Current US Special Operations Forces Spec Ops Post 9

The first Special Forces Group formed was the 10th and it was oriented toward Eastern Europe as the Cold War enveloped the world.  The reason is was labeled the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was to fool the Russians into thinking there were at least nine others like it, so even the unit designation was designed to deceive.  Many of the early members were men from those countries who joined the American army as a way to gain citizenship and in the hope of one day freeing their home countries.  The American Special Forces motto, De Oppresso Liber, came from these early days:  to free the oppressed.

As the Cold War became hot in other places around the world through proxies, Special Forces changed its orientation to deal with this development.  Among the first Americans in Vietnam were Special Forces advisers.  They were there to train indigenous forces in counter-insurgency, the opposite of what they had been preparing for in the 10th Special Forces Group.  It was a case of ‘reverse thinking’ something we will discuss later.  The first official casualty of the Vietnam War was a Special Forces officer.

As Vietnam heated up, Special Forces began receiving more attention.  In 1961 President Kennedy visited Fort Bragg.  He inspected the famed 82nd Airborne Division and then the Special Forces.  Impressed by what he saw and by what he had been hearing about Special Forces, the President sent a letter to the Army indicating his support for the previously unauthorized Green Beret, saying it was a:

“. . . symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”

John F. Kennedy

Nowadays the two terms, Green Beret and Special Forces, have become almost interchangeable.  Please note there is a difference between Special Forces (SF) and Special Operations Forces (SOF).  The latter is the overarching name for all the elite forces in our military, which I will diagram later.

In addition to the Green Beret, there are two other distinctive emblems of Special Forces:  the Patch and the Crest.

The patch:  The arrowhead shape of the patch represents the craft and stealth of Native Americans, America’s first warriors.  The upturned dagger represents unconventional warfare missions.  The three lightning bolts represent blinding speed and the three methods of infiltration– air, land and sea (if we get transporters, we’ll probably add a fourth).  The gold represents constancy and inspiration and the teal blue represents all the branch assignments from which SF is drawn.  The Special Forces tab on the top was introduced in the early 1980s to distinguish those soldiers who had successfully completed the Special Forces Qualification Course.

The crest:  The crossed arrows again link back to the Native Americans who were the original unconventional warriors on the North American continent.  The fighting knife represents the character of the special operations solider: straight and true.  Along the base is the motto of Special Forces:  to free the oppressed.  Crossed arrows also became branch insignia for Special Forces officers in 1987– I traded in my crossed rifles of the Infantry for crossed arrows when I was at Ft. Benning at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, which made for an interesting time.  One thing to remember about being elite is that those who are conventional often do not respect or like you.

One of the greatest misperceptions about Special Forces is that they are cold blooded killers, ‘snake-eaters’ whose primary mission is to attack the enemy.  In reality, Special Forces primary mission is to teach others.  And that teaching runs the spectrum from combat operations to civil engineering, to medical training.

Before we get into the most recent history of Special Forces, it might help to have a few definitions to understand the World of Special Forces:

Current Special Operations Forces

All elite units from all the military services consisting primarily of the following:

The Army

Special Forces:  Will be covered in more detail later.

  • Rangers:  The 75th Ranger Regiment consisting of three battalions (approximately 800 men each).  The Army’s elite light infantry strike force.  Capable of raids and short duration, intense missions.  The battalions are stationed at Ft. Lewis, WA; Hunter Army Airfield, GA; and Ft. Benning, GA.
  • Task Force 160, Special Operations Aviation Brigade:  Also known as the Nightstalkers.  Four battalions of helicopters.  They fly three types, all modified for special operations: the MH-60 Nighthawk, a modified Blackhawk helicopter; the MH-53, a larger type of helicopter primarily used for carrying troops and supplies; and the MH-6, also known as a ‘little bird’ that can be both a gunship and carry a small number of men.  Battalions are stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY; Hunter Army Airfield, GA and Joint Base McChord-Lewis in Washington State.
  • Delta Force was formed out of the Army, but now reports directly to the Department of Defense, not the Army.  This is the military’s elite counter-terrorist unit.  It is stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC.

The Navy

  • SEALs, which stands for Sea, Air, Land.  They are technically responsible for operations in water and up to the high water mark (although Osama Bin Laden was way above the high water mark).  There are two SEAL Naval Special Warfare Groups (NSWG), one at Coronado, CA and the other at Little Creek, VA.  SEAL Team Six is the Navy’s elite counter-terrorist team.  There are some other elements that are considered special operations such as Swimmer Delivery Vehicle units.

The Air Force

  • The 1st Special Operations Wing, SOW, which flies the following:
  • MC-130 Combat Talon.  A modified C-130 Hercules transport with all weather capability and Fulton Recovery system.  Flies low to the ground to infiltrate enemy territory.
  • HH-53 Pave Low Helicopter.  A modified CH-53 Jolly Green Giant with all weather, all terrain capability.  This was designed out of the failure at Desert One.
  • AC-130 Spectre Gunship.  A modified C-130 Hercules transport designed to be an airborne gun platform with a 105mm howitzer, 40 mm Bofors cannon, and two 20 mm cannon.  All these weapons fire from the craft’s left side as the plane circles

The Marines technically do not have a special operations unit as they feel the entire Corps is special.  If you ask any Marine they will tell you this most emphatically.  However, I just recently saw where the Marine Corps is proposing forming a special unit to handle counter-terrorism.

Available Now!

Inside of Army Special Forces there are five active duty Special Forces groups each consisting of three battalions with three companies in each with five A-teams in each company.

1st Group is headquartered in Ft. Lewis, Washington with one battalion forward deployed on Okinawa.  It is responsible for the Far East and southeast Asia.

3rd Group is headquartered at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  It is responsible for the Caribbean and Africa.

5th Group is headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.  It is responsible for the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

7th Group is headquartered at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.  It is responsible for Middle and South America.

10th Group is headquartered at Ft. Carson, Colorado.  It is responsible for Europe.  It has one battalion forward deployed near Stuttgart, Germany.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on September 18, 2012, in Who Dares Wins Special Operations, Write It forward and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks for these posts, Bob. It’s interesting to learn about the Special Ops and Special Forces in the various branches of the military. You make it easy to understand…much easier than military site info I’ve found online.

  2. Marines have MARSOC and Force Recon.

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