Unit mottos are often a point of pride and inspire esprit de corps in the men and women of a unit. Having pride in your branch is one thing, but having pride in your unit is often more personalized. Not every unit has a motto, but many do. As such, I’ve gathered what I think are the nine very best unit mottos.
“The Worst is Yet to Come” – 1st Special Service Force
The 1st Special Service Force was a joint special operations unit made up of Canadian and American military forces. These mountain warfighting specialists raised hell for the Nazis, fighting battles in brutal environments. They often patrolled deep behind enemy lines, and when they did, they would leave stickers behind with a message written in German that translated to “The Worst is Yet to Come” across the unit’s arrowhead crest.
Imagine being a Jerry and finding this sticker 100 miles behind your lines. The enemy got that close to you and left a sticker behind to taunt you. As far as unit mottos go, this one is terrifying to the enemy and so much more effective because the men disbursing it were true badasses.
“Retreat, Hell” – 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines
When you read unit mottos, you can tell which were thought up by some general officer who lacked imagination, and which were achieved organically. The Marines of 2/5 certainly fall into the latter, and proudly cling to their unit motto, “Retreat, Hell,” because of their unit’s storied history. The motto came from the mouth of Captain Lloyd Willaims.
Legend has it during World War I, the French were retreating from Belleau Wood, and a French colonel advised the Marines to retreat. The Marine Captain barked, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” Since then, the motto has stuck to 2/5, and when prompted with the word “Retreat,” They sing back in unison, “Hell!”
“De Oppresso Liber” – U.S. Army Special Forces
“De Oppresso Liber,” which is Latin for “To Liberate the Oppressed,” is the motto of the famed Army Special Forces. The Green Berets adopted the phrase from early Special Ops teams of World War II. It’s a simple promise that fits the mission of the Green Berets. Their mission is to train local forces to throw off the chains of oppression.
Outside of “Semper Fi,” this might be the most famous of unit mottos. It’s simple but straight to the point. The Green Berets’ clandestine work and unique mission sets live up to the famous phrase.
“Who Dares, Wins” – SAS
“Who Dares, Wins” has been adopted by 12 different special operations forces around the world. However, it was David Stirling of the British SAS who coined the phrase. Both the Australian and New Zealand SAS utilize the phrase, as do French, Greek, and Israeli units. It’s so popular because it emphasizes the special operations culture.
The men and women who form these units don’t often have the backup of superior air support, artillery, and an infantry regiment. They often face adverse conditions where courage and daring are just part of the job. Troops willing to dare are often willing to win.
“Death Waits in the Dark” – 160th SOAR.
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), or the “Night Stalkers,” provides the air resources America’s elite special operations forces need to complete their mission. They provide insertion, extraction, and direct support to the men on the ground. The phrase “Death Waits in the Dark” comes from their secretive nature and absolutely brilliant pilots.
SOAR is well known for its night operations and flights. Including a flight in Afghanistan in zero-visibility conditions that lasted 11 hours. The pilots are fearless and some of the best of the best. SOAR has multiple unit mottos, but “Death Waits in the Dark” certainly describes their capabilities.
“Surprise, Kill and Vanish” – Jedburghs
Jedburgh teams were joint service units with American, French, British, and Canadian troops who were tasked with a dangerous, behind-enemy-lines mission. They went into Europe the day before the D-Day invasion. These men acted as saboteurs and guerillas who attacked Nazi supply lines. They used stealth and guile to succeed.
They acted with minimal support from Allied forces, and as far as unit mottos go, the Jedburghs certainly lived up to theirs. “Surprise, Kill, and Vanish” was more than a saying, but also the tactics they had to live and die by.
“Swift, Silent, Deadly” – Marine Force Recon
In the same vein as the Jedburghs, the Marine Force Recon units have a similar unit motto in the form of “Swift, Silent, Deadly.” It’s quite accurate, and describes Force Recon rather well. Recon troops are designed to be quick and quiet, to observe and remain hidden. They go with little support, so they dang sure better be deadly.
Marine Force Recon is the redheaded stepchild of special operations, but it gets the job done. Like the Marine Corps itself, they often do more with less. Being swift, silent, and deadly is not just one of the best unit mottos but a requirement of a recon force.
“Follow Me” – Army Infantry School
When you read unit mottos, you see phrases involving the phrase or idea of following or leading. The unit motto of the Army infantry is “Follow Me,” and while that sounds simple and far from intimidating, it’s something to think about. Follow Me says a lot by saying very little. In many ways, it’s telling you that the infantry leads the way.
The infantry leads the way, and as such, they are often the first in contact with the enemy and the path behind left safe. “Follow Me” sounds tame, but in reality, it’s a loaded statement that implies their combat prowess.
“No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy” – Marine Corps (unofficial)
Semper Fidelis might be the official motto of the United States Marine Corps, and unit mottos vary widely, but General Mattis granted Marines an unofficial motto. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, General Mattis wrote a single page for every Marine to carry with them. He finished the inspirational letter with, “Demonstrate to the world there is ‘No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy’ than a U.S. Marine.
This motto is most associated with 1st Marines, but the Marine Corps as a whole has unofficially adopted the motto. Unofficial unit mottos are often the best.
What’s in a motto?
The best unit mottos describe the unit, tell of their history, or exemplify the men and women that make up the unit. A unit motto goes far and often acts as a point of pride for a unit. With that in mind, let’s talk to the vets in the audience. What was your unit motto? Share with us below!
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Feature image: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson