The collar insignia worn by members of the Special Forces branch featuring two crossed arrows was first used as a cap insignia by members of the Corps of Indian Scouts, originally established in 1866. Little thought was given to the styling of uniforms for the scouts—the original members of the Corps wore “castoff and obsolete uniforms” until 1890, according to The Encyclopedia of Army Insignia and Uniforms. That was the year that regulations called for the Scouts to wear silver-colored, crossed arrows on their hats and helmets. The Institute of Heraldry states that the crossed-arrows device was authorized for wear until 1926 (although one Apache Scout unit continued carrying out military duties for another 20-plus years).

In 1942, a joint commando unit consisting of American and Canadian personnel was established under the command of Brigadier General Robert Frederick at Fort William Henry Harrison in Montana. The unit’s creation was inspired by the musing of a “quirky” British scientist named Geoffrey Pyke, who proposed sending a highly trained group of commandos behind German lines in Norway and Romania to disrupt electric supplies (Norway) and oil refineries (Romania) as a way of diverting up to 500,000 German troops from the front lines. Pyke was somewhat sketchy on important details, but upon hearing of his ideas, U.S. General George Marshall was intrigued by the tactical possibilities that could be opened up if methods were found to insert the units safely near or behind enemy forces.

General Frederick dubbed his unit the 1st Special Service Force when it was constituted in July, 1942. Although it had originally been considered a separate arm of the Army because of its specialized mission, it was redesignated as an assault force and issued weapons associated with infantry teams. Nonetheless, the War Department authorized a unique branch insignia for the unit just three months after it was activated: the two crossed arrows that had been officially worn by members of the Corps of Indian scouts for three dozen years.

While the 1st Special Service Force was disbanded in 1945, it wound up being a temporary absence: It was reconstituted in 1960 as the 1st Special Forces Group And the insignia? It was authorized for wear by Army personnel in Career Management Field 18, Special Operations, in 1984, and became the official branch insignia for Special Forces in 1987.

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