While it could be said that every unit which falls under the “spec ops” umbrella is comprised of operators who can move, shoot, and communicate with lethal efficiency, different units have developed to address specialized challenges.
As the years wore on, and particularly since the onset of the Global War on Terrorism, lines may have blurred a bit between specialties in many cases, allowing various units to conduct similar operations. But, the specific nature of each continues to inform the internal culture of divisions that fall under the command of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and Coalition Special Operations Forces (SOF), honoring their heritage as well as the prowess their service experience allots.
Air Force Special Operations Command
AFSOC is America’s specialized air power. It provides Air Force special operations forces for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands. AFSOC’s core tasks have been grouped into four mission areas: forward presence and engagement, information operations precision employment and strike, and special operations forces mobility.
Combat controllers are the foremost experts on “combat” air-traffic control and joint tactical air control in the Air Force and are some of the military’s most highly trained assets. Their training includes the Combat-Control Operator Course, U.S. Army Airborne School, U.S. Air Force Basic Survival School, Combat-Control School, U.S. Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School, U.S. Army Special Forces Combat Diver School, U.S. Navy Underwater Egress Training, and a laundry list of advanced training courses once these operators reach the team level, to include CQB and shooting schools, advanced driving courses, and their joint tactical air-control certifications.
Combat controllers are a force multiplier on the battlefield; they seek out and destroy evil with extreme prejudice, delivering precision air strikes, airfield seizures, and resupply airdrops alongside Army Green Berets, Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Force Recon, and many other host nation special operations forces.
Pararescue jumpers (PJs) are also highly-trained members of the AFSOC community, only they have a slightly different skillset. Being the more recognizable members of Air Force Special Operations, PJs are known as the life-saving heroes who rescue downed pilots and other military personnel in austere and hostile territories.
The training for pararescuemen is the same as the pipeline for combat controllers with the exception of the air-traffic control and joint tactical air-control portion, which are replaced with the paramedic course and Pararescue Recovery Specialist course. Pararescuemen put their own safety aside while doing everything in their power and training to ensure that no injured man or woman is left behind. They live by the motto, “These things we do, that others may live.”
United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command
MARSOC is the newest addition to the arsenal of Special Operations Forces. They were formally activated on February 24, 2006. The initial operators assigned to the newly formed MARSOC were taken from the then deactivated Force Recon Companies, giving the Marine Corps a seat at the table within SOCOM. They have since earned the official title of Marine Raiders – a nod to their WWII lineage.
At the request of President Franklin D Roosevelt, Raider battalions were formed in 1942. They saw extensive combat in the Pacific during their two-year existence before they were disbanded in 1944 after Marine Corps leadership decided they did not want to have an “elite force within an elite force.”
By 2002, Donald Rumsfeld observed frequent complaints from SOCOM about not having enough resources in support of early stages in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), and he realized that Force Recon was SOF-like but was not being employed as such. Rumsfeld was specifically tired of hearing the complaints about not having enough “SOF guys” to do special reconnaissance (SR), which Force Reconnaissance excels at. Rumsfeld also knew Force Recon could do SR and direct action (DA) for SOCOM. MARSOC has fought with distinction in the War on Terror on multiple continents since their inception.
Naval Special Warfare Command
Naval Special Warfare (NSW) is comprised of approximately 8,900 total personnel, including more than 2,400 active-duty Special Warfare Operators, known as SEALs, 700 Special Warfare Boat Operators, also known as Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC), 700 reserve personnel, 4,100 support personnel and more than 1,100 civilians.
Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC or “WARCOM”) is a component command of the United States Special Operations Command (US SOCOM). WARCOM is headquartered in San Diego, Calif. and leads the Navy’s special operations force and the maritime component of SOCOM. As a major component of US SOCOM, the SEAL Teams entered to bring the demanding and highly skilled discipline of “combat swimming.”
Early in World War II the Italians and British demonstrated the incredible utility of underwater operations. From there the U.S saw not only the combative value, but also saw the strategic in regard to inshore reconnaissance and beach clearing in support of landing forces.
The name SEAL is actually an acronym standing for: Sea, Air and Land. These small elite teams of men work on our nation’s most important and secret missions. With nothing less than a global responsibility SEAL Teams are constantly deployed covering all reaches of the planet. Intelligence operatives, commandos, demolition experts and teachers describe the men who make up the operational arm of Naval Special Warfare.
Now the largest combatant force of swimmers the SEALs have become Legendary in their status. With a training attrition rate as high as 80% SEAL training has become known as the toughest in the world. To become a Navy SEAL requires incredible amounts of discipline, sacrifice and mental management. With SEAL Instructors standing guard there is no way to fake your way into this community. They accept nothing less than 100% commitment.
Some of the toughest men on the planet attempt to become a SEALs and find that they can’t. The extreme conditions, cold temperatures and mental fatigue catch many great men by surprise. To date there has been no way to determine who will make it or not. Study after study has been conducted and so far, there has never been a way to measure someone’s level of commitment. No way besides putting them in BUD/S.
United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)
USASOC is the unified command structure in which individual Army Special Operations units such as Rangers, Special Forces, 160th Special Operations Aviation, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, and various support elements are housed under. The JFK Special Warfare Center and School is also part of USASOC and contains various Special Forces schools and courses such as the Special Forces Qualification Course.
On June 8th, 1942, William Orlando Darby was given command of the 1st Ranger Battalion, a group that would soon come to be known as Darby’s Rangers. His team, along with Frank Merrill’s Marauders (formally known as the 5307th Composite Unit) and other specialized groups tasked with using guerrilla-style tactics during World War II would establish the groundwork for the coming 70-plus years of special operations units.
Structured for unconventional warfare, Special Forces teams are task organized into 12-man teams or Operational Detachment-A teams, commonly called ODA’s, or simply A-Teams. Capable of working independently in a decentralized manner, these teams consist of:
- 18A-Team Leader (Captain)
- 180A-Assistant Team Leader (Warrant Officer)
- 18Z-Team Sergeant (Master Sergeant)
- 18F-Intelligence Sergeant (Staff Sergeant or Sergeant First Class)
- 18D-Senior Medical Sergeant (Sergeant First Class)
- 18D-Junior Medical Sergeant (Sergeant or Staff Sergeant)
- 18B-Senior Weapons Sergeant (Sergeant First Class)
- 18B-Junior Weapons Sergeant (Sergeant or Staff Sergeant)
- 18E-Senior Communications Sergeant (Sergeant First Class)
- 18E-Junior Communication Sergeant (Sergeant or Staff Sergeant)
- 18C-Senior Engineer Sergeant (Sergeant First Class)
- 18C-Junior Engineer Sergeant (Sergeant or Staff Sergeant)
Each of these job titles carries with it a unique set of responsibilities, both operationally and administratively. For instance, a Weapons Sergeant trains his team in weapons and tactics, but also writes the team’s Standard Operating Procedures and builds range packets and lesson plans. A Medical Sergeant treats the wounded in combat, but also gives his team vaccinations and makes sure their medical records are up to date. The redundancy of having two soldiers on every ODA in each specialty gives the team the added flexibility of also conducting split team operations.
Additionally, within a Special Forces Company consisting of six ODA’s, there are teams that further specialize in Military Free Fall (HALO), Combat Divers, and Mountain Warfare.
The 75th Ranger Regiment is the US Army’s premier airborne light infantry unit. Specializing in raids and airfield seizures, the Regiment is one of very few units that has been constantly deployed since 9/11, with each Ranger battalion having rotated into a combat zone in the neighborhood of fifteen times each.
After completing Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training, and Airborne School, potential Rangers are carefully evaluated in the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, or RASP. RASP identifies which soldiers have the mental fortitude and physical toughness required to serve as a member of this elite unit. Additionally, RASP provides training to these new recruits in critical Ranger tasks. Upon graduation of RASP, new Rangers will most likely be assigned to 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Ranger Battalion. Regimental Headquarters and the Regimental Support Battalion are also co-located at Ft. Benning with 3rd Battalion.
Today’s Ranger Battalions were stood up on the orders of General Creighton Abrams in 1974. As many of you may know, our Army had suffered a great deal and wasn’t looking so great in the Post-Vietnam War years. 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions were created to be a role model for the rest of the Army, a unit where soldiers would be held to extremely high standards, their commanding guidance derived from the Ranger Creed, penned by Command Sergeant Major Neil Gentry.
Coalition Special Operations Forces
We thought it was important to include our SOF partners from around the world. The point of this forum is to educate the public and honor these units in a positive way.