing it non-stop for 50 years. These aren't wars you can shoot your way out of.”

The 7th SFG(A) is currently transitioning from deploying to Afghanistan after four consecutive tours, to a returned focus on South and Central America. The group will finish moving its headquarters to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., before September 15, 2011. The new facility will have space for the family business' newest addition: 4th Battalion, 7th SFG(A).

“Seventh Group has always been a good mission for a hard-working Special Forces Soldier,” said Callahan. “There always has been and always will be good work to do for 7th Group in Central and South America. With our mission, we get to see the benefits of doing exactly what we're trained to do. This pushes us to work harder to achieve success, and when you're in the family business, you always like to see your family succeed.”

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Soldiers from 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) toast during the 7th SFG(A) 50th Anniversary Commemorative formal at Pinehurst, N.C., May 20, 2010. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jesse Lamorte, 7th SFG(A) Public Affairs)

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Command Sgt. Maj. (R) Joseph Callahan, then a junior Noncommissioned Officer, trains an El Salvadoran soldier in El Salvador in an undated photo. (U.S. Army photo)
 
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