History and traditions
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 Korea, Donald Blackburn, who also served with the Northern Luzon force, and Wendell Fertig, who developed a division-sized force on Mindanao.
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.
BG William P. Yarborough (left)
meets with President John F. Kennedy
at Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 12, 1961.
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.
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 Afghanistan are the major modern conflicts that have defined the Special Forces.
Southeast Asia (Indochina Wars)
Special Forces units deployed to Laos 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 Okinawa 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 Montagnards and lowland Civilian Irregular Defense Groups. The deep raid on Son Tay, attempting to recover US prisoners of war, had a ground element completely made up of Special Forces soldiers.
In the 1980s US Army Special Forces trainers were deployed to El Salvador. 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 Caribbean (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 Panama 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.
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 has been to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Basic Element - SF Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) composition
Company HQ Element - SF Operational Detachment-Bravo (ODB) composition
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 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.
Selection and training
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:
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
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 after attending a second preparatory course.
MOS, group, and language selection
Upon selection at SFAS, all Active Duty enlisted and IA 18X candidates will be briefed on:
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.
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
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.