1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)
The 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) is located on Torii Station. The battalion is the only Army combat unit located in Japan. The Battalion's peace time missions include supporting Commander-in-Chief Pacific Command (CINCPAC) engagement strategy by training with foreign nations to maintain a US presence in selected focus countries. The Battalion also provides forces for CINCPAC's crisis response, Joint Task Force (JTF) to conduct direct action, noncombatant evacuations, disaster relief, and displays of US resolve throughout the Pacific. During major theater operations, they provide forces in support of established operational plans, with particular focus on the Pacific theater of operations.
On the island of Okinawa, Japan some 250 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, part of the Joint Special Operations Command, Pacific, operate out of a former National Security Agency listening post at the Army's Torii Station. The site accommodates 3 line companies, each with 6 SF teams. Together they comprise the forward battalion of the Fort Lewis, Washington based 1st Special Operations Group.
The 1st Battalion was the only Army combat battalion in Japan. As its motto implied, it was "Proudly Serving Our Nation at the Forward Edge of Freedom." The Special Forces teams typically spent roughly 6 months of the year deployed. The Battalion supported US Pacific Command's peacetime engagements, among them training with other countries' forces, special forces, and border police in the Pacific region. Training for contingencies included a scenario of theater war in Korea.
With no Army aviation element on the island, every mission was supported by joint-forces air assets. A 2-man Air Force special operations weather team provided critical data Special Forces teams used in planning airborne and maritime operations. For training purposes, the Battalion used a drop zone on nearby Ie Shima island, where Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Ernie Pyle died during the Okinawa Campaign of World War II.
The Battalion trained in many countries throughout the Pacific Area Of Responsibility (AOR). Performing their doctrinal mission of foreign internal defense, 10-12 man Special Forces teams trained host nation forces in small unit tactics, individual specialty skills, leadership, human rights, and infiltration techniques.
They conducted unconventional warfare, what was originally known as guerilla warfare. There was a mindset of creative problem-solving to engage or counter a threat. The idea was: 'You can't do what you've always been told. You have to be creative.' The planning was 'bottom-driven', with some constraints, of course, as opposed to coming from higher headquarters. The Special Forces soldiers had to determine the best way to accomplish a given mission, based on the mission and logistics constraints. The mission could be counter-insurgency, for example.
Other subjects included counter-drug operations in coordination with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in countries like Thailand. Fort Lewis soldiers who deployed to Thailand suffer from jet lag when they arrived. The forward-deployed natured of the Battalion provided an advantage over this deployment of personnel from the 1st Special Forces Group from CONIS Swas another advantage to the island assignment. In Thailand, besides providing foreign internal defense, the Battalion conducted counterdrug missions in the northern region of Thailand. They taught small-unit tactics, including ambush techniques against heavily armed drug runners at very remote borders. The Special Forces teams also provided medical training for border police.
1st Battalion also taught foreign militaries' humanitarian demining, showing them how to render the areas safe for local civilians. Through the Battalion's demining program, Special Forces teams taught demining operations to indigenous forces between 1994 and 1997. The training was expected to resume in Vietnam and Cambodia. Among the unit's other missions was search and recovery of World War II remains in Papua New Guinea, providing medical training in Vietnam, and conducting security assistance training in the Philippines.
Joint Interagency Task Force-West, and humanitarian assistance including disaster relief were also in the Battalion's mission profile. In 2000, following the eruption of Mayon Volcano in the Philippines, the Battalion helped displaced and injured personnel by setting up tents and evacuating citizens to safety.
Special Forces teams conducting maritime operations swim, use zodiac boats and employ HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening) parachuting. The latter allows them to leave the aircraft at 25,000 feet and land within 75 feet of their objectives. Training for scuba-team members includes "mother-ship" operations and the use of kayaks. The teams also practice fast-rope insertion techniques and military free-fall parachuting. For divers, some of the locations and sights off Okinawa are unparalleled.
By working within local customs and taboos, and by using the indigenous language, Special Forces soldiers provided CINCPAC with a low visibility and credible engagement force. The 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group's (Airborne), the "quiet professionals," with their diverse skills and robust quick response capability, make them "First in Asia."