Top 10 Military Specialty Schools in the United States


5.  Ranger School


Mission: Rangers are hardcore.  These men are the Army’s elite shock troops.  If there is an enemy that needs to be assaulted, and he’s entrenched within an otherwise-impenetrable stronghold – it’s the Rangers you call on to dig them out.  Their motto is “Rangers lead the way.”  The Rangers are the U.S. Army’s elite light infantry. They can be rapidly deployed to hot spots around the globe, and provide America with a swift strike capability.  These guys can be considered the heavy hitters of the special operations community.

Training:  Ranger school is a combat leadership course, and is regarded as one of the most physically, and mentally, demanding military schools in the entirety of the armed forces.  The officers and NCO’s of Ranger formations are required to graduate from this training. The purpose of the school is to develop combat leadership (accomplishing the mission under the stress and hardship common to combat).  This stress is replicated – physically and mentally – by the instructors, as students are pushed to the physical limits of their bodies and kept under the constant pressure of having to succeed at each stage of training.   Students will train, on average, about 20 hours a day.  There’s little rest and, typically, students will only eat once or twice a day. The 61-day course is conducted in three phases, at different locations around the country.

The first phase of training takes place at Fort Benning, Georgia.  The purpose of the phase is “designed to assess a soldier’s physical stamina, mental toughness, leadership abilities, and establishes the tactical fundamentals required for follow-on phases of Ranger School”. In other words, they run a student ragged to see who can take it. The first three days of this training features the Ranger Assessment Phase.  About 60% of the soldiers that drop out of Ranger training will do so during this period.  Students are put through their paces in a variety of tests.  These include: a physical fitness test, a water survival assessment, a land navigation test, and a 15-mile forced march.  In addition, students will receive training in patrolling, air assault/airborne refresher training, basic demolition training, etc.  Failure to pass any test will result in being dropped from the school.

The second or mountain phase of training takes place at Camp Merrill, Georgia.   The emphasis in this phase is to teach students the various techniques utilized in mountainous environments.  The physical tempo that began in the Benning phase is ramped up even more, with students being tasked with more leadership roles within their squads (leading patrols, etc.).  The rugged terrain only adds to the physical hardships that the students will endure, as they learn such skills related to employing an infantry platoon for mountain warfare.

The third, or swamp, phase takes place at Elgin Air Force Base, Florida.  This training phase is meant to teach students how to operate in a rainforest/swamp environment.  Students will learn techniques for waterborne operations, small boat employment, stream crossings, and dealing with exotic wildlife (like alligators); all the while being under intense physical and mental stress.  All of their training will culminate in a major exercise that simulates an assault on an island stronghold.

Upon completion of the final exercise, and evaluation by instructors and fellow students, those soldiers who make the grade are awarded with the coveted Ranger tab – a symbol that soldiers are authorized to wear permanently with their uniforms.  It’s interesting to note that 90% of Army’s top echelons of officers are Ranger School graduates.

4.  Army Special Forces Qualification Course


Mission: The United States Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, are perhaps the best-known outfit associated with the term “special forces,” if for no other reason than John Wayne made a movie about them.  These soldiers, however, are anything but Hollywood actors.  Green Berets have a number of missions they have been tasked with.  These include: conduct unconventional warfare, provide internal defense training for foreign nations/groups (a primary mission of SF), special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, and direct action operations. These elite soldiers are often the guys that train the guerrilla forces that are opposing governments that the United States is not fond of (in a deniable fashion, of course).  Operating in 12-man A-Teams, Green Berets are the “varsity” squad of special force operators.

Training:  The Army Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) or Q course is divided into 4 phases and can take between 55 to 95 weeks to complete, depending on a student’s aptitude in certain military specialties (especially a foreign language).  The first phase of the SFQC is assessment and selection, and takes place at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.  This is the phase that will determine if a soldier will be eligible to remain in the SFQC.  Lasting 24 days, this training is very similar to the first phase of training found at Ranger School (many SF candidates happen to be Ranger qualified, and ALL SF students must be Airborne qualified in order to begin the 2nd phase of SFQC).  Students in the first phase will endure intense mental and physical training that is designed to test their mettle along SF attributes (known as the “Whole Man”).  The training will include numerous land navigation courses (timed, in all weather, over rugged terrain), team endurance (carrying telephone poles and jeeps), swim assessments, IQ tests, foreign language tests, and the like.  Obviously, failure to pass any test can result in dismissal from the course.  Upon successful completion of the first phase, students are then evaluated by the training cadre.  Students must be selected by the final selection board to continue training.  Those that are not selected are given the chance to try again at a later date.

The second phase of training takes place after selected students determine their SF military occupational specialty, which SF group they want to serve with, and what foreign language they want to specialize in.  Once all of this is decided, the second phase begins, which is 18 – 24 weeks of intensive foreign language study.  Students will need to gain a sufficient mastery of a foreign language to obtain a minimum rating on the Oral Proficiency Interview.  This phase, and the remaining training phases, take place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Upon successful completion of phase two, students will head back into the field for phase three.  This phase focuses on small unit tactics and survival skills.  This phase lasts 13 weeks (including the three-week Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape [SERE] school).  This phase teaches students how to conduct raids, ambushes, patrols and other small unit operations.  This also includes how to plan such missions.  Further, students will spend a good amount of time executing these plans in the field.

The fourth phase of instruction will find students branching off into training that is geared toward their specific military occupation within the SF.  These are: weapons sergeant, engineering sergeant, communications sergeant, and medical sergeant.  For officers, the occupational designation is detachment commander.  Specialty training takes 16 weeks (48 weeks for a medical sergeant).  Finally, after completion of their specialty training, there is a four-week exercise – called Robin Sage – that puts all of a student’s skills to the test in a realistic exercise.  Upon successful completion of this very extensive training, students are awarded Green Berets, and usually assigned to an operation SF A-team.

3.  Basic Reconnaissance Course


Mission: Marines are special, and Recon Marines are a special kind of special.  These Marines are trained to be the eyes and ears of larger Marine combat formations and provide “special operations” capabilities.  If you need a small team of men to infiltrate enemy territory, recon the area, blow up a few targets, and maybe take down a bad guy or two, force recon is exactly what you need.  It’s interesting, but they don’t really have an equivalent – in terms of primary mission and purpose- among the other services.  Until recently, their mission was solely related to near and deep reconnaissance of the battlespace for larger Marine forces.  However, with the pressure to field a Marine component for the Special Operations Command, Marine force recon units have been restructured to provide support that goes beyond Marine-specific operations.  Nevertheless, these are the Marines’ most highly trained operators – on par (in my humble opinion) with any other special operations unit in the armed forces.  They are jump, scuba, jungle, mountain, SERE, etc. qualified, and capable of performing just about any mission that they are tasked with.  Their motto is “swift, silent, deadly.”

Training: To this day, the Marine Corps are the redheaded step-child when it comes to military funding.  As a result, the Marine Corps lacks the ability to build and maintain its own dedicated facilities for reconnaissance training.  As a result, after their initial reconnaissance training, Marines are sent to various military schools (some of which are on this list) that are maintained by other branches of the armed forces, to round out their training.

Nevertheless, becoming a force-recon Marine begins with a two-day selection process conducted at Camp Pendleton, California.  The first day begins in the pool, where candidates must complete a 25-meter underwater swim and rifle retrieval (sometimes cement blocks are used instead).  Next, it’s the tower drop and 30 minutes of treading water.  Generally, other survival techniques (such as flotation) are required.  Once this is completed, candidates must perform and pass (1st class) a Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test.  The second day entails running an obstacle course several times (with instructors judging how you go about completing the course).  Finally, candidates are required to complete a 10-mile run (in combat gear, including a rucksack) over hilly terrain and sand.  Failure to keep up, or to pass any stage of testing, will result in being dropped from selection.  Upon successful completion (including the psych tests and subsequent interviews), candidates are usually sent to an MART (Marines Awaiting Recon Training) platoon, located at Camp Pendleton.

Candidates will spend anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months in a MART platoon, depending on slots that are available at the Basic Reconnaissance Course, and the fitness level of the individual Marine.  This stage of training is all about physical conditioning, and the Marines will get plenty of it during their time in an MART.

When space becomes available, candidate Marines will advance to the Basic Reconnaissance Course, located at the Marine’s School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton.  During this 65-day course, Marines will endure 16-hour training days, that are intended to acclimate them to the conditions related to amphibious warfare.  Marines will undergo intensive training in weaponry organic to amphibious warfare units, techniques for calling in naval, air, and artillery gunfire, and operational doctrines associated with amphibious reconnaissance.  Students will train equally during the night and day times.  Further, students are expected to master the skills necessary for operating behind enemy lines.  Students will be trained on helicopter and small boat operations/insertions.  Finally, there is an emphasis on small-unit training as well.  Upon successful completion of this phase of training, Marines are eligible to continue in the pipeline.  This training will include time at the U.S. Army’s Airborne School, Marine Corps Combat Diver Course and usually level C SERE School.  In total, Marines will spend about 1 to 2 years training to become a fully-certified reconnaissance Marine.

2.  Delta Operator Training Course


Mission: Clouded in secrecy and innuendo, there has been more speculation about Delta operators and their training than hard fact.  As such, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t add to the mythos.  Actually, over the years, there has been a bit of solid information regarding these secretive operatives.  Without much doubt, they are America’s premier anti-terrorist operators.

Training:  Take into consideration that the majority of soldiers who make up the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (AKA Delta Force or The Unit) come from the ranks of other special force units (about 70% from the 75th Ranger Regiment), meaning that they have already been trained to an nth degree.  Delta selection, and training, takes these warriors to the next level.  After a grueling selection regimen (similar to other special forces’ weeding-out processes), and subsequent selection by Delta evaluators, a soldier will undergo six months of training, dubbed the Operator Training Course (OTC).  Information regarding where this course is located, and the precise details of the training, is guarded.  What is known is that this course features training that will develop soldiers into the finely-honed anti-terrorist specialists that Delta requires.  Soldiers will be drilled in marksmanship, demolitions, espionage trade craft (how to make dead drops, surveillance, etc.), executive/VIP protection techniques, intensive hostage rescue techniques and much more.

The exact details of their training routine are classified, as are much of Delta’s activities in general.  Nevertheless, with the training that is necessary to even be considered for the Unit, not to mention the additional six months of training that is required upon selection, this special forces unit is one of the most difficult to join.

1.  Basic Underwater Demolition Course


Mission: SEALs are currently the poster boys of the Special Forces community – and with good reason.  It was SEAL Team 6 that recently took down Osama bin Laden.  Not to mention the dramatic SEAL takedown of some pirates that were holding hostages, with SEAL snipers taking out two pirates in a life boat simultaneously, from the fantail of a Navy warship, while underway!  These are the guys that really inspire Hollywood.  While maritime operations are their forte, don’t assume these men are confined to the water and the beach.  As the bin Laden raid shows, they can operate wherever they are needed – sea, air, and land (hence their nickname).

Training:  Sailors who hope to become Navy SEALs will spend about a year in training to earn the title, and join the ranks of a team.  Every sailor must successfully complete the Basic Underwater Demolitions course (24 weeks long), a parachutist training program (such as the Army’s Airborne school), and the SEAL Qualification Training Program (which is about 28 weeks long).

BUDs is essentially where it all begins.  The training is broken down into three phases at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California.  The idea is to find out who has the mental and physical fortitude to be a Navy SEAL (as well as the required leadership and teamwork characteristics).  The first phase, covering physical training, lasts about seven weeks and culminates with Hell Week.  Most candidates will drop during this phase of training, which features such activities as surf torture and running miles (with a team of other candidates) carrying a rubber boat.  The physical (and mental) pressure is kept at a high tempo, with very little rest in between.  The dropout rate is about 70% to 80%, with at least one class failing to graduate anyone!

The second phase of training lasts eight weeks, and focuses on diving.  The qualifications for this stage of training are exacting, and will test a sailor’s waterborne skills to the maximum.  This stage of training, due to safety reasons associated with diving, is performed under less physical and mental stress than the previous phase.  Students will learn various diving techniques, usage of dive equipment and vehicles, etc.  Failure to complete this stage will result in either being recycled, or dropped from the program.  The third phase of training in BUDs features land warfare training, and takes about 10 weeks.  This phase has sailors learning the finer points of small-unit tactics.  Successful completion of all three phases of BUDs only means that a sailor is allowed to move to the next phase of his training to become a member of the SEAL fraternity.

BUD’s is one of the most demanding courses that an individual can embark upon.  And it’s only the beginning for sailors wanting to become Navy SEALs.

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    • There is some good info but a lot of wrong information as well. The Rangers are not as high and the underwater training is toughest in the PJ schools and that is a proven fact. Force Marine recon is also too low. I am not going to get into the facts but hello Hollywood is the name of this article and not the facts.

  1. Very well written and interesting list. For anyone who enjoyed this I would recommend “Surviving the Cut”.
    I don’t believe that there are currently new episodes being made but you can likely find reruns of these great documentarys on The Discovery Channel or

    • Lee Standberry on

      They are considered para-military operators and outside the scope of the U.S. Military (though most of its operators were or are military)

    • Uh, I think he was just one terrorist. The war on Terror will never end. There will always be another terrorist, or terror group. Once all of Al Qaida is killed, there will be another group, then another, then another. Too many people are making too much money and too much power is being accumulated by those in power that they will find a reason why we are always in danger. Greater danger than yesterday… Requiring greater expenses…

  2. I was at a meeting at the Coronado base on the last day of BUDs Hell Week (incidentally, the next class was checking in that same day). It was unreal. After I left, they lit off smoke bombs on the beach–you could see it all the way across the bay.

  3. so the American government is really trying to cover their bases with propaganda, eh? Even the internals must be realizing that the military is a terrible profession

  4. The article begins with a reference to the length of the War on Terror. I suggest that the very premise of the war cries out for review given the degree of success achieved using the incredibly talented and committed forces that have been assigned to it. I don’t oppose the objectives, just the premise that it must be approached only as a war. America is a multi-dimensional nation and has contributed tremendously to many facets of life in the modern world. I worry that you have too narrow a focus in your response to the violent islamo-facist conspiracy. My own country contributed aggressive military forces to Afghanistan for about seven years. The size of that effort pales beside the history of our participation in two European wars but it has consumed most of the public support that was generated by the attacks in 2001.

    Your specialized military forces are among the best in the world but you also have many superlative training schools that provide more than just boots on the ground. I was hoping for some insight into other areas such as intelligence analysis, remote sensing, precision weaponry and small unit leadership skills. The strongest invisible Ninjas in the world can’t help you if you can’t find your enemy. The true heroes in the bin Laden saga were the intelligence analysts who doggedly ran down millions of leads over some ten years. Seal Team 6 didn’t find the target, they simply delivered the coup de grace at the end of a very long process.

  5. I read this thinking it might surprise me. But no, American military training is not that great. Our paratroopers in the UK go through similar selections as your special forces. Put the gruelling SAS selection in the mix and there is no contest.

    • My country isn’t the USA. Our Special Forces are called Joint Task Force 2. One thing is difficult to factor out of this and that is the tendency of each country to discount the abilities of your allies. The British are legendary in this regard but it will take us (and the Australians and New Zealanders) a long time to forget the incompetence of the leadership you provided about a hundred years ago.

      It can be argued that the emphasis on special forces is out of proportion to the actual results they produce on the battle field.

      • Lee Standberry on

        @ Johnny Canuck – two points. First, I’ve had the distinction of working with officers and troops for other countries during my time in service – notably Australian and British (don’t recall any Canadians, but who knows). So I would agree that often we can become nation centric in our views of the capabilities of other nations – though i’m not one of those people. I fully recognize – as i’ve stated elsewhere – what other military formations are capable of.

        Secondly, I totally agree with your second point. Media coverage these days would have one believe that special forces alone are the predominant formation engaged in combat operations. The fact of the matter is that there are a whole lot of other people active in making even special forces operations successful. This includes (as you mentioned earlier) intelligence, logistics, and even direct and indirect support from regular forces.

    • Lee Standberry on

      UK paratroopers (and Royal Marines, SAS and the like) receive excellent training. In fact, in terms of training, leadership, dedication and overall effectiveness; I would rate UK military forces among the best in the world – especially considering the small size of your nation. That said, the US military has a far longer reach and more lethal bite than our brothers in arms across the moat that is the Atlantic ocean.

    • I don’t see the point of bickering over this sort of topic. The United States And England are allies, so why does it even matter if one country has a better Special Operation Forces. Also most american Special Operations Forces are based on the British S.A.S. (ex. Delta Force) so their missions and training are going to much similar. So quit acting like schmucks

  6. SAS don’t get trained, they get tortured, considering most SAS are hardened paratroopers, and still most fail. The US no doubt has the most powerful army, but the training in a lot of the forces is weak. I mean, you have women paratroopers. No woman has ever passed our paratroopers selection, and never will. Training doesn’t start until you prove you will not break… in the US, your paratroopers simply go to jump school. All said and done, the British army is one of the best trained in the world..

    • Lee Standberry on

      Well Ricky, in regards to Paratroopers – women in the army are able to be jump qualified, but they cannot serve in line units, such as infantry. They can only serve in support units. I haven’t looked at their TOE lately, so i’m assuming this is still true. Plus, you really can’t compare airborne troops to the SAS. Essentially, airborne (while having a dedicated mission centered around vertical insertion) are not special forces and SAS is. SAS is more comparable to Rangers or perhaps SEALs

      • I’d think that SAS is more comparable to Delta. I could be wrong but it is my understanding that Beckwith came up with the idea for Delta after spending time training with the 22nd SAS Regiment.

        • Lee Standberry on

          at SeanP – you’re right, I took a look at SAS’s mission orientation and perform operations probably more associated with Delta. However these days, especially with US special forces falling under a joint command (or at least units tasked to a joint command), you have all of these guys doing cross branch operations that fall outside of the scope of their normal mission orientation. Take for example Marine Force Recon. Their mission is clearly defined as near and deep recon operations in support of larger Marine formations. Now they can be tasked with training rebels somewhere (traditionally a Green Beret type mission).

        • But with the most current wars that we’ve had, USMC recon haven’t been doing much more of their school-trained recon missions than regular infantry-related patrols.

          The training is hard…but the individual doesn’t always turn out ideal in the end.

  7. Only read the top 5, pretty accurate but a few things I noticed I thought worthy of pointing out. The first of which is that although the SEALs are the “poster boys” for the special operations community, 1st SFOD-Delta attachment is in fact regarded higher than the SEAL teams. So regarding this list, Delta should actually be above SEAL. On the flip side of that argument, this article failed to mention Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) aka SEAL Team 6, which would be the Navy’s version of Delta’s equal. That being said, 1st SFOD-Delta and DEVGRU being each others Army v. Navy equals, the SEALs equal in the Army would actually be the Special Forces, nicknamed “Green Berets”. Therefore Army Special Forces or the “Green Berets” should actually be listed higher than Marine Reconnaissance. Now if you were looking for an “equal” for these Tier 1/2 Army/Navy units you might have mentioned Marine Special Operations Command also know as MARSOC. Also, under the Army SF there was a comment saying they are “probably the best known outfit associated with the term “Special Forces”, if for no other reason then that John Wayne made a movie about them” is severely incorrect, seeing as the US Army Special Forces is the ONLY unit deemed “Special Forces” as all the rest are consider Special Operations. So when referring to Special Forces, you are in fact referring to US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and when referring to other units such as SEALs, RECON, or Rangers, they are Special Operations Units operating under SOCOM or JSOC (Special Operations Command / Joint Special Operations Command). Lastly, the Rangers I believe you intended to refer to on this list are the men of The 75th Ranger Regiment, who operate under the Joint Special Operations Command and are the REAL Rangers that people intend to speak of of when talking about US Army Rangers. Ranger School, as you said, is a LEADERSHIP COURSE and not an induction into The 75th Ranger Regiment. Although Ranger School is indeed an extremely grueling and prestigious school, it will earn you a Ranger TAB but NOT an induction into a Ranger Battalion and will not earn you the right to call yourself a US Army Ranger. To do this you must attend RASP or Ranger Assessment and Selection Process, formerly known as RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program). ONLY THEN will you earn your Ranger SCROLL and your TAN BERET inducting you into The 75th Ranger Regiment and the privilege to fight for this prestigious special operations unit.

    • Lee Standberry on

      Great comments Dave! I would only make note of a couple of things. First, you mention the ranking of the various special operations units. I actually did that on a different list, as this one just focuses on the schools that many of these operators attend at one point or another. In this regard, Delta training and selection may in fact be more grueling than that of the SEAL’s, but there is not very much public information about it to make an accurate comparison. And it should always be noted that i have a Marine Corps bias that I freely admit to 🙂

  8. Can somebody tell me , can you become a rescue swimmer in the US when you’re from belgium , some people say yes and some people say no , or do i need to get the american nationality first? and how do you get it and how long does it take? please help me 🙁

  9. Can somebody tell me , can you become a rescue swimmer in the US when you’re from belgium , some people say yes and some people say no , or do i need to get the american nationality first? and how do you get it and how long does it take? please help me 🙁

  10. Foggydogbreath on

    I’m sorry. Any list with Airborne school on it should be questioned. And, what about sniper school? That’s no picnic.

    Airborne training was the easiest school I’ve ever attended. The physical requirements are minimal — basically, they’re a joke. That’s not to say Airborne school is not good training, it’s just not difficult. Hell, I had women training along side me. I think the longest run we did was two miles. As a Marine, I’d never run less than three miles during daily PT, so two miles was like a vacation break.

  11. Rigoberto Rivas on

    The Navy Seals are a Tier Two Socom Team and on Par With Green Berets and Then is 75th Rangers and then is Force Recon. This order is totally wrong. The Rangers Have a Tier One Unit now too.

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