The United States government has tried their best to keep the facts about their Special Forces and what they do as secretive as possible. However, in a country that is so proud of its military and their lore, quite a bit has managed to leak out anyway. More recently, the Navy SEALs have been very much in the spotlight due to the raid on the compound holding Osama Bin Laden, as well as the subsequent movies and books about it. However, much of what you have heard recently about the SEALs may not be the whole truth, and there are many other equally interesting Special Forces that have fallen under the radar in recent years.
10. The American Green Berets are a Nod to British Royal Commandos During World War 2
The Green Berets are one of the most famous special forces divisions in the world, and one of the two most well known in the US army, the other being the US Army Rangers. The Green Berets were originally formed as a unit for performing unconventional warfare when needed, getting a lot of their original work during Vietnam, where they fought with guerilla tactics and trained those Vietnamese on the American side to do the same. However, while the classic green beret is synonymous with American special forces, it is actually really a nod of respect to the British soldiers that inspired their existence in the first place.
The green beret was designed by a former Special Forces Major Herbert Brucker, who had been with the OSS, and was very familiar with the British Commandos during World War II, who wore green berets as standard issue. The green beret was actually not officially sanctioned at first, and was mostly worn during combat training to sort of build morale. Eventually, President Kennedy expanded the role of the Special Forces in Cold War operations, and officially asked them to wear the green beret from then on. The Green Berets now specially honor Kennedy, laying a wreath at his gravesite every year in remembrance of the respect he showed them.
9. The US Does Not Track Confirmed Kills For Any Branch, Special Forces or Otherwise
Not that long ago, late SEAL sniper Chris Kyle had a book published that self aggrandized his life and role in a way that was likely not particularly approved by military command, and doesn’t really befit the generally humble and secretive role special forces are supposed to take on. Regardless, he quickly became a folk hero in certain circles, partly for his claims that he had the most confirmed sniper kills in history. Now, we should first point out that snipers today have a lot of very advanced equipment and math on their side, so comparing them to the achievements of the past is hardly fair. Further, since then other snipers who had put their humility on the back-burner have claimed to have even higher kill counts.
The problem is that their entire premise is bunk – there are no “confirmed kill” lists in the military. The military does keep track of incidents, but they are mostly going on the word of the soldiers involved, and don’t keep a kill tally anywhere. They don’t have the time, or would take the effort if they did, to go through every incident a soldier was involved in and keep a kill tally. So when a soldier says they have a certain amount of kills, some people would just take them at their word, as they trust a military man. But it is easy for our memories to play tricks on us and to exaggerate our accomplishments even in our own minds. The truth is that confirmed kill counts simply aren’t a thing, except in the individual’s mind.
8. The Navy SEALs Have Something Called “Hell Week” That is Perhaps Even Worse Than It Sounds
The United States Navy SEALs have been in the news the past few years for several high profile operations, and because of the media spotlight that Chris Kyle turned on himself and the SEAL community. They are known for being incredibly tough, absurdly well trained, and some of the best of the best even among fellow Special Forces groups. The way they get there is a selection process that is straight out of hell. The final part of the initial training involves a five and a half day period designated as ‘hell week’, where you get less than four hours of sleep a night, and are constantly subjected to grueling training in the most rigorous conditions.
Trainees can expect to get covered in mud, stand in ocean water, stand still while soaking on the beach, paddle boats, carry boats over their heads, do all sorts of physical exercises and training drills, deal with horrible cold, physical pain and discomfort, complete exhaustion in some cases, and extreme mental fatigue. All of this is expected to be done while extremely sleep deprived, and good decision making is very important during the final part of the training. To make matters even harder, the drill instructors will stand nearby with bullhorns and encourage people to drop out, to mimic the voice in their head that tells them to quit. The SEALs believe that mentally wanting it is more important than anything, so this negative encouragement ensures that the trainee really does want it more than anything.
7. The “Night Stalkers” are Especially Good at Nighttime Operations, Helicopter Use, and Awesome Names
The Night Stalkers are a Special Forces division of the Army whose job is almost entirely to fly helicopters. Some of the larger helicopters that carry multiple people will also have a trained Night Stalker medic on board as well. These forces got their name because of their skill at getting to areas undetected at night, although they are known for being good at stealth at any time of day or in any region, and are known for their motto “Night Stalker’s Don’t Quit.”
As a helicopter force, their job is to get into places where reinforcement, supplies, or evacuation of some kind is needed, often having to make their way through hostile territory to get there. This has made them very good at making their way through incredibly dangerous weather, terrain and enemy emplacements, in order to backup the US military as needed. (Quick note: if you’ve seen or read Black Hawk Down, the Black Hawk helicopters were piloted by Night Stalkers.)
They are known for comprehensive but quick training that is constantly reinforced on a regular basis, bringing new people up to readiness quicker than some other special forces – but no less good at their jobs. Many people may also not realize that while the SEALs got the lion’s share of the glory, they relied on the Night Stalkers for insertion and extraction when they raided the compound where terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden was hiding.
6. Delta Force is So Secretive You Aren’t Even Supposed to Know They Exist
Delta Force is one of the strangest Special Force units, and possibly the most elite of them all – if nothing else, they are the most secretive. Delta Force members are not supposed to tell anyone the unit exists, with threat of prison, and understand well the consequences and the importance of keeping their role a secret. When a Delta Force member dies, the United States Army will not admit that they were a member of Delta Force, as the unit is supposed to be kept that secret. It is one of those open secrets, such as the DEFCON levels – something that is still the highest level of classified – that somehow leaked out anyways.
However, despite their existence being leaked, this doesn’t mean the government has any desire to give any details about what they do. We do know that they were the ones who captured Saddam Hussein, and who also took out several top leaders in Iraq shortly after, but very little is known about them. Unlike the SEALs, they are not compartmentalized. They are more like a shadow force that operates almost alongside and within the regular army, so that they can perform more longterm operations as needed – whereas the SEALs tend to be used for more quick in-and-out missions. While some wonder why the SEALs get all the glory, the focus on the SEALs helps Delta Force to keep their mission and work as secretly as possible.
5. US Special Forces Have to Know Multiple Languages On Top of Having Amazing Combat Capabilities
Most people tend to think of Special Forces as just highly trained killers who specialize in survival skills as well. They are often believed to be incredibly physically fit, and mentally sound, but popular media often doesn’t portray them as particularly intellectual in their pursuits. More often than not, it focuses mostly on the aspect of their prowess as warriors and their hardened emotions that allow them to make tough choices in combat and kill others before they kill them.
However, to get into the Special Forces you have to be the best of the best, and this does not just include physical characteristics. Anyone who wants to be in the Special Forces, especially in a leadership position, needs to clearly demonstrate their intelligence, especially under pressure. And Special Forces training includes intensive training in another language, usually one that will be used commonly in the region you are deploying to. You are not just expected to be tough and strong, you are also expected to be bilingual so you can communicate with the locals and even blend in if necessary. Being in the Special Forces is often more about the mental aspect than the physical. As we talked about earlier when discussing the Navy SEALs, many in leadership believe that the drive to be a part of the Special Forces is far more important than your physical fitness.
4. Some US Special Forces are Allowed to Grow Beards and Have More Lax Discipline in General
Some US Special Forces are actually allowed to grow beards. This is partly due to the Special Forces units often having more individuality and lax discipline as part of their structure – the most elite people tend to be less likely to want to submit to strict orders and the stifling of creative thought. However, apart from the unique personality of Special Forces, there are also strategic reasons for beard-wearing in the Middle Eastern theaters of war, specifically. Many Middle Easterners simply do not respect a man who does not have a full beard, and for those who are in positions where they constantly interact with regular, everyday folk in the towns, it can make it difficult to get respect or blend in without a beard. And more often then not, these roles end up in the hands of the Special Forces.
This has always been controversial, as many in the regular units feel it is giving the Special Forces privileges they should not have, and some in leadership believe that it can eventually lead to a breakdown in order and discipline where troops wear less and less of the proper uniform, and altogether take their jobs too casually. Recently the United States military cracked down and started ordering those who are not in positions where they regularly interact with people in the towns to start shaving their beards, whether they were Special Forces or not. In order to ensure proper discipline, they felt that if you don’t have a strategic reason for having a beard, you should not be sporting one. Of course, some in the Special Forces were not happy at all to hear this.
3. The US has a Division of Special Forces Who Specialize in Predicting the Weather
It’s something you really don’t think about, but when you do stop to think about it, it seems rather obvious. Of course the United States military cannot afford to rely on the National Weather Service for accurate weather predictions. They often need very quick and accurate calculations in very tense situations where lives are on the line and time is of the essence. These situations often occur in remote areas where any kind of weather service is little to nonexistent, or simply isn’t close to accurate enough to make calls that could decide the fate of human lives.
And that is where the Special Operations Weather Technicians, or SOWT, come in. They are tasked regularly with keeping a constant eye on the weather in new and hostile environments, and sometimes have to make decisions with very little to go on. In some rare cases, they have been parachuted in in order to assess the situation to see if a safe escape by helicopter was possible in dangerously foggy conditions. They are often brought along as a precaution when weather is bad, in order to provide input to helicopter pilots on how to avoid the most dangerous weather and bring everyone safely back to base. While most people have not heard of them, they are a vital and integral part of the United States Special Forces.
2. The US Unified Command Structure For All Special Forces was Only Established in 1987
The United States Special Operations Command, or SOCOM for short, is something you would think existed for a long time. They are tasked with coordinating all of the various and sundry Special Forces units, making sure that they can all work properly together, and don’t accidentally bump into each other while performing operations. While it would seem like common sense to have something like this to begin with, sadly that was not the case.
Back in the 1980s the Iranians were holding hostages, and Delta Force botched a rescue effort rather badly. Not to besmirch Delta Force, though; the blame for the failure was put on the fact that several Special Operations groups were not properly coordinating together, which lead the mission to become disorganized. After this disaster, the United States leadership decided that they simply could not afford such a thing to happen again – our most elite units and all the training we put in are no good if we cannot keep them properly organized and coordinated. We do them a disservice that way. Since then, the United States has had a unified command for Special Forces to ensure such problems do not occur again.
1. The US Pararescue Force is Often Tasked with Recovering Astronauts After Water Landings
The Pararescue force is one of the most elite in the United States Special Forces. While they are not as aggrandized by the media, as they are not really known for combat, their skills are some of the most important, and very, very few make the cut. The entire strength of the Pararescue at any given time is only about 500 men, which is incredibly selective even for Special Forces. They are intensively trained in the ability to parachute from all kinds of distances and into all kinds of conditions, are skilled at survival, and are often trained with medical skills to help those they are trying to tend to behind the lines.
When they were in their earliest days, the Pararescue were volunteer medics from the army who dropped into a deep jungle to care for wounded people who had bailed out of a plane near the Chinese border. Since then they have been tasked with being on hand to rescue astronauts from the water on splashdown, and once rescued Neil Armstrong and astronaut David R. Scott when they had to make an unexpected landing in 1966. More recently, they have seen a lot of activity in the Middle East, rescuing civilians from landslides while braving horrific weather conditions and risking enemy attacks at the same time.