US Army Special Operations Forces

Special Forces

The United States Army Special Forces (SF), 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.

SF Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI).
SF Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI).

The original and most important mission of the Special Forces had been “unconventional warfare”, while other capabilities, such as direct action, were gradually added.

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.


Some of the Office of Strategic Services have much more similarity in terms of mission with the original U.S. 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. Colonel Aaron Bank, considered the founding commander of the first Special Forces Group created, served in OSS during World War II.

The original SF: the OSS.
The original SF: the OSS.

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 Colonel Wendell Fertig, who developed a division-sized force on Mindanao.

During the Korean War, United Nations Partisan Forces Korea operated on islands and behind enemy lines. These forces were also known as the 8086th Army Unit, and later as the Far East Command Liaison Detachment, Korea, FECLD-K 8240th AU. These troops directed North Korean partisans in raids, harassment of supply lines, and the rescue of downed pilots. Since the initial Special Forces unit, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was activated on 19 June 1952, and the Korean War broke out on 25 June 1950, U.S. Army Special Forces did not operate as a unit in that war. Experience gained in the Korean War, however, influenced the development of U.S. Army Special Forces doctrine.

U.S. Army Special Forces (SF) are, along with psychological operations detachments and Rangers, the oldest of the post-World War II Army units in the current United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Their distinctive uniform item is the green beret. Their main mission was to train and lead unconventional warfare (UW) forces, or a guerrilla force in an occupied nation that no one is allowed to know. U.S. Army Special Forces is the only U.S. Special Operations Force (SOF) trained to employ UW. The 10th Special Forces Group was the first deployed SF unit, intended to operate UW forces behind enemy lines in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. As the United States became involved in Southeast Asia, it was realized that specialists trained to lead guerrillas could also help defend against hostile guerrillas, so SF acquired the additional mission of Foreign Internal Defense (FID), working with Host Nation (HN) forces in a spectrum of counter-guerrilla activities from indirect support to combat command.

The Establishment of US Special Forces

Special Forces personnel qualify both in advanced military skills and the regional languages and cultures of defined parts of the world. While they have a Direct Action (DA) capability, other units, such as Rangers, are more focused on overt direct action raids conducted in uniform but potentially behind enemy lines. SF personnel have the training to carry out covert DA, and other

missions, including clandestine SR. Other missions include peace operations, counter-proliferation, counter-drug advisory roles, and other strategic missions. As strategic resources, they report either to USSOCOM or to a regional Unified Combatant Commands.

President John F. Kennedy and BG William P. Yarborough.
President John F. Kennedy and BG William P. Yarborough.

Special Forces were formed in 1952, initially under the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Division headed by then Brigadier General Robert A. McClure. For details of the early justification for Special Forces, see Clandestine HUMINT and Covert Action.

Special Operations Command was formed by the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Center which was activated in May 1952. The initial 10th Special Forces Group was formed in June 1952, and was commanded by Colonel Aaron Bank. Its formation coincided with the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School, which is now known as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Bank served with various Office of Strategic Services (OSS) units, including Jedburgh teams advising and leading French Resistance units before the Battle of Normandy, or the “D-Day” invasion of 6 June 1944. Bank is known as the father of the Special Forces.

The 10th SFG deployed to Bad Tölz, Germany the following September, the remaining cadre at Fort Bragg, North Carolina formed the 77th Special Forces Group, which in May 1960 became 7th Special Forces Group.

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.”

SF soldiers wearing the coveted green beret.
SF soldiers wearing the coveted green beret.

“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.”

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.

First Deployment (Cold War 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 program 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.

South East Asia

The Vietnam era saw the testing and shaping of Special Forces policy and action for the United States. The mission of the Special Forces changed rapidly in the first years from a force which had initially been used like its WWII predecessors as an internal strike force into a training force which helped develop unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency tactics. The period between 1961-1965 were especially formative.

SF and their South Vietnamese counterparts.
SF and their South Vietnamese counterparts.

The first U.S. Special Forces operations in Vietnam were in 1957, when soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group trained fifty eight Vietnamese Army soldiers at the Commando Training Center in Nha Trang. 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 U.S. prisoners of war, had a ground element completely made up of Special Forces soldiers.

The main SF unit in South Vietnam was the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). SF soldiers assigned to the 5th Group earned seventeen[citation needed] Medals of Honor in Vietnam, making it the most prominently decorated unit for its size in that conflict. Army Special Forces personnel also played predominant roles in the highly secret, multi-service Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG), with an extraordinarily large number of covert U.S. military personnel lost MIA while operating on Studies and Observations Group (SOG) reconnaissance missions.

The “Green Beret Affair”: U. S. Special Forces received a severe black eye when in July 1969 Colonel Robert Rheault, Commander of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), six subordinate Green Beret officers, including his headquarters staff intelligence officer, and a sergeant first class (SFC) were arrested for the murder of Thai Khac Chuyen, a suspected North Vietnamese double agent. It was suspected that Chuyen was providing the North Vietnamese Army information about Project GAMMA and the indigenous agents used by the 5th Special Forces Group. An attempted cover-up was uncovered when the SFC became concerned that he might be a ‘fall guy’ and contacted the local Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office chief. In September 1969 Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced that all charges would be dropped since the CIA, in the interests of national security, had refused to make its personnel available as witnesses; implying some sort of involvement.

El Salvador

In the 1980s, U.S. 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. U.S. 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 invasion was successful at deposing Noriega but led to widespread looting and lawlessness in the following weeks.


US Special Forces with Afghan President Karzai.
US Special Forces with Afghan President Karzai.

Special Forces units were the first military units (a Special Forces MSG wearing the Green Beret ring was the first person in country to seek out the Northern Alliance) that went into Afghanistan under Major General Geoffrey C Lambert after the September 11, 2001 attacks, although CIA paramilitary officers from the famed Special Activities Division (SAD) were the first U.S. forces in the country to prepare for their arrival. A number of Special Forces operational detachments worked with Afghan Northern Alliance troops, acting as a force multiplier, especially by using new techniques for precise direction of heavy air support. Since the initial invasion, the 3rd and 7th SFGs have been charged with conducting operations in Afghanistan. SF has been conducting its bread-and-butter, Unconventional Warfare, fighting the enemy in its own or influenced territory. During the daytime, SF will often be meeting with local village elders and working with the people to “win over the hearts and minds” as well as trying to identify possible Taliban spies in the villages. SF has worked closely with Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations to provide villages with food, water, medicine, medical treatment and clinics, and even education programs to the people. As well as humanitarian assistance such as building roads, schools, and wells. This also requires SF to have to constantly patrol the areas to defend the villages from Taliban attacks. At night, SF will often be hunting down the Taliban and other insurgencies in the area, conducting raids on camps, training centers, drug-smuggling operations, and other Taliban safe-havens. As well as ambushing weapons, supplies, and drug convoys and clearing hidden paths in the mountains that border Pakistan and Afghanistan, including mining operations on paths that the Taliban use, conducting reconnaissance, and capturing or killing high-ranking terrorist leaders. SF will almost always work with Afghan forces, who they have often trained. This shows the people that it is their own Afghans stopping the Taliban, not the Americans. SF soldiers will also make small changes to their appearance, such as growing beards, growing their hair longer, and wearing traditional Afghan scarfs or belts to show that they are not trying to force any American culture on them but rather that they respect their culture and traditions.


Just like in Afghanistan, SF were the first military units in Iraq after the initial entry of JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) and the CIA. 10th SFG was heavily deployed to Northern Iraq, where they, along with CIA/SAD officers contacted, organized, and trained Kurdish, anti-Saddam Forces. During the initial invasion, 10th SFG and CIA/SAD officers led one of the most successful campaigns in Iraq, the Group along with its Kurdish allies defeated six Iraqi Army Divisions with limited air support and no SF soldiers were killed. The joint Kurdish-Special Forces units killed over one-thousand Iraqi Army soldiers and captured hundreds more. Likewise, 5th SFG (1st BN) was deployed in Western Iraq, one battalion infiltrated the country weeks before the initial invasion. 5th SFG also organized anti-Saddam forces and, like 10th SFG, led an extremely successful operation which inflicted serious casualties to the Iraqi Army have arrived in Baghdad right after conventional forces had seized it. With major combat operations over, SF was charged with building a new Iraqi Army, eliminating Baath Party members, and, most importantly, finding Saddam and his sons.


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.

SF Operational Detachment-A (ODA) Composition

A Special Forces company consists of six ODAs (Operational Detachments-A) 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.

SF Operational Detachment-B (ODB) Composition

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 both in 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.

SF Operational Detachment-C (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: “A”, “B”, “C”, 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 C-detachment (ODC) is responsible for a theater or a major subcomponent, and can raise brigade or larger guerrilla forces. Subordinate to it are the B-detachments (ODB), 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).

Special Forces Groups

1st Special Forces Group – Headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington along with its 2nd, 3rd, and 4th 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 2011, 7SFGA relocated 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; Western Massachusetts; 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.


SFQC students participate in Robin Sage.
SFQC students participate in Robin Sage.

A completely new recruit to the United States Army, who has signed on for the Special Forces, starts his (all United States Special Forces are currently closed to females. The training program begins in Fort Benning, Georgia. This consists of basic training and Infantry training combined in a 14-week course. After graduation, he moves to Airborne training, which lasts for 3 weeks. Upon graduation from Airborne school the potential Special Forces Soldier is next shipped to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for Phase I, Special Forces Assessment & Selection (SFAS), an evaluation which lasts twenty four days. If the potential recruit makes it past this stage, he usually returns to his previous unit to await a class date to begin the Special Forces Qualification Course (“Q Course”). Afterwards, recruits usually attend the Primary Leadership Development Course/Basic Non-Commissioned Officer’s Course at Camp Mackall before officially beginning Phase II, a five-week block of instruction in Small Unit Tactics. In late 2005, three weeks of SERE training was integrated into an expanded Phase II curriculum, and follows immediately upon successful completion of the Small Unit Tactics phase. The recruit then ships back to Fort Bragg for Phase III of the Q course, where he trains within one of five specialties within Special Forces, those being: 18A, Detachment Commander; 18B, SF Weapons Sergeant; 18C, SF Engineer Sergeant; 18D, SF Medical Sergeant; and 18E, SF Communications Sergeant. 18A-C and E training courses are 14 weeks long, the 18D training course is 46 weeks long. Upon graduation the soldier attends Robin Sage, a large-scale unconventional warfare exercise (Phase IV) and language school (Phase V) before being awarded the Special Forces tab.

Soldiers who successfully complete SFAS and who are not already Airborne qualified will be assigned a class date to attend Basic Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia prior to reporting to Ft. Bragg.

Special Operations Preparation Course (SOPC)

This is a 30-day course taught at Fort Bragg is designed to help Soldiers prepare for the Special Forces Assessment and Selection course. It focuses on physical training and one of the most important skills a SF Soldier can have—land navigation. This course does not guarantee you will pass the Special Forces Assessment/Assignment and Selection (SFAS).

Special Forces Assessment & Selection (SFAS)

The SFAS Course assesses and selects soldiers for attendance at the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), and is 24 days in length.

Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC)

The SFQC consists of five phases.

I. Individual Skill Training

The individual skill phase (II) consists of land navigation, small unit tactics and live-fire training.

II. MOS Training

During the MOS training phase (III) they are instructed on specialty skills, which will be based on applicant background, aptitude and desires.

III. Collective Training

This phase (IV) consists of Special Forces doctrine and organization, Unconventional Warfare operations, Direct Action operations, methods of instruction and both Airborne and airmobile operations. They will deploy to the Uwarrie National Forest, North Carolina, for an Unconventional Warfare exercise. There they will perform as a member of an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA). Their specialty and common skills will be evaluated.

IV. Language Training

Language training (phase V) is a key phase of the qualification course. Proficiency in at least one foreign language is part of being a Green Beret. Arabic, Spanish, Chinese and Russian are just some of the languages learned.

V. SERE Course

The Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) course will end your training in the SFQC (phase VI).

Special Forces Jobs and Duties

* 18A – The Detachment Commander, usually a Captain, is the Commanding Officer of the 12 man team. Each ODA needs a team leader on missions. The 18A is responsible for mission organization, outfitting the team and debriefing the mission objectives.

* 180A – The Executive Officer, usually a Warrant Officer, second in command to the Detachment Commander. To back up the 18A he prepares to take the lead whenever the Captain is absent or non-functional, or if a mission calls for the ODA to be split in two teams

* 18Z – The Operations Sergeant, usually a Master Sergeant, head of operations for the team. The Operations Sergeant is responsible for the overall organization, functionality and training of an SF team. He makes sure the team is outfitted correctly and supports the ODA commander (18A).

* 18F – Operations & Intelligence NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class, in charge of Intelligence and assistance to the Operations Sergeant. Since many SF missions require being behind the lines in hostile areas, each team is given an Intelligence Specialist. The 18F collects and evaluates information for transmission, and supplies vital data on the enemy.

* 18B – Weapons NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class, in charge of identifying and the usage of foreign high-density light and heavy weapons. They are the weapons specialists. They’re capable of operating and maintaining a wide variety of U.S., Allied and other foreign weaponry. Some of their tasks might include maintaining proficiency with all foreign high-density light and heavy weapons; selecting weapons placements and sites; assigning targets and areas of fire.

* 18B – Assistant Weapons NCO, usually a Staff Sergeant, assistant to the Weapons NCO.

* 18C – Engineer NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class, in charge of demolitions and construction projects. 18C’s are specialists across a wide range of disciplines. Some of their tasks may include working in demolitions, explosives, land and water navigation duties, field fortification, bridging, rigging, reconnaissance and sabotage operations.

* 18C – Assistant Engineer NCO, usually a Staff Sergeant, assistant to the Engineer NCO.

* 18D – Medical NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class, heals members of the team and mission important allies. Special Forces Medical Sergeants are considered to be the finest first-response/trauma medical technicians in the world. Though they’re primarily trained with an emphasis on trauma medicine, they also have working knowledge of dentistry, veterinary care, public sanitation, water quality and optometry.

* 18D – Assistant Medical NCO, usually a Staff Sergeant, assistant to the Medical NCO.

* 18E – Communications NCO, usually a Sergeant First Class, in charge of establishing and maintaining tactical and operational communications. Special Forces Communications Sergeants operate every kind of communications gear, from encrypted satellite communications systems to old-style, high-frequency (HF) Morse Code systems. They also have serious computer/networking skills and know several computer languages.

* 18E – Assistant Communications NCO, usually a Staff Sergeant, assistant to the communications NCO.

● 18X – SF Recruit

Primary Missions

Counter Terrorism – Special Forces are often deployed to preclude, preempt and resolve terrorist incidents abroad. They prevent, deter and respond to terrorist activities and train other nations’ military in the basics of fighting terrorism. One of the current main goals of the Counter Terrorism exercise is to thwart terrorist uprisings or cells from forming.

SF soldiers training in the shoot house.
SF soldiers training in the shoot house.

Direct Action – Direct Action missions are short duration strikes that are used when Special Forces want to seize, capture, recover or destroy enemy weapons and information or recover designated personnel or material. In many instances, Green Berets are in and out before the enemy has time to know what hit them. Many of these actions are quick-strike missions, usually involving a raid or ambush of an enemy camp. Often, Special Forces use Direct Action to remove an enemy who is gaining power and influence in another nation. Other times it is used to protect American nationals or Soldiers being held in foreign countries

Foreign Internal Defense – When a nation needs to purge lawlessness or protect itself from rogue nations, Special Forces’ Foreign Internal Defense (FID) tactics are put to use. But FID campaigns are also employed during times of peace to help nations prepare for unwanted or unwarranted attacks by enemies. Green Berets organize, assist and train the military and national defense forces of foreign nations. Those governments can use the tactics to protect their citizens from aggressors.

Special Reconnaissance – Oftentimes, before the U.S. Army makes a strategic strike against an adversary, Special Forces are sent behind enemy lines to run Special Reconnaissance (SR) missions—covert, fact-finding operations to uncover information about the enemy. These intelligence-gathering activities monitor as much about the enemy’s movement and operations as possible and are considered by many to be the most important Green Berets mission. Special Forces teams survey enemy camps, machinery and weapons and send back the information to their commanders in order to best prepare for a strike. Special Reconnaissance missions generally take place before any movement by our military. Without that vital information, U.S. Army Soldiers might be caught off guard and unprepared when entering enemy territory.

Unconventional Warfare – Special Forces have long employed the use of Unconventional Warfare (UW), a.k.a. guerilla warfare, to train forces in enemy-held or controlled territory. Unlike Direct Action, which is generally a quick campaign, UW can last months, even years. UW missions give the U.S. Army time to enter a country covertly and build relationships with local militia or natives, who are taught a variety of tactics including subversion, sabotage, intelligence collection and unconventional assisted recovery, which can be employed against the enemy. By using UW training, the Army can possibly prevent larger conventional attacks. And because of deep roots set up by UW missions, other Special Forces tactics, like Direct Action or Special Reconnaissance, can be launched quickly and seamlessly.


– U.S. citizen

– Airborne qualified

– Score a 229 on the physical fitness test in the 17-21 age group

– Have a GT score of 110 or higher for E-1 to E-3 and a GT score of 100 for E-4 to E-6

– Pass the Special Forces Physical

– Qualify for a secret security clearance

– E-1 through E-3 can only have 11C or 11B as a military occupational specialty.

Unconventional warfare and direct action: two of many SF specialties.

-Pay Grade of E-4 to E-7. Successful completion of SFAS is a prerequisite to the SFQC

-High School Graduate or have a General Equivalency Diploma (GED)

General Technical (GT) score of 100 or higher

-Stabilization of Current Drill Sergeants and Detailed Recruiters will not be broken

-Specialists, Corporals, and Sergeants who successfully complete SFAS will normally have their Retention Control Point waived to attend the SFQC

-Upon successful completion of SFQC, they will be allowed continued service

-Staff Sergeants approaching their RCP will not be allowed to apply

-Each Sergeant First Class (SFC) must have no more than 12 years time in service and nine months time in grade when applying for SFAS and must be Either Airborne or Ranger Qualified

-SFCs must be able to PCS to the SFQC within six months of selection from SFAS

-Soldiers on assignment will not be allowed to attend SFAS without their branch’s prior approval

-Soldiers on orders to a short tour area will be allowed to attend SFAS if a deferment is not required. These individuals will be scheduled for the next available SFQC after their DEROS

-Volunteers for SFAS prior to receiving Assignment Notification will be deferred to allow SFAS attendance

-For SFAS graduates, assignment to the SFQC will take precedence over any assignment conflict

-OCONUS-based soldiers may attend SFAS in a TDY and return status anytime during their tour

-Upon successful completion of SFAS, soldiers will be scheduled for the next available SFQC provided they have completed at least two-thirds of their overseas assignment obligation and have received PERSCOM approval for curtailment of the remainder of their overseas tour obligation

-Soldiers serving on a short tour will not have their assignment curtailed

-CONUS-based soldiers may attend SFAS in a TDY and return status anytime during their tour. Upon successful completion of SFAS, soldiers will be scheduled to attend the SFQC ensuring that they will have completed at least one-year time on station prior to PCS

-Minimum of 24 Months remaining Time in Service (TIS) upon completion of the SFQC

Officer Requirements

-Secret Security Clearance prior to final packet approval and meet eligibility criteria for Top Secret clearance

-Completed the Officer Basic Course and have been successful in your branch assignments prior to application for Special Forces

-Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) Score of 85 or higher or a Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) of a minimum of 1/1 reading and listening score

-Minimum of 36 Months remaining Time In Service upon completion of Special Forces Detachment Officer Qualification Course (SFDOQC)

Warrant Officer Requirements

-Rank of Staff Sergeant (SSG/E-6) or above.

-A Special Forces MOS (18B, 18C, 18D, 18E, 18F, or 18Z).

-A minimum of three years rated time on an SFODA.

-A Score of 85 or better on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (or a current 2/2 language rating).

-Completion of the Special Forces Operations and Intelligence Course prior to October 3, 1994 or SF Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course (ANCOC).

-Letters of recommendation from Commanders at the Detachment, Company, Battalion and Group levels (also recommended is a strong letter of recommendation from another Special Forces Warrant Officer with personal knowledge of the applicants abilities).

“Must Not” Requirements

-Barred to Reenlistment

-Under suspension of favorable personnel action

-Convicted by court-martial or have disciplinary action noted in their official military personnel fiche under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (Article 15). This provision can only be waived by the Commanding General, United States Army Special Warfare Center and School on a case by case basis

-Terminated from Special Forces, Ranger, or Airborne Duty, unless termination was due to extreme family problems

-30 days or more lost time under USC 972 within current or preceding enlistment.


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