U.S. Army Special Forces Association Holds 50th Annual Convention, June 9 - 15, 2014

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U.S. Army Special Forces Association Holds 50th Annual Convention, June 9 - 15, 2014

By Stuart Morgan


Columbia, S.C.—Approximately 1,000 members of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces — also known as the Green Berets — attended the U.S. Army Special Forces Association’s 50th Annual Convention in Columbia from June 9 to 15.

   The seven-day event, held at the Marriott downtown and at Embassy Suites nearby on Greystone Boulevard in Columbia, included static displays, demonstrations, museum and battlefield tours, shooting matches, sushi cooking classes, a golf tournament and an awards banquet.

   Much of the conference was open to the public. But some special events and educational opportunities, including seminars, were designed to help the U.S. Army’s Special Forces members and their families, and to allow active and inactive duty personnel to exchange information. Attending the convention were veterans of every conflict since W.W. II, including several Medals of Honor recipients and members of the Montagnard tribe who fought alongside Americans in Vietnam.

   Technology, setup at both local hotel locations, allowed some of the 9,200 Green Berets stationed in as many as 90 countries worldwide to participate as well.

Michael J. Mika, Sgt. Maj., USA (Ret.),
shows a photo of his A Detachment (A-502) in Vietnam.


   “The United States Army Special Forces is the only active military unit that is separate and independent, and we’re experts in unconventional warfare,” said retired Sgt. Maj. Michael J. Mika, who served 14 years in the U.S. Army Special Forces, including three tours in Vietnam. Mika, named Man of the Year for 2012 by the U.S. Special Forces Association, is president of the S.C. Chapter of the Special Forces Association. The state chapter is officially named the Charles Q. William Memorial, Chapter 34, in honor of a native South Carolinian who received one of the first Medals of Honor during the Vietnam War.

“The United States Army Special Forces is the only active military unit that is separate and independent, and we’re experts in unconventional warfare. ... . You don’t hear a lot about us, because we still pride ourselves on being silent professionals.”

Michael J. Mika, Sgt. Maj., USA (Ret.), President of the S.C. Chapter of the Special Forces Association

   “We have missions like foreign internal defense, where we can go in at the request of the host government and train their military and police forces to defend their own country,” Mika said. “We are a very tight and unique brotherhood.

   “You don’t hear a lot about us, because we still pride ourselves on being silent professionals,” he added. “Ours is not to boast on the jobs that we do, and the missions that we have accomplished. We’re tasked for a mission to do, so we’ll go do that mission and come back, and get ready to do the next one. It has been this way since the beginning. We’re the only unit that I know of that is deeply seated with our own creed. We have own own prayer and our own flower — the red rose, a sign of life.”

Special Warfare Memorial Statue, known informally as Bronze Bruce, Fort Bragg, N.C.

   The U.S. Army Special Forces originated when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed during W.W. II to gather intelligence and organize armed resistance groups. But over the years, “special forces” has been used in a general sense to describe highly-trained special operations units of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the U.S. Navy Seals.

   President John F. Kennedy, by executive order, authorized the U.S. Army’s Special Forces to wear its famous Green Beret in 1961 just two years before he was assassinated.

   “We did not want to be known as the Green Berets,” Mika said. “We are Special Forces, the first and the only ones whose background is unconventional warfare. This is our mission.

   “We always said we would never want to be named by our headgear,” he added. “We did not want to be known as the Green Berets. But we’ve had to reach back for something that says this is a distinguishing mark, and this distinguishes us from everybody else.”

   Whether members of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces like it or not, SSgt Barry Sadler’s hit song during the Vietnam War, The Balad of the Green Berets (1965) and the movie, The Green Berets (1969), featuring John Wayne who played a rugged U.S. Army Special Forces colonel, helped forever distinguish them as Green Berets.

   Perhaps lesser known is the motto of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces is “De Oppresso Liber,” which translated means “to liberate the oppressed.”

The motto of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces is “De Oppresso Liber,”
which translated means “to liberate the oppressed.”

   “This has been and will continue to be our motto, and all of our guys really hang tight with it,” Mika said.  “They’re very, very proud of it. This is who we are. This is what we do. And we serve our country to the maximum that we have in our ability to do so.”

   U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers specialize in weapons, communications and medicine, and almost always speak at least one language other than English. As independent fighters and military advisors, they are trained to conduct a variety of missions from direct action and guerilla operations to special reconnaissance and counterterrorism.

   They are usually assigned to 12-member detachments, called A Teams, led by a senior captain and a warrant officer. But whenever necessary, each team can be divided into two smaller six-member teams.

   “Our role hasn’t changed, and some cases it has expanded,” Mika said. “Our role is to go and operate behind the enemy lines or in isolated parts of the country, which has requested assistance for various reasons. One A Team can train 1500 people in military operations, physical security and for the security of an area, and equip them and guide them.

   “Our job is to stay in for the long term,” he added. “Once we’re in, we pretty much have to rely on our ability to adapt to situations. We have to know about the customs of the local people we’re helping. Because supplies sometimes don’t come in, we have to eat the same food that they eat. If they’re using weapons that are old and antiquated, are guys are trained to use what they use. We know every weapon system that has been used since the beginning of time, all the way back to catapults and flaming arrows. You name it, we can use it.”    

   Approximately 3,000 Green Berets served in Vietnam War at any given time. Yet, they earned 17 Medals of Honor, 85 Distinguished Service Crosses, 815 Silver Stars, 8,369 Bronze Stars and 2,560 Purple Hearts.  They also conducted 49,902 foreign aide projects, which included constructing schools and hospitals. 

   Mika, who was responsible for planning the upcoming convention, faced a challenge that other meeting planners rarely, if ever, face.

   “Mission tempo,” he explained, made it difficult to determine exactly how many Green Berets would be able to attend the conference, because whether they are active duty or retired, many of them could have been called up and deployed anywhere at any time.  Some, he noted, were already getting ready to be deployed overseas.

   But Mika knows exactly why Columbia was chosen for this year’s conference, and exactly why he wanted the public to attend.

   “We wanted to bring this conference to Columbia, because of its central location in the state,” he said.  “It’s the state capital, and South Carolina is the home of Francis Marion — one of guerilla leaders of the American Revolutionary War, who we trace our lineage back to. And since we were going to be here for seven days, we wanted to give our people the opportunity to get down to Charleston to see some of the Lowcountry, be here in the Midlands and also get out to visit the Revolutionary War Park in Camden.”

   This year, the U.S. Army Special Forces Association lowered the standard $135.00 convention registration fee to $80.00.

   “We also wanted to allow people to have more money in their pockets to spend here in the local economy, and we felt very strongly that the local community would support us,” Mika said. “We want everyone to know that this is going to be a very much family-oriented conference, and we wanted the local populace to be involved in this conference, to see who we are. We also wanted to be able to thank them for their continued support of us.

   “These are tough times for us as a country,” he added. “We’re going through some turmoil, not only domestically, but in terms of our foreign policy. But I’d most like for people to be concerned about the health and welfare of our service men and women who are serving abroad. You can be very, very proud of these young people — men and women. Don’t give up the faith on them, and you won’t give up the faith on yourself and your local communities. We are the Americans that make up America. We’re not made up by 585 people in Washington, D.C.”

   Women are not U.S. Army Special Forces qualified, at least not yet.

   But according to Mika, many women are serving with the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.

   “Times have changed a little bit,” he said. “We do have some very highly qualified female soldiers, both officer and enlisted, who are serving with our A Detachments in the field, and we’re working on being able to find the correct designation. They are being awarded our Special Forces patch, to be able to wear on their right sleeves (non-combat sleeve as opposed to right for combat), and they are eligible to become members of our association.

   “And I will submit to you,” Mika added, “that they’re just as dedicated and as physically able as we are.”

   He described the agenda for the recent convention as “kind of a moving target,” one that had to be updated on the eve of the convention.

   This was the agenda:  Tuesday, June 10—golf tournament, Fort Jackson; Tuesday evening, June 10—opening reception; Wednesday morning, June 11—trip to Charleston; 6 p.m. Wednesday—The 2014 Celebrate Freedom Foundation Festival & Concert, featuring the S.C. Philharmonic Orchestra to host patriotic show honoring the U.S. Special Forces at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center; Thursday, June 12—trip to Camden; Friday morning, June 13—shooting match, Fort Jackson; Friday afternoon, June 13—picnic; and Saturday evening, June 14—awards banquet.

   The following sponsored this year’s conference:  Blue Cross Blue Shield and two of its subsidiaries, PGBA and Instil Health; The Mullikin Law Firm; S.C. Electric Cooperatives; Santee Cooper; Piedmont Electric & Gas; Duke Energy; The South Carolina State Guard Foundation; USAA; Love Automotive; and the U.S. Army Special Forces Charitable Trust.

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