RELEASE NUMBER: 140721-01
DATE POSTED: JULY 21, 2014
Special Forces Group celebrates community, heritage
by Capt. Thomas Cieslak
7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Public Affairs
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (USASOC News Service, July 21, 2014) - Soldiers of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) celebrated their partnership with communities in the Northwest Florida Region and the storied heritage of the unit at various events held the last week of June 2014.
Red Empire Week, held June 24 through June 27, honored retired Col. Roger Donlon, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in Vietnam and former member of the 7th SFG (A), the original members of Team A 726 and their families.
In the early morning hours of July 6, 1964, a force of nearly 900 Viet Cong soldiers attacked the base at Nam Dong where then-Capt. Donlon and Team A 726 were stationed along with Australian Warrant Officer Kevin Conway, Dr. Gerald Hickey of the Rand Corporation and about 300 South Vietnamese Soldiers. Donlon and the members of Team A 726 fought the attackers in a pitched battle detailed in Donlon’s book “Beyond Nam Dong.”
Members of the Northwest Florida community were welcomed onto the group’s Compound July 24 for the Red Empire Week opening ceremony and the group’s Community Day.
“Every week, I meet soldiers who have just arrived to the unit," said Col. Robert Kirila, the group’s deputy commander about the local community’s support for the Group’s new soldiers. "For some, this is their first unit out of basic training. Each time, I hear stories from them about the kindness and support shown to them in a chaotic period in their life.”
“That support network continues to be a blessing to soldiers of the group beyond their arrival, as they integrate into our formation and serve as a member of the Red Empire,” he said.
Kirila and other members of the 7th SFG (A)’s leadership team then honored nine spouses with Volunteer of the Year Awards for their outstanding contributions to the group. Two of the spouses were also honored with the Col. Maggie Raye Volunteer Award for their distinguished service to the Special Forces.
After the opening events, attendees watched as members of the United States Army Special Operations Command Para-Commandos parachuted onto the compound’s parade field. Participants spent the rest of the morning visiting various displays set up by soldiers of the group. An Operational Detachment Alpha demonstrated the capabilities of an SF team while the group’s Sniper Detachment helped curious onlookers learn more about the rifles and optics they use.
Spouses of the group gathered for coffee June 25 with Norma Donlon in Fort Walton Beach.
Donlon, whose first husband was killed in Vietnam, spoke about her experiences as first a military widow and then a military spouse again with her second marriage to then-Capt. Donlon. She also spoke about what it is like to be married to a war veteran and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.
“Norma Donlon’s experience provided great insight about being a military spouse during the Vietnam War,” said Jonalyn Carver, the group’s Family Readiness Assistant and organizer of the event. “She gave everyone there a greater appreciation for the programs we have in place today to support both the soldier and their family.”
Soldiers and families of the group enjoyed a day at the beach June 26 at the Eglin Air Force Base Swim Park located on Okaloosa Island. Along with the warm ocean waters, attendees enjoyed volleyball games, sandcastle building contests and tug-of-war competitions while being treated to complimentary barbeque and drinks. Paddleboards were also provided free of charge to those who wanted to venture into the waters.
The group honored Donlon and other members of Team A 726 at the Red Empire Week Ball June 27. The assembled crowd learned of the Vietnam veterans’ heroics during the battle of Nam Dong where the Medal of Honor, two Distinguished Service Crosses, four Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars with V device were earned.
“We all had good intentions, going into the village, making friends, healing the sick. We were not merciless killers, our weapons were not to be used, only if necessary,” said Donlon about the mission. “That all changed…on 6 July, 1964.”
Donlon spoke about each member of A 726 who fought at Nam Dong, including Conway and Hickey. He described each team member in detail and introduced those in attendance to the audience.
“We resolved to stand…we had nothing to offer but our blood, sweat and tears. We were ready to rage war with all our hearts, with all the strength that God gave us,” said Donlon. “We would not yield to the overwhelming might of our enemies. We vowed never to surrender. These were men of valor. Our goal was victory.
“It’s been said that when a man nears his end, his family becomes the most important part of his life,” Donlon continued. “That is definitely reflected in our group gathering here tonight with our children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Thank you all for coming to share this remarkable evening.”