US Army Special Forces are commonly known as the Green Berets. These legendary soldiers have been honored in books, movies and songs.

In September, troops past and present will gather in Colorado Springs to celebrate the 70th birthday the creation of special forces.

At any time, army special forces can be found in 80 to 90 countries around the world, conducting missions critical to the security of the United States and allied nations. They are the shadow warriors, the “quiet professionals.” The training pipeline is long. Candidates must go through several phases before they can earn the right to wear the green beret and carry the title.

What makes these troops so unique? Although the paragraphs below explain several key reasons, the short answer is: everything.

History of special forces

Army Special Forces was officially founded on June 11, 1952 at Smoke Bomb Hill in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina during the height of the Cold War. Colonel Aaron Bank served as the first commander and is considered the “Father of Special Forces” since forming the 10th Special Forces Group. The military chose this designation – 10th SFG – to confuse the Soviet Union into believing that more special forces groups would encounter them if they chose to invade Western Europe.

Many of the original board holders, including Bank, were drawn from the WWII Office of Strategic Services, America’s first military/civilian intelligence agency and precursor to Special Forces and the CIA.

In 1953, the 10th SFG was split, with Bank taking the 10th to Bad Tolz, Germany, while the troops remaining at Ft. Bragg formed the cadre of the 77th Special Forces Group. In 1960, this group was renamed the 7th SFG.

Special Forces experienced a great expansion during the Vietnam War. Special Forces A-camps were scattered throughout South Vietnam, where troops trained ethnic Vietnamese and hill tribes under the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program. They also carried out special operations within the framework of MACV-SOG (Study and Observation Group). Over 20 Medals of Honor were awarded to Special Forces troops for actions during the Vietnam War.

After a withdrawal in the 1970s, SF was reinvigorated in the 1980s and Special Forces became its own branch on April 9, 1987. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, was formed to place all SOF units under one single umbrella organization.

SOCOM has grown exponentially since the start of the Global War on Terror, and Green Berets have served in trouble spots in Iraq and Afghanistan. CIA special forces and paramilitary operators were the first on the ground in Afghanistan, just weeks after the September 11 attacks.

Long and strenuous training

The training of green berets begins with the SF Assessment and Selection Course. Once a candidate is selected for training, they begin the SF qualification course. The training can last between 55 and 95 weeks, depending on the professional specialty. Green berets are usually a bit older and more mature than their conventional counterparts.

Green berets. Image credit: Creative Commons.

Special forces medics are highly trained. In some cases, when operating in the third world, they are better trained than doctors in certain countries. Doctors are arguably the greatest relationship builders when deployed. Their training pipeline is the longest of any specialty.

Special Forces troops are trained in several different missions, but their daily bread is unconventional warfare, an area where they have no equal in the US military. Primary special forces assignments include, but are not limited to:

– DIRECT ACTION – Direct action missions are short-duration strikes used to seize, capture, recover, or destroy enemy materiel, or recover personnel.

– SPECIAL RECOGNITION – Actions carried out in sensitive environments to collect or verify information of strategic or operational importance.

– COUNTER-INSURRECTION – Special Forces troops respond to terrorist activity and train other nations’ militaries in the basics of countering insurgents.

– UNCONVENTIONAL WAR – The primary special forces operation, unconventional warfare, includes activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating by or with a clandestine, auxiliary, and guerrilla warfare in a denied area.

– FOREIGN HOME DEFENSE – It involves training and equipping foreign allied military forces to defend against insurgency, subversion, terrorism and other security threats.

SECURITY FORCES ASSISTANCE – Special forces soldiers train and develop the defense capabilities of friendly and developing nations.

Special forces troops serve in A teams of 12 players, often in small, isolated bases away from conventional support. They must be able to adapt and overcome obstacles on their own. The type A team of 12 men is composed of:

18A – Special Forces Officer

180A – Special Forces Warrant Officer

18B – Special Forces Sergeant-at-Arms

18C – Special Forces Engineer Sergeant

18D – Special Forces Medical Sergeant

18E – Special Forces Communications Sergeant

18F – Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant

18Z – Special Forces Operations Sergeant

Special Forces Groups are language and culture oriented so Green Berets can teach and train alongside troops from partner nations and speak to them in their own language.

A-Teams are specializedand each company will have designated Mountain, SCUBA (Combat Diver), Military Free Fall (HALO) and other specialty teams.

A green beret is a fighter and a teacher

Several years ago I wrote an article about how teaching is an art for Green Berets. While training our allied partners isn’t quite as sexy as direct action kick missions, it is an essential task.

Being able to reach out and teach a foreigner in their own language is a tremendous boost to building relationships, gaining trust, and building a successful team with foreign allies. This is where cultural awareness and language training become so important.

There are many special operations forces in the US military. But only one is designated Special Forces: the Green Berets of the Army.

Steve Balestrieri is a national security columnist from 1945. He served as a U.S. Army Special Forces non-commissioned officer and warrant officer before injuries forced him into early separation. In addition to writing for and other military news agencies, he covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work has been regularly featured in the Massachusetts Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers.