The unit was started by Colonel Charles Beckwith in 1977. Throughout its creation, the unit had the benefit of experience from the British SAS, with which Colonel Beckwith served and trained while on loan through an officer exchange program with the British from 1961 to 1962.
The unit took part in Operation Eagle Claw, the failed attempt to rescue American hostages from the US Embassy in Tehran in 1980. The mission failed due to an overly complex plan, inadequate Special Operations Aviation training for the accompanying aircrews, a collision between a rescue helicopter and a refueling tanker aircraft, and mechanical problems that reduced the number of available helicopters from the initial eight to only five (one fewer than minimum required) before the mission contingent left the refueling site to stage for the attack.
After that failure, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the “Nightstalkers”, was founded and made responsible for the transporting of special forces personnel to and from Areas of Operation.
In 1999, writer Mark Bowden published the book Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, which chronicles the events that surrounded the October 3, 1993 Battle of Mogadishu.The book, in a short brief, relates Delta Force’s involvement in the operations that occurred before the events leading to the battle. The book was turned into a film by director Ridley Scott in 2001.
In 2006, Bowden published another book, Guests Of The Ayatollah: The First Battle In America’s War With Militant Islam, which chronicles the events of the Iran hostage crisis. The book contains first-hand accounts of Delta Force’s involvement in the failed rescue attempt. An accompanying piece on The Atlantic Monthly’s web site contains pictures and interview videos from some of the participants.
1st SFOD-D has also participated in operations in a variety of foreign locations, including in Beirut, Lebanon and extensively in Central America, fighting the Salvadoran revolutionary group Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and assisting the CIA-funded Contras in Nicaragua.