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7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) celebrates its 81st birthday

The Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) is celebrating its birthday this week.
Sort of.
Like many of the Army’s other special operations units, it can trace its history back to the establishment of the 1st Company, 1st Regiment, 1st Special Service Force on July 9, 1942. During World War II, this elite group of unconventional warriors earned the nickname “The Devil’s Brigade” and gained a reputation for fierce fighting. 
Toward the end of the war, the unit disbanded, but in 1953 the Army created the 77th Special Forces Group, stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During this time, the group adopted its famous green berets, a symbol of excellence still worn today. In 1960, the fighting force was reorganized as the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.
For decades, the 7SFG(A) was active in unconventional warfare activities worldwide, including the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and multiple conflicts in Latin and South America. Because their operations are covert, the unit’s “Quiet Professionals” often stayed out of the limelight while playing vital roles behind the scenes. 
A 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) (7 SFG (A)) Green Beret waits to be jump master pre-inspected(JMPI) before conducting a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) parachute jump Hurlburt Field, Fla., April. 23, 2013. Green Berets from 7SFG (A) participated in Halo jumps during Exercise Emerald Warrior, Emerald Warrior is an exercise designed to provide irregular training at the tactical and operational levels. The exercise involved all branches of the U.S. military and elements from allied countries. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Young)

How did the 7th Group end up at Eglin Air Force Base?

For most of its existence, members of the 7SFG(A) were stationed at Fort Bragg. Unlike many service people, the 7SFG(A) members often spent their entire military careers with the unit, which meant that their dependents often spent that time exclusively at Fort Bragg. But all that changed in 2005 when the Department of Defense announced that the group would relocate to Eglin Air Force Base as part of the military-wide Base Realignment and Closure program. 

A U.S. Army Soldier with the 7th Special Forces Group participates in the annual Best ODA Competition at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Sept. 9, 2020. During this event, operational detachment alpha teams compete to be recognized as the best ODA team by earning points for best times, most repetitions and correctly performed tactical and medical procedures after various challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger)

What a difference a decade makes

on October 14, 2011, the 7th Group celebrated the official opening of its cantonment located just south of Crestview. At the time, the $255 million facility served as a significant upgrade from the group’s previous home at Fort Bragg. Over the next few years, construction continued at the facility, creating a place that most 7th Group members have learned to enjoy.

“We’re fortunate to have a sprawling 500-acre compound nestled within Eglin Air Force Base, comprised of more than 95 state-of-the-art facilities,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jacob Sawyer, a public affairs spokesman for the 7th Group. “Our exceptional team includes over 2,500 active-duty personnel, 280 of whom permanently reside on the compound, living and breathing the ethos we share.

Additionally, our collective is strengthened by the dedicated support of 300 Department of the Army civilians who work tirelessly to ensure our operations run smoothly. Our people, our resources, and our spirit contribute to making us a robust and resilient force, capable of living up to the challenges we face for our nation.”

When you include the families of the personnel stationed with the 7th Group, the relocation brought approximately 6,000 new residents to Okaloosa County. And while a large portion of those residents have found homes in North Okaloosa County, a significant number have chosen to live in the Mid-Bay area.

“The 7th Special Forces Group has been a fantastic addition to our area across the board,” said Tricia Brunson, the CEO of the Niceville Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. “Aside from the obvious economic impact, increased strength to our military mission and their work to defend and protect our nation, their team members and families are great community partners. They have become our friends and neighbors.”

Location of 7th Special Forces Group on a map of Okaloosa County

The economic impact has been considerable.

“We are an essential part of the local community and economy,” Sawyer said. “Our operations generate a substantial economic impact, amounting to approximately $200 million annually. This contribution comes as salaries to our dedicated active-duty personnel, Department of the Army civilians, and the local contracts supporting our operations.

Moreover, the local businesses that our service members frequent, and the economic ripple effect of our presence, help drive growth and prosperity in the community we are proud to call home.”

As the group has settled into its new home, its members have become involved in the surrounding community in several ways. In 2018, group members participated in a ruck march that doubled as a canned food drive. The event collected more than two tons of non-perishable food items, most of which were donated to people impacted by Hurricane Michael.
“We pride ourselves on not just serving our country, but also being a meaningful part of the community,” said Colonel Kevin M. Trujillo, the group’s commander. “Our commitment, our brotherhood, doesn’t end at the close of duty; it extends to our friends, our families, and our neighbors. This bond is the essence of who we are, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Keeping a low profile

Because of their work’s covert nature, the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) members understandably maintain a low profile. But that doesn’t mean that they’re invisible.
Occasionally, motorists traveling near the Eglin reservation might happen to notice a group of soldiers rappelling from a helicopter. The odds are good that those soldiers are members of the 7th Group, who take their training seriously. In addition, once a year, the group welcomes visitors to its compound for Red Empire Community Day, an open house that often features performances by army parachute teams and other military organizations.
If you visit the compound, take a moment to visit the memorial that honors the group’s fallen comrades. Niceville general contractor Randy Wise donated his time to supervise the memorial’s construction.

“Our great community has really stepped up to the plate, donating money and services for the project,” Wise said at the memorial’s groundbreaking in 2015. “It will all be built at no cost to the taxpayers.”

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