FORT POLK, La. — It’s been less than three months since social media erupted over the news that soldiers in the Army’s new Security Force Assistance Brigade would receive their own colored beret and patches.
But soldiers in the unit are not focused on those uniform items, leaders said.
“Here inside the SFAB, honestly, we don’t even talk about it. The headgear, the patches, that’s not what we’re about,” Col. Scott Jackson, 1st SFAB commander, told Army Times on Jan. 19.
As Army leadership worked to put the SFAB concept together over the past year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley decided the units should come with distinctive uniform items, on top of a unit patch that reflected the Army’s legacy of combat advising.
That meant a unit tab, as well as a new colored beret. Not surprisingly, as soon as photos of the proposed items hit the internet, the Army and veteran communities exploded with criticism.
The brown beret, meant to mimic the British Royal Anglian Regiment’s infantry berets, looked too green, Special Forces veterans said. And the patch, with its graphic arrowhead and saber, looked too much like a Special Forces patch.
“We say right up front, we are not special operations forces,” Jackson said. “Didn’t come from there, don’t want to go there, don’t want to do that — meaning, that’s not our mission profile.”
But as the brigade trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, internet trolls bombarded the soldiers with hate — up to and including death threats.
“We just continued to focus on the mission,” 3rd Battalion commander Lt. Col. Ian Palmer said. “This is such a good group of people around here. We had so many things to do to stand this unit up … that we didn’t spend any time worrying about it. We focused exactly on what we had to do as a brigade.”
After the controversy, Milley went back to the drawing board, unveiling a new, unquestionably brown beret and star-spangled unit patch just ahead of the brigade’s deployment.
Rather than decorating their uniforms, SFAB soldiers said, they’re concerned about creating a unit culture and legacy.
“It’s interesting, but for me, personally, looking at what we’re influencing — it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing,” team leader Capt. Justin Shaw said.
Maj. Jason Moncuse, a company commander, agreed.
“Once we accomplish this mission and come back, to me, that’s where the lineage starts,” he said. “We’ll start that esprit de corps, we’ll have that stronger bond, and, hopefully, that will resonate through the other SFABs that come up.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT