The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets because of their distinctive service headgear, are a special operations force of the United States Army tasked with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, 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 (Latin: To Liberate the Oppressed), a reference to one of their primary missions, training and advising foreign indigenous forces.
Currently, Special Forces units are deployed in Operation Enduring 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.
On a wreath of the colors (Argent and Sable), two arrows saltire-wise Argent.[clarification needed] 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), but was changed from gold to silver to create visual harmony with the shield, as well as to make a difference from the collar insignia.
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.
The crest is the crossed arrow collar insignia (branch insignia) of the First Special Force, World War II. The motto translates to “To free the opressed.”
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.
The Green Beret
The origins of the Green Beret which Special Forces personnel wear can be traced to Scotland during the Second World War. U.S. Army Rangers and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives who underwent training from the British Commandos were awarded the Green Beret upon completion of the grueling and revolutionary commando course. However, this green beret was not authorized by the U.S. 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 not originally authorized for wear by the U.S. Army. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized them for use exclusively by the U.S. 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 green berets 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.”
“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 of 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 wearers 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 performed and jointly (with Moore) written by Barry Sadler, who was himself a Green Beret, The Green Berets produced and directed by, 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.
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 Iraq and Afghanistan. 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 had been to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Basic Element – SF Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) composition
Members of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) recon the remote Shok Valley of Afghanistan where they fought an almost seven-hour battle in a remote mountainside village.
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 in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2007.
The ODB, or “B-Team,” is the headquarters element of a Special Forces company, and it is usually composed of 11–13 soldiers. While the A-team typically conducts direct operations, the purpose of the B-Team is to support the company’s A-Teams in both in the garrison and in the field. When deployed, in line with their support role, B-Teams are usually found in more secure rear areas. However, under some circumstances a B-Team will deploy into a hostile area, usually to coordinate the activities of multiple A-Teams.
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.
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 (NBC) 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
The ODC, or “C-Team,” is the headquarters element of a Special Forces Battalion. As such, it is a command and control unit with operations, training, signals and logistic support responsibilities to its three subordinate line companies. A Lieutenant Colonel (O-5) commands the battalion and the C-Team and the battalion Command Sergeant Major (E-9) is the senior NCO of the battalion and the C-Team. 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 four companies: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Headquarters/Support
SF Group strength
Until recently an SF Group has consisted of three Battalions, but since the Department of Defense has authorized U.S. 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 Strategic Reconnaissance (SR).
1st Special Forces Group – Headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington along with its 2nd and 3rd Battalions, its 1st Battalion is forward deployed at Torii Station, Okinawa. 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 Bragg, North Carolina. 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 Campbell, Kentucky. The 5SFGA is oriented towards the Middle East, Persian Gulf, 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 Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The 7SFGA is theoretically oriented towards Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, 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 2016, 7SFGA will relocate from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.
10th Special Forces Group – Headquartered at Fort Carson, Colorado along with its 2nd, 3rd and newly added 4th Battalions, its 1st Battalion is forward deployed in the Panzer Kaserne (Panzer Barracks) in Böblingen near Stuttgart, Germany. The 10SFGA is theoretically oriented towards Europe, mainly Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon 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 Draper, Utah, with companies in Washington, West Virginia, Ohio, Rhode Island, Colorado, California, and Texas, 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 Birmingham, Alabama, with battalions in Alabama (1st Battalion), Mississippi (2nd Battalion), and Florida (3rd Battalion), with assigned Companies and Detachments in North Carolina ; Chicago, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; and Baltimore, Maryland. 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 Mexico, and the southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Orientation towards the region is shared with 7SFGA.
6th Special Forces Group – Active from 1963 to 1971. Based at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Assigned to Southwest Asia (Iraq, Iran, etc.) and Southeast Asia. Many of the 103 original Son tay raider 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
Main article: United States Army Special Forces selection and training
The United States Army Special Forces soldier trains on a regular basis over the course of their entire career. The initial formal training program for entry into Special Forces is divided into four phases collectively known as the Special Forces Qualification Course or, informally, the “Q Course”. The length of the Q Course changes depending on the applicant’s primary job field within Special Forces and their assigned foreign language capability but will usually last between 55 to 95 weeks. After successfully completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Forces soldiers are then eligible for many advanced skills courses. These include, but are not limited to, the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course (MFF), the Combat Diver Qualification Course and the Special Forces Sniper Course (SFSC).
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.
Vietnam era officers’ Special Forces MOS incorporated the branch (infantry, artillery etc.) MOS with a 3 prefix indicating Special Forces qualified. Hence, an infantry officer MOS, 1542, would become 31542. See the following Army Regulation.
AR 611-103(1967) Five-character military occupational specialties
a. A prefix digit or letter added to a basic MOS creates an additional five-character MOS which carries the appropriate prefix title indicated in AR 611-101. The basic four-digit MOS with its proper title is retained as originally awarded. The provisions for the award, designation as primary, withdrawal, and reporting of MOS apply equally to both four and five-character MOS. Six-character MOS are not authorized; i.e., two prefix characters will not be added to a basic MOS to form a six-character MOS.
b. Example; 1542 Infantry Unit commander becomes 31542 Special Forces. DA Form 66, will reflect both the basic MOS code and, when appropriate five- character code. The four-digit must be awarded, prior to or simultaneous with the five-digit MOS code.
c. The following special provisions pertain to prefix digit 3, Special Forces, will be awarded to officer personnel who successfully complete the Special Forces Officer Course, 33-G-F3, or who have acquired knowledge of the characteristics, capabilities, and limitations of Special Forces organizations through practical experience and are considered qualified by the Commanding General USAJFKCENSPWAR or the Special Forces Group Commander to perform the duties of Special Forces Officer.