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The United States Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, is a Special Operations Force (SOF) of the United States Army tasked with five primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counter-terrorism. The first two emphasize language, cultural, and training skills in working with foreign troops. Other duties include combat search and rescue (CSAR), security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, counter-proliferation, psychological operations, manhunts, and counter-drug operations; other components of the United States Special Operations Command or other U.S. government activities may also specialize in these secondary areas Many of their operational techniques are classified, but some nonfiction works and doctrinal manuals are available.

The original and most important mission of the Special Forces had been "unconventional warfare", while other capabilities, such as direct action, were gradually added.

Their official motto is De Oppresso Liber ( ), a reference to one of their primary missions, training and advising foreign indigenous forces.

Currently, Special Forces units are deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They are also deployed with other SOCOM elements as one of the primary American military forces in the ongoing War in Afghanistan. As a special operations unit, Special Forces are not necessarily under the command authority of the ground commanders in those countries. Instead, while in theater, SF operators may report directly to United States Central Command, USSOCOM, or other command authorities.

The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) recruits operators from the Army's Special Forces. Joint Army Special Forces and CIA operations go back to the famed MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War. This cooperation still exists today and is seen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

History and traditions

1st Special Forces Regiment distinctive unit insignia, bearing the motto de oppresso liber
Distinctive Unit Insignia.On a wreath of the colors (Argent and Sable), two arrows saltirewise Argent.The crest is the crossed arrow collar (branch) insignia of the First Special Service Force, (a joint World War II American-Canadian commando unit organized in 1942), changed from gold to silver for harmony with the shield and to make a difference from collar insignia. The motto more fully translated means, "From Oppression We Will Liberate Them.”Description: A silver color metal and enamel device 1 1/8 inches (2.86 cm) in height consisting of a pair of silver arrows in saltire, points up and surmounted at their junction by a silver dagger with black handle point up; all over and between a black motto scroll arcing to base and inscribed "DE OPPRESSO LIBER" in silver letters.Symbolism: The crest is the crossed arrow collar insignia (insignia of branch) of the First Special Force, World War II. The motto is translated as "From Oppression We Will Liberate Them."Background: The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 8 July 1960. The insignia of the 1st Special Forces was authorized to be worn by personnel of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) and its subordinate units on 7 March 1991.


Some of the Office of Strategic Services units have much more similarity in terms of mission with the original US Army Special Forces function, unconventional warfare (UW), acting as cadre to train and lead guerrillas in occupied countries. The Special Forces motto, de oppresso liber (Latin: "to free the oppressed") reflects this historical mission of guerrilla warfare against an occupying power. Specifically, the three-man Jedburgh teams provided leadership to French Resistance units. The larger Office of Strategic Services "OSS" Operational Groups (OG) were more associated with SR/DA missions, although they did work with resistance units. COL Aaron Bank, considered the founding commander of the first Special Forces Group created, served in OSS during World War II.

While Filipino-American guerrilla operations in the Japanese-occupied Philippines are not part of the direct lineage of Army Special Forces, some of the early Special Forces leadership were involved in advising and creating the modern organization. They included Russell Volckmann, who commanded guerrillas in Northern Luzon and in Koreamarker,Donald Blackburn, who also served with the Northern Luzon force, and Wendell Fertig, who developed a division-sized force on Mindanaomarker.

During the Korean War, United Nations Partisan Forces Korea operated on islands and behind enemy lines. These forces were also known as the 8086th Army Unit, and later as the Far East Command Liaison Detachment, Korea, FECLD-K 8240th AU. These troops directed North Korean partisans in raids, harassment of supply lines, and the rescue of downed pilots. Since the initial Special Forces unit, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was activated on 19 June 1952, and the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, US Army Special Forces did not operate as a unit in that war. Experience gained in the Korean War, however, influenced the development of US Army Special Forces doctrine.

US Army Special Forces (SF) are, along with psychological operations detachments and Rangers, the oldest of the post-World War II Army units in the current United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Their distinctive uniform item is the Green Beret. Their main mission was to train and lead unconventional warfare (UW) forces, or a guerrilla force in an occupied nation that no one is allowed to know. US Army Special Forces is the only US Special Operations Force (SOF) trained to employ UW. The 10th Special Forces Group was the first deployed SF unit, intended to operate UW forces behind enemy lines in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. As the US become involved in Southeast Asia, it was realized that specialists trained to lead guerrillas could also help defend against hostile guerrillas, so SF acquired the additional mission of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), working with Host Nation (HN) forces in a spectrum of counter-guerrilla activities from indirect support to combat command.

Special Forces personnel qualify both in advanced military skills and the regional languages and cultures of defined parts of the world. While they have a Direct Action (DA) capability, other units, such as Rangers, are more focused on overt direct action raids conducted in uniform but potentially behind enemy lines. SF personnel have the training to carry out covert DA, and other missions, including clandestine SR. Other missions include peace operations, counter-proliferation, counter-drug advisory roles, and other strategic missions. As strategic resources, they report either to USSOCOM or to a regional Unified Combatant Commands.

Their lineage dates back to include more than 200 years of unconventional warfare history, with notable predecessors including the Revolutionary War "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion, the WWII OSS Jedburgh Teams, OSS Detachment 101 in Burmamarker, and the Alamo Scouts. Since their establishment in 1952, Special Forces soldiers have distinguished themselves in Vietnam (17 Medals of Honor), El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and, in an FID role, Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa, which was transferred to Africa Command in 2008.

SF team members work closely together and rely on one another under isolated circumstances for long periods of time, both during extended deployments and in garrison. Because of this, they develop clannish relationships and long-standing personal ties. SF noncommissioned officers (NCO) often spend their entire careers in Special Forces, rotating among assignments to detachments, higher staff billets, liaison positions, and instructor duties at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS). Special Forces officers, on the other hand, historically spend a limited amount of time early in their careers assigned to SF detachments. They are then required to move to staff positions or to higher command echelons. With the creation of USSOCOM, SF commanders have risen to the highest ranks of US Army command, including command of USSOCOM, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Creation of Army Special Forces

Special Forces were formed in 1952, initially under the US Army Psychological Warfare Division headed by then-BG Robert A. McClure. For details of the early justification for Special Forces, see Clandestine HUMINT and Covert Action.

Special Operations Command was formed by the US Army Psychological Warfare Center which was activated in May 1952. The initial 10th Special Forces Group was formed in June 1952, and was commanded by Colonel Aaron Bank. Its formation coincided with the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School, which is now known as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Bank served with various Office of Strategic Services (OSS) units, including Jedburgh teams advising and leading French Resistance units before the Battle of Normandymarker, or the D-Day invasion of 6 June 1944. COL Bank is known as the father of the Special Forces.

The 10th SFG deployed to Bad Tölzmarker, Germany the following September, The remaining cadre at Fort Bragg, North Carolinamarker formed the 77th Special Forces Group, which in May 1960 became 7th Special Forces Group.

The Green Beret

The origins of the Green Beret are in Scotland during the Second World War. US Army Rangers and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives, who underwent training from the Royal Marines were awarded the Green Beret upon completion of the grueling and revolutionary commando course. The beret was not authorized by the US Army among the Rangers and OSS operatives who earned them. Edson Raff, one of the first Special Forces officers, is credited with the re-birth of the green beret, which was originally unauthorized for wear by the U.S. Army. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized them for use exclusively by the US Special Forces. Preparing for an October 12 visit to the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the President sent word to the Center's commander, Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, for all Special Forces soldiers to wear the beret as part of the event. The President felt that since they had a special mission, Special Forces should have something to set them apart from the rest. In 1962, he called the green beret "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." Aside from the well-recognized beret, Special Forces soldiers are also known for their more informal attire than other members of the U.S. military.

"It was President Kennedy who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Special Forces and giving us back our Green Beret," said Forrest Lindley, a writer for the newspaper Stars and Stripes who served with Special Forces in Vietnam. "People were sneaking around wearing it when conventional forces weren't in the area and it was sort a cat and mouse game," he recalled. "When Kennedy authorized the Green Beret as a mark of distinction, everybody had to scramble around to find berets that were really green. We were bringing them down from Canada. Some were handmade, with the dye coming out in the rain."
1st Special Forces Group, Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), examines a baby in 2007, during a medical civic action project in the village of Malisbeng, Republic of the Philippines.
JSOTF-P is supporting the AFP in their war on terror efforts and humanitarian missions in their county.
Special Forces have a special bond with Kennedy, going back to his funeral. At the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of JFK's death, Gen. Michael D. Healy, the last commander of Special Forces in Vietnam, spoke at Arlington Cemetery. Later, a wreath in the form of the Green Beret would be placed on the grave, continuing a tradition that began the day of his funeral when a sergeant in charge of a detail of Special Forces men guarding the grave placed his beret on the coffin.

The men of the Green Beret caught the public's imagination and were the subject of a best selling, if semi-fictional, book The Green Berets by Robin Moore, a hit record, Ballad of the Green Berets written and performed by Barry Sadler, The Green Berets produced, directed, and starring John Wayne and a comic strip and American comic book Tales of the Green Beret written by Robin Moore with artwork by Joe Kubert. See United States Army Special Forces in popular culture.

It should be noted that calling Special Forces soldiers "Green Berets" is a misconception and that other elite units such as SEALs, Rangers and others are not part of the Special Forces, but are special operations forces (though they are "special forces" in the generic sense). Special Forces (always capitalize), SF, or Special Forces soldiers is the proper name of the United States Army Special Forces.

First deployment in Cold War-era Europe

10th Special Forces Group was responsible, among other missions, to operate a stay-behind guerrilla operation after a presumed Soviet overrunning of Western Europe, in conjunction with the programme that later became controversially known as Operation Gladio. Through the Lodge-Philbin Act, it acquired a large number of Eastern European immigrants who brought much area and language skills. As well as preparing for the Warsaw Pact invasion that never came, Vietnam and other areas of South Vietnam, El Salvador, Colombia, Panama and Afghanistanmarker are the major modern conflicts that have defined the Special Forces.

Southeast Asia (Indochina Wars)

Special Forces units deployed to Laosmarker as "Mobile Training Teams" (MTTs) in 1961, Project White Star (later named Project 404), and they were among the first U.S. troops committed to the Vietnam War. Beginning in the early 1950s, Special Forces teams deployed from the United States and Okinawamarker to serve as advisers for the fledgling South Vietnamese Army. As the United States escalated its involvement in the war, the missions of the Special Forces expanded as well. Since Special Forces were trained to lead guerrillas, it seemed logical that they would have a deep understanding of counter-guerrilla actions, which became the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission. The 5th Special Forces Group mixed the UW and FID missions, often leading Vietnamese units such as Montagnard and lowland Civilian Irregular Defense Groups.The deep raid on Son Taymarker, attempting to recover US prisoners of war, had a ground element completely made up of Special Forces soldiers..

The main SF unit in South Vietnam was the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). SF soldiers assigned to the 5th Group earned seventeen Medals of Honor in Vietnam, making it the most prominently decorated unit for its size in that conflict. Army Special Forces personnel also played predominant roles in the highly secret, multi-service Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), with an extraordinarily large number of covert U.S. military personnel lost MIA while operating on Studies and Observations Group (SOG) reconnaissance missions.

The “Green Beret Affair” - U. S. Special Forces received a severe black eye when in July 1969 Colonel Robert Rheault, Commander of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), six subordinate Green Beret officers, including his headquarters staff intelligence officer, and a sergeant first class (SFC) were arrested for the murder of Thai Khac Chuyen, a suspected North Vietnamese double agent. It was suspected that Chuyen was providing the North Vietnamese Army information about Project GAMMA and the indigenous agents used by the 5th Special Forces Group. An attempted cover-up was uncovered when the SFC became concerned that he might be a 'fall guy' and contacted the local Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office chief. In September 1969 Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced that all charges would be dropped since the CIA, in the interests of national security, had refused to make its personnel available as witnesses; implying some sort of involvement.

El Salvador

In the 1980s US Army Special Forces trainers were deployed to El Salvadormarker. Their mission was to train the Salvadoran Military, who at the time were fighting a civil war against the left-wing guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). In 1992, the FMLN reached a ceasefire agreement with the government of El Salvador. Following the success of SF in El Salvador, the 3rd Special Forces Group was reactivated in 1990.


In the late 1980s, major narcotics trafficking and terrorist problems within the region covered by the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) worsened. USSOUTHCOM was (and remains) responsible for all of South America, Central America, and the Caribbeanmarker (CARIBCOM). The 7th Special Forces Group deployed detachments, trainers and advisers in conjunction with teams from the 1st Psychological Operations Battalion to assist Host Nation (HN) forces. During the late 1990s, 7 SFG(A) also deployed to Colombia and trained three Counter Narcotics Battalions and assisted in the establishment of a Brigade Headquarters. These were the first units of their kind in Colombia and each is known as "Batallón Contra Narcotraficantes" or BACNA. These elements continue to be very successful against the narcotics industry which thrives in Colombia.US Army Special Forces detachments still rotate among various locations within Colombia, training HN units in counter-guerrilla and counter-narcotics roles, and SF detachments routinely deploy to other countries within the USSOUTHCOM area of responsibility.


In late 1988, tensions between the United States and Panamamarker were extremely high with the Panamanian leader, Manuel Noriega, calling for the dissolution of the agreement that allowed the United States to have bases in his country. In December 1989 President George H. W. Bush activated the planning section for Operation Just Cause/Promote Liberty. Just Cause was the portion of the mission to depose Noreiga and return Panama to democracy. Originally scheduled to begin at 0200 hrs. on 20 December, it actually kicked off at 2315 hrs when part of a Special Forces detachment that was waiting for the signal to begin was discovered above a gate above a Panamanian checkpoint. Just Cause was the first mission to have a very large contingent of Special Operations Forces on the ground. The units that were involved with the mission were as follows: Joint Task Force Delta (Delta Force), Joint Task Force South (7th SFG, 5th SFG, 3rd SFG, 4th PSYOP Group, the reinforced 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and all three battalions of the 75th Rangers, and numerous other units from other forces such as the Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, and Air Force Combat Control Teams. The mission was successful overall and led to stability in the region.


Special Forces units were the first military units (a Special Forces MSG wearing the Green Beret ring was the first person in country to seek out the Northern Alliance) that went into Afghanistanmarker under Major General Geoffrey C Lambert after the September 11, 2001 attacks, although CIA paramilitary officers from the famed Special Activities Division were the first US forces in the country to prepare for their arrival. A number of Special Forces operational detachments worked with Afghan Northern Alliance troops, acting as a force multiplier, especially by using new techniques for precise direction of heavy air support. Since the initial invasion, the 3rd and 7th SFGs have been charged with conducting operations in Afghanistan. SF has been conducting its bread-and-butter, Unconventional Warfare, fighting the enemy in its own or influenced territory. During the daytime, SF will often be meeting with local village elders and working with the people to "win over the hearts and minds" as well as trying to identify possible Taliban spies in the villages. SF has worked closely with Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations to provide villages with food, water, medicine, medical treatment and clinics, and even education programs to the people. As well as humanitarian assistance such as building roads, schools, and wells. This also requires SF to have to constantly patrol the areas to defend the villages from Taliban attacks. At night, SF will often be hunting down the Taliban and other insurgencies in the area, conducting raids on camps, training centers, drug-smuggling operations, and other Taliban safe-havens. As well as ambushing weapons, supplies, and drug convoys and clearing hidden paths in the mountains that border Pakistanmarker and Afghanistan, including mining operations on paths that the Taliban use, conducting reconnaissance, and capturing or killing high-ranking terrorist leaders. SF will almost always work with Afghan forces, who they have often trained. This shows the people that it is their own Afghans stopping the Taliban, not the Americans. SF soldiers will also do small changes to their appearance, such as growing beards, growing their hair longer, and wearing traditional Afghan scarfs or belts to show that they are not trying to force any American culture on them but rather that they respect their culture and traditions. Like all military units in Afghanistan, SF is extremely stretched, spread-out. The majority of SF soldiers are deployed to Iraq, even though Afghanistan is twice as large, which has caused many problems for SF and other forces in the country.


Special Forces along with Iraqi Army forces conduct an air assault in-route to their mission objective to capture terrorists of a known insurgent force, September 2007.
Just like in Afghanistan, SF were the first military units in Iraq. 10th SFG was heavily deployed to Northern Iraq, where they, along with CIA/SAD officers contacted, organized, and trained Kurdish, anti-Saddam Forces. During the initial invasion, 10th SFG and CIA/SAD officers led one of the most successful campaigns in Iraq, the Group along with its Kurdish allies defeated six Iraqi Army Divisions with limited air support and no SF soldiers were killed. The joint Kurdish-Special Forces units killed over one-thousand Iraqi Army soldiers and captured hundreds more. Likewise, 5th SFG (1st BN) was deployed in Western Iraq, one battalion infiltrated the country weeks before the initial invasion. 5th SFG also organized anti-Saddam forces and, like 10th SFG, led an extremely successful operation which inflicted serious casualties to the Iraqi Army have arrived in Baghdadmarker right after conventional forces had seized it. With major combat operations over, SF was charged with building a new Iraqi Army, eliminating Baath Party members, and, most importantly, finding Saddam and his sons.


U.S. Army Special Forces is divided into five active duty (AD) and two Army National Guard (ARNG) Special Forces groups. Each Special Forces Group (SFG) has a specific regional focus. The Special Forces soldiers assigned to these groups receive intensive language and cultural training for countries within their regional area of responsibility (AOR). Due to the increased need for Special Forces soldiers in the War on Terror, all Groups—including those of the National Guard (19th and 20th SFGs)—have been deployed outside of their areas of operation (AOs), particularly to Iraqmarker and Afghanistanmarker. A recently released report showed Special Forces as perhaps the most deployed SOF under SOCOM, with many operators, regardless of Group, serving up to 75% of their careers overseas, almost all of which has been to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Basic Element - SF Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) composition

A Special Forces company consists of six ODAs (Operational Detachments Alpha) or "A-teams." The number of ODAs can vary from company to company, with each ODA specializing in an infiltration skill or a particular mission-set (e.g. Military Freefall (HALO), combat diving, mountain warfare, maritime operations, or urban operations).

An ODA consists of 12 men, each of whom has a specific function (MOS or Military Occupational Specialty) on the team, however all members of an ODA conduct cross-training. The ODA is led by an 18A (Detachment Commander), usually a Captain, and a 180A (Assistant Detachment Commander) who is his second in command, usually a Warrant Officer One or Chief Warrant Officer Two. The team also includes the following enlisted men: one 18Z team sergeant (Operations Sergeant), usually a Master Sergeant, one 18F (Assistant Operations and Intelligence Sergeant), usually a Sergeant First Class, and two each, 18Bs (Weapons Sergeant), 18Cs (Engineer Sergeant), 18Ds (Medical Sergeant), and 18Es (Communications Sergeant), usually Sergeants First Class, Staff Sergeants or Sergeants. This organization facilitates 6-man "split team" operations, redundancy, and mentoring between a senior specialist NCO and his junior assistant.

Company HQ Element - SF Operational Detachment-Bravo (ODB) composition

A Special Forces company commander meets with village elders and members to in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2007.
A Special Forces company, when required, will deploy an Operational Detachment Bravo, (ODB) or "B-team," usually composed of 11–13 soldiers. While the A-team typically conducts direct operations, the purpose of the B-team is to support the A-teams in the company. There is one B-team per company.

The ODB is led by an 18A, usually a Major, who is the Company Commander (CO). The CO is assisted by his Company Executive Officer (XO), another 18A, usually a Captain. The XO is himself assisted by a Company Technician, a 180A, generally a Chief Warrant Officer Three, who assists in the direction of the organization, training, intelligence, counter-intelligence, and operations for the company and its detachments. The Company Commander is assisted by the Company Sergeant Major, an 18Z, usually a Sergeant Major. A second 18Z acts as the Operations Sergeant, usually a Master Sergeant, who assists the XO and Technician in their operational duties. He has an 18F Assistant Operations Sergeant, who is usually a Sergeant First Class. The company's support comes from an 18D Medical Sergeant, usually a Sergeant First Class, and two 18E Communications Sergeants, usually a Sergeant First Class and a Staff Sergeant.

Note the distinct lack of a weapons or engineer NCO. This is because the B-Team generally does not engage in direct operations, but rather operates in support of the A-Teams. Each SF company has one ODA that specializes in HALO (military free fall parachuting) and one trained in combat diving. Other ODA specialties include military mountaineering, maritime operations, and personnel recovery.

The following jobs are outside of the Special Forces 18-series Career Management Field (CMF), but hold positions on a Special Forces B-Team. Soldiers in these positions are not "Special Forces qualified," as they have not completed the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course (SFAS) or the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC or "Q Course):

  • The Supply NCO, usually a Staff Sergeant, the commander's principal logistical planner, works with the battalion S-4 to supply the company.

  • The Nuclear, Biological, Chemical NCO, usually a Sergeant, maintains and operates the company's NBC detection and decontamination equipment, and assists in administering NBC defensive measures.

Battalion HQ Element - SF Operational Detachment-Charlie (ODC) composition

A C-team is one of the operational detachments of the Special Forces. It is a command and control unit with operations, training, signals and logistic support responsibilities. Its basic organization follows the same lines with a Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) for commander and a Command Sergeant Major (E-9) for the senior NCO. There are an additional 20–30 SF personnel who fill key positions in Operations, Logistics, Intelligence, Communications and Medical. A Special Forces battalion usually consists of three companies.

SF Group strength

Until recently an SF Group has consisted of three Battalions, but since the Department of Defense has authorized US Army Special Forces Command to increase its authorized strength by one third, a fourth Battalion will be activated in each active component Group by 2012.

A Special Forces Group is historically assigned to a Unified Combatant Command or a theater of operations. The Charlie detachment is responsible for a theater or a major subcomponent, and can raise brigade or larger guerrilla forces. Subordinate to it are the Bravo detachments, which can raise battalion and larger forces. Further subordinate, the ODAs typically raise company-sized units when on UW missions. They can form 6-man "split A" detachments that are often used for Special Reconnaissance (SR).


Insignia Group
1st Special Forces Group - 1st Battalion stationed in Okinawamarker, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions headquartered at Fort Lewismarker, Washingtonmarker. The 1SFGA is oriented towards the Pacific region, and is often tasked by PACOM. Currently, 1SFGA and two of its battalions spend roughly six months out of every twelve deployed on a rotational basis to either Iraq as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Arabian Peninsula, to Afghanistan as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan, or to the Philippines as Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines.
3rd Special Forces Group - Headquartered at Fort Braggmarker, North Carolinamarker. The 3SFGA is theoretically oriented towards all of Sub-Saharan Africa with the exception of the Eastern Horn of Africa, i.e. AFRICOM. In practice, 3SFGA and two of its battalions spend roughly six months out of every twelve deployed to Afghanistan as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan.
5th Special Forces Group - Headquartered at Fort Campbellmarker, Kentuckymarker. The 5SFGA is oriented towards the Middle East, Persian Gulfmarker, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa (HOA), and is frequently tasked by CENTCOM. Currently, 5SFGA and two of its battalions spend roughly six months out of every twelve deployed to Iraq as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Arabian Peninsula.
7th Special Forces Group - Headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 7SFGA is theoretically oriented towards Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbeanmarker, i.e. SOUTHCOM. 7SFGA is also responsible for North American or NORTHCOM. In practice, 7SFGA and two of its battalions spend roughly six months out of every twelve deployed to Afghanistan as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Afghanistan. (In 2010, 7SFGA is scheduled to relocate to Eglin Air Force Basemarker in Floridamarker as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round.
10th Special Forces Group - 1st Battalion stationed in the Panzer Kaserne (Panzer Barracks) in Boeblingenmarker near Stuttgartmarker, Germany, and the 2nd, 3rd and newly added 4th Battalions are headquartered at Fort Carson, Coloradomarker. The 10SFGA is theoretically oriented towards Europe, mainly Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkeymarker, Israelmarker, Lebanonmarker and Northern Africa, i.e. EUCOM. In practice, 10SFGA and two of its battalions spend roughly six months out of every twelve deployed to Iraq as Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force - Arabian Peninsula.
19th Special Forces Group - One of two National Guard Special Forces Groups. Headquartered in Drapermarker, Utahmarker, with companies in Washingtonmarker, West Virginiamarker, Ohiomarker, Rhode Islandmarker, Coloradomarker, and Californiamarker, the 19SFGA is oriented towards Southwest Asia (shared with 5SFGA), Europe (shared with 10SFGA), as well as Southeast Asia (shared with 1SFGA).
20th Special Forces Group - One of two National Guard Special Forces Groups. Headquartered in Birminghammarker, Alabamamarker, with battalions in Alabama (1st Battalion), Mississippimarker (2nd Battalion), and Florida (3rd Battalion), with assigned Companies and Detachments in North Carolinamarker ; Chicago, Illinoismarker; Louisvillemarker, Kentuckymarker; and Baltimoremarker, Marylandmarker. The 20SFGA has an area of responsibility (AOR) covering 32 countries, including Latin America south of Mexico, the waters, territories, and nations in the Caribbean sea, the Gulf of Mexicomarker, and the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Orientation towards the region is shared with 7SFGA.
Inactive Groups
6th Special Forces Group - Active from 1963 to 1971. Based at Ft.marker Bragg, North Carolinamarker. Assigned to Southwest Asia (Iraq, Iran, etc.) and Southeast Asia. Many of the 103 original Son tay raidermarker volunteers were from 6SFGA.
8th Special Forces Group - Active from 1963 to 1972. Responsible for training armies of Latin America in counter-insurgency tactics.
11th Special Forces Group - Active from 1961 to 1994.
12th Special Forces Group - Active from 1961 to 1994.

Selection and training

"Bronze Bruce", the Special Warfare Memorial Statue

Entry into Special Forces

Entry into Special Forces begins with Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Getting "Selected" at SFAS (Phase 1) will enable a candidate to continue on to the next four phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC, or the "Q Course"). If a candidate successfully completes these next four phases he will graduate as a Special Forces soldier and be assigned to a 12-man Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA), or "A team."

Pipelines to SFAS

A version of SFAS was first introduced as a selection mechanism in the mid-1980s by the Commanding General of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at the time, Brigadier General James Guest.

There are now two ways for male soldiers (female soldiers are not permitted to serve in Special Forces) to volunteer to attend SFAS:

* As an existing soldier in the US Army with the Enlisted rank of E-4 (Corporal/Specialist) or higher, and for Officers the rank of O-2 (1st Lieutenant) promotable to O-3 (Captain), or existing O-3s.
* The other path is that of direct entry, referred to as Initial Accession or IA. Here an individual who has no prior military service or who has previously separated from military service is given the opportunity to attend SFAS. Both the Active Duty and National Guard components offer Special Forces Initial Accession programs. The Active Duty program is referred to as the "18X Program" because of the Initial Entry Code that appears on the assignment orders. These soldiers will attend Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT, the combination of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training), Airborne School, and a preparation course to help prepare them for SFAS, as well as two additional preparation courses to help prepare them for Phase 2 of the Q-Course, if selected. This program is commonly referred to as the "X-Ray Program", derived from "18X". The candidates in this program are known as "X-Rays"

All SF trainees must have completed the United States Army Airborne School before beginning Phase 2 of the Q-Course.

Special Forces Assessment and Selection

Special Forces soldiers from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) demonstrate how to perform a four-man stack in an artificial building during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX.
Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) is the first phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course, held at Camp Mackallmarker. It is a mentally and physically demanding course designed to see if the soldier has the twelve "Whole Man" attributes to continue in Special Forces training and to serve on an ODA. These attributes include intelligence, physical fitness, motivation, trustworthiness, accountability, maturity, stability, judgment, decisiveness, teamwork, influence, and communications. Approximately forty percent of all candidates attempting SFAS are successful. Many unsuccessful candidates elect to Voluntarily Withdraw (VW), while others suffer injuries in the course of training and are "Medically Dropped." Those that successfully complete the course must then be selected by the final selection board. Many candidates who make it to the end of the course are not selected because the board deems that they lack the required attributes of an SF soldier, or that they are not yet ready to attempt the next phase in SF training.

Events in SFAS include numerous long land navigation courses. All land navigation courses are conducted day and night under heavy loads of equipment, in any weather conditions, and in rough, hilly terrain. Land navigation is done alone with no assistance from instructors or fellow students and is always done on a time limit, which decreases as the course moves along, and are upwards of 12 miles. Instructors also use obstacle course runs, team events (usually moving heavy loads such as telephone poles and old jeep trucks through sand for miles on end as a 12-man team, with all individual equipment), the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), a swim assessment, and numerous physiological exams such as IQ tests and the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test to evaluate candidates. The last event is a 24–32 mile long road march known as "the Trek" or Long Range Individual Movement (LRIM).

Selection outcomes
*Those who quit are Voluntarily Withdrawn (VW) by the course cadre are generally designated NTR or Not-to-Return. This generally ends any opportunity a candidate may have to become a Special Forces soldier. Active Duty military candidates will be returned to their previous units, and IA 18X candidates will be transferred to infantry units as 11B Infantrymen.
*Candidates who are "medically dropped," and who are not then medically discharged from the military due to serious injury, are often permitted to "recycle," and to attempt the course again as soon as they are physically able to do so.
*Candidates who successfully complete the course but who are "Boarded" and not selected ("Non-Select") are generally given the opportunity to attend selection again in 12 or 24 months. It must be noted, however, that the time window to attend SFAS a second time can be heavily influenced by deployment schedules, as "non-selected" candidates are assigned to infantry units in the meantime.

Successful Active Duty candidates usually return to their previous units to await a slot in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). Because an Initial Accession (IA) 18X candidate lacks a previous unit, he will normally enter the Q Course immediately, or after a short wait.

MOS, group, and language selection

Upon selection at SFAS, all Active Duty enlisted and IA 18X candidates will be briefed on:
*The five Special Forces Active Duty Groups
*The four Special Forces Military Occupational Specialities (MOS) initially open to them
*The languages utilized in each Special Forces Group

Candidates will then complete what is often referred to as a '"wish list." Enlisted candidates will rank in order of preference the MOS that he prefers (18B, 18C, 18D, 18E). Officer candidates will attend the 18A course. Both enlisted and officer candidates will list in order of preference the SF Groups in which they prefer to serve (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th) and the languages in which they prefer to be trained.

Language selection is dependent on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test scores of the candidate, as well as the SF Group to which they are assigned. Different SF Groups focus on different areas of responsibility (AOR), which require different languages.

A board assigns each enlisted and officer candidate his MOS, Group placement, and language. The MOS, Group, and language that a selected candidate is assigned is not guaranteed, and is contingent upon the needs of the Special Forces community. Generally 80% of selected candidates are awarded their primary choices.

Special Forces Qualification Course

The Q Course features some of the most intensive training in the US military.When a candidate enters the Q Course, he is assigned to the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. This training is phases 2–6 of the Q-Course

Phase II consists of either 18 or 24 weeks of intense language training. Upon completion of this training, candidates are required to attain a minimum rating score in their assigned language, scored on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT).

After Phase II, candidates begin Phase III, which is a 13-week block of instruction in small unit tactics (SUT) including raids, ambushes, patrols, recons, and other strikes against enemy forces. Students learn how to properly plan these operations using Warning Orders, Operations Order, and Frag Orders as well as other mission planning techniques. The students will plan, present, lead and execute these operations. This part of phase III focuses on small unit tactics and patrolling. During Phase III students also attend the three week Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) course (level C).

Following the completion of Phase III, candidates then begin Phase IV, for specific training within one of the five initial Special Forces specialties: 18A, SF Detachment Commander; 18B, SF Weapons Sergeant; 18C, SF Engineering Sergeant; 18D, SF Medical Sergeant; and 18E, SF Communications Sergeant. 18A, 18B, 18C, and 18E training courses are 15 weeks long. The 18D training course is 48 weeks long.

The candidates culminate their Special Forces training by participating in Operation ROBIN SAGE, a 4 week long large-scale unconventional warfare exercise (Phase V) conducted over 50,000 square miles of North Carolina. The students are put into 12-man ODAs, organized the same way they are in a real mission. After an intense planning and presenting week the students make an airborne infiltration into the fictional country of Pineland, where they must link up with an "indigenous" force, train them and then lead them in the fight to liberate Pineland from their oppressive government.

Phase VI is graduation. The day before graduation there is a regimental dinner where representatives from each group will present each soldier with his green beret. The next day the students will formally graduate from the Special Forces Qualification Course and will go to their first ODA as fully trained, ready-to-deploy, Special Forces Soldiers.

Further training

After successfully completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Forces soldiers are then eligible for many advanced skills courses. These include the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course (MFF), the Combat Diver Qualification Course, the Special Forces Sniper Course (SFSC), and the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Exploitation Techniques Course (SFARETEC). Additionally, Special Forces soldiers may participate in special operations training courses offered by other services and allied nations throughout their careers.

Special Forces MOS descriptions

  • 18A - Special Forces Officer

  • 180A - Special Forces Warrant Officer

  • 18B - Special Forces Weapons Sergeant

  • 18C - Special Forces Engineering Sergeant

  • 18D - Special Forces Medical Sergeant

  • 18E - Special Forces Communications Sergeant

  • 18F - Special Forces Assistant Operations and Intelligence Sergeant

  • 18X - Special Forces Candidate (Active Duty Enlistment Option)

  • 18Z - Special Forces Operations Sergeant

Note: Individuals desiring a career in Special Forces who have no prior military service or who have separated from military service may enlist directly into the 18X MOS, and upon successful completion of upwards of six months of initial training be given the chance to be selected at the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course (SFAS).

It should be noted that other personnel in MOS designations outside of 18 series often support SF teams directly.

Cultural references

See also


  1. Waller, Douglas (2003-02-03). "The CIA Secret Army". TIME (Time Inc).
  2. SOG: The Secret Wars of America's Commandos in Vietnam by John L. Plaster
  3. Haney, Eric L. (2002). Inside Delta Force. New York: Delacorte Press
  4. Efran, Shawn (producer), "Army Officer Recalls Hunt For Bin Laden", 60 Minutes, CBS News, October 5, 2008.
  5. Kelly, Francis John (1972). History of Special Forces in Vietnam, 1961-1971. Washington, D.C.: Center for Military History, Department of the Army
  6. Jeff Stein, Murder in Wartime: The Untold Spy Story that Changed the Course of the Vietnam War. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992) 60-62
  7. Seals, Bob (2007) The "Green Beret Affair": A Brief Introduction,
  8. Woodward, Bob (2002) "Bush at War", Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  9. At the Center of the Storm: My Life at the CIA, George Tenet, Harper Collins, 2007
  10. Plan of Attack, Bob Woodward, Simon and Shuster, 2004.
  11. Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War inside Iraq, Mike Tucker, Charles Faddis, 2008, The Lyons Press
  12. All Necessary Means: Employing CIA operatives in a Warfighting Role Alongside Special Operations Forces, Colonel Kathryn Stone, Professor Anthony R. Williams (Project Advisor), United States Army War College (USAWC), 07 April 2003
  13. All Necessary Means: Employing CIA operatives in a Warfighting Role Alongside Special Operations Forces, Colonel Kathryn Stone, Professor Anthony R. Williams (Project Advisor), United States Army War College (USAWC), 07 April 2003
  14. Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War inside Iraq, Mike Tucker, Charles Faddis, 2008, The Lyons Press
  15. | url = | title = Comparative information on US and Australian Special Forces Selection attrition rates: | author = Ausspecialforces.Com

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