United States Army Special Forces
| In the U.S. armed forces, the green beret may be worn only by soldiers awarded the Special Forces Tab, signifying they have been qualified as Special Forces (SF) soldiers. Special Forces wear it because of a shared tradition which goes back to the British Commandos of World War II. Although it is unusual for American units to wear distinctive head gear, it is the norm in the British Army, where most regiments wear headdress which reflects regimental history. The Special Forces beret is officially designated "beret, man's, wool, rifle green, army shade 297."
The U.S. Army Special Forces wear the green beret because of their link to the British Commandos of World War II. The first Ranger unit, commonly known as Darby's Rangers, was formed in Northern Ireland during the summer of 1942. On completion of training at the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland, those Rangers had the right to wear the British Commando green beret, but it was not part of the regulation uniform at the time and was disallowed by the U.S. Army.
The 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) had many veterans of World War II and Korea in their ranks when it was formed in 1952. They began to unofficially wear a variety of berets while training, some favoring the red or maroon airborne beret, the black Ranger beret, or the green commando beret. The commandos eventually began to work on a standard uniform that would mark them as unique but still show a smart and professional look. In 1953, after extensive research, a beret whose design was based on that of the Canadian Army pattern, and which was rifle-green in color, was chosen.
Their new headgear was first worn at a retirement parade at Fort Bragg on 12 June 1955 for Lieutenant General Joseph P. Cleland, the now-former commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Onlookers thought that the commandos were a foreign delegation from NATO.
In 1956 General Paul D. Adams, the post commander at Fort Bragg, banned its wear, even though it was worn on the sly when deployed overseas. This was reversed on 25 September 1961 by Department of the Army Message 578636, which designated the green beret as the exclusive headgear of the Army Special Forces.
When visiting the Special Forces at Fort Bragg on 12 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked Brigadier General William P. Yarborough to make sure that the men under his command wore green berets for the visit. Later that day, Kennedy sent a memorandum which included the line: "I am sure that the green beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead." By America's entry into the Vietnam War, the green beret had become a symbol of excellence throughout the US Army. On 11 April 1962 in a White House memorandum to the United States Army, President Kennedy reiterated his view: "The green beret is a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom." Previously, both Yarborough and Edson Raff had petitioned the Pentagon to allow wearing of the green beret, to no avail. But the President did not fail them.
The "Green Beret Affair": A Brief Introduction
by Bob Seals
|By the year 1969 United States involvement in South Vietnam was in its fourth year with no end in sight. Major U.S. ground combat forces, to include elite paratroops and marines, had been first committed in country during the spring of 1965. The fighting had increased in scale and intensity until by 1969 U.S. military strength stood at 536,000 on the ground. The Navy's 7th Fleet in the Tonkin Gulf, and Air Force strategic bombers flying from bases on Guam and Thailand provided major sea and air support for US forces on the ground. The South East Asia Treaty Organization nations of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines would provide yet another 62,000 allied troops fighting against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Communist forces. The Vietnam War, and peace talks in Paris, continued to drag on in 1969 with little end in sight.
The year of 1969 would also see one of the most interesting, controversial, and little understood events of the Vietnam War, the "Green Beret Affair." This affair, involving the identification and execution of a Communist Viet Cong double or triple agent by U.S. Army Special Forces working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is an illustrative example of the morally ambiguous nature of modern day unconventional warfare. Such issues are still being faced by our Special Operations Forces in the current Global War on Terror (GWOT). I will attempt in this article to examine the "Green Beret Affair" from 1969 and outline how similar issues are faced daily by our forces around the globe.
In many respects the war in Southeast Asia was tailor made for the newest and most controversial force in the U.S. Army, the Special Forces (SF). Special Forces would be popularly know as the "Green Berets," much to the chagrin of the troopers themselves, who were quick to point out to outsiders that they were not a headgear but a highly trained and capable force of professionals. The beret itself, jungle green in color, was not that important or functional but was a highly emotional symbol, at least to the stiff necked conventional Army, of the attitude of the man who wore it; unconventional, more concerned with substance over form, and quite willing to defy conventions in order to accomplish a mission. The troops themselves were fascinating, a unique organization that attracted square pegs that often would not fit into the round holes of the spit and polish Conventional Army. Ranks were full of colorful nonconformists and extremely dedicated soldiers such as the Eastern European Lodge Act enlistees who volunteered for service in the American army and SF in the hopes of returning to their homeland with a victorious force. SF was probably the closest organization to the French Foreign Legion that the American Army had, and made many uncomfortable. Their willingness to defy convention, and discipline at times, would prove troublesome to many in the Army. Many generals could not hide their open disdain for Special Forces, with one Army Chief of Staff in the 1960's describing SF troops as "refugees from responsibility" and that they "tended to be nonconformists, couldn't quite get along in a straight military system Note: this nonconformist trend has continued to the present day, the author is proud to report.
Organized into small 12 man teams with specialists in weapons, engineering, demolitions, medicine, communications, operations and intelligence, the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, SFODA, or A Team, was, and is, a compact, highly trained small unit capable of building, healing and destroying. The Special Forces Operational Detachment Bravo, SFODB, or B Team, provided command and control for 6 A Teams and operated as the Company Headquarters. B Detachments in Vietnam would additionally run special projects or missions, often involving intelligence collection and reporting. SF soldiers were capable of operating independently behind enemy lines with little outside support and could train, organize and lead resistance forces against occupying powers. Unconventional warfare (UW), as a mission, would be the "bread and butter" for SF. Defined as a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations, unconventional warfare are normally of long duration, predominately conducted through, with, or by indigenous or surrogate forces that are organized, trained, equipped, supported and directed by an external source. UW includes guerrilla warfare, subversion, sabotage, intelligence activities and unconventional assisted recovery. The troops adopted the Trojan horse from classical history as their distinctive unit insignia and the Latin phrase De Oppresso Liber, "To Liberate from Oppression," as their SF motto. President John F. Kennedy would visit the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg for an orientation on Special Forces by then Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, wearing an unauthorized headgear, the Green Beret. Much to the chagrin of the Army and Department of Defense, JFK would come away so impressed with Special Forces that he would shortly authorize the wear of the controversial beret and call it "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.
Army Special Forces would forever be linked to JFK; members of SF served in the honor guard at his funeral in November of 1963, with one of the soldiers spontaneously placing his beret on the grave at the end of the ceremony as a mark of respect. President Kennedy's legacy would be further remembered when the Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, NC would be named the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. The Special Forces in the Sixties would go through a period where they captured the public's imagination, beginning with the best selling book The Green Berets by Robin Moore in 1966. The paperback book became a best seller, followed by the surprise hit song Ballad of the Green Berets, by Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, an SF soldier who had served in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart for wounds, which would ultimately become the number 1 single record in the US for 1966. GI Joes, bubble gum cards, comic books, and Mattel toys would all celebrate Army Special Forces during the craze. Finally, the ultimate honor would be accorded the force in 1968 when John Wayne would produce and star in the action film The Green Berets, with David Janssen and Jim Hutton. The strongly anti-communist, and pro-South Vietnam film, was a labor of love by Mr. Wayne, a stanch supporter of the war, who was openly disgusted by the anti-war protest movement in the United States at the time. All of this would have a profound effect on many American youths coming of age, to include the author, who can remember receiving a miniature Green Beret one year as a Christmas present during that timeframe, a foretaste of things to come years later.
Army Special Forces was born in 1952, the brainchild of World War II Office of Strategic Service (OSS), and Philippine Island Guerrilla veterans. These veterans, such as Colonels Russ Volkman, Aaron Bank and Wendell Fertig, had come out of the Second World War convinced of the effectiveness of unconventional warfare in an era of "pushbutton" warfare and atomic weapons. They had seen, first hand, the effectiveness of unconventional warfare against heavy handed occupying powers such as Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. To use an example from both major theatres of war, accepted figures are that ultimately upwards to 200,000 were involved in the resistance in occupied France and some 250,000 fighting in the Philippines after Japanese occupation in 1942. It is difficult to quantify exactly how effective the pro-Allied resistance movements were in Europe and Asia but General Eisenhower is said to have said that the forces of the resistance in Europe had done the work of some 15 divisions, and had shortened the Second World War by two months. The Army was not particularly keen upon the unconventional warfare concept in general but saw the utility of using a group of misfits and foreigners in Europe against the expected Soviet led blitzkrieg from the east. Thus, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) (10th SFGA) was formed in 1952 under the command of Colonel Aaron Bank, an OSS/SOE veteran and shipped to West Germany. The expected onslaught never occurred from the Soviets but SF trained hard throughout Europe and soon proved its worth to the Big Army. Additional SF forces were formed, to include the 77th SFGA at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and 1st SFGA in Japan. New roles and missions, in addition to UW and the familiar one of training potential guerrillas against expected communist invasions, emerged. One of these new missions included assisting friendly governments in the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mode, mainly training allied armies to resist insurgencies. The gauntlet had been flung by Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961 who would pledge support for "wars of national liberation" throughout the world, a communist challenge to the free world that would not go unanswered. SF would soon be one of the instruments of choice throughout the 1960's in resisting these "wars of national liberation."
After the departure of the French from the states of Indochina, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, in the wake of the disastrous defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, a power vacuum existed in Southeast Asia. All French troops and trainers left the area leaving behind weak governments and armies attempting to combat unrest and communist led insurgencies. A limited program of assistance was begun by the US Government in support of these pro-western governments to include economic and military assistance. Enter institutions such as the CIA and SF. In 1956 Army Special Forces Detachments would be stood up in Japan and soon began training allied armies in Taiwan, Thailand and South Vietnam. In South Vietnam, SF teams, working with the CIA, was soon training indigenous cadres in unconventional warfare and long range Ranger type operations. It is interesting to note that the first SF soldier, CPT Harry Cramer, was killed in 1957 near Nha Trang, a foreshadowing of sacrifices to come.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Special Forces were joined at the hip in Vietnam, both working and relying upon each other for better or worse. Both institutions were probably more similar than each wanted to admit as they represented the beau ideal of a Kennedy inspired muscular response to the Communist led challenge of the "Wars of National Liberation." Roles and missions for the CIA and SF would overlap and conflict at times, causing friction inherent in war. Both were involved in various counterinsurgency programs to include collecting intelligence on the communist enemy and training and advising our South Vietnamese allies. For SF the war in Vietnam would include various highly classified programs to include cross border operations into Laos and Cambodia; in addition to gathering intelligence and running agent networks in support of operations.
Since the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961, the CIA, or Agency, as many then and now refer to it, had moved away from such large scale military and paramilitary type operations to concentrate upon more traditional activities to include intelligence collection and analysis. The agency had been deeply involved in Southeast Asia just as long as Special Forces. Many of there intelligence oriented programs, with an appropriate code name, in South Vietnam would involve both the CIA and SF. The Phoenix program was one of these intelligence programs. The Phoenix program was born of the desperate need to identify and eliminate Communist Viet Cong infrastructure hidden deep within the South Vietnamese civilian population. The communist insurgency in the south was organized along classic Maoist cellular lines, with covert units responsible for everything from logistics and procurement to guerrillas and secret police. Phoenix, using Vietnamese agents "run," or controlled by Americans, quickly achieved results but became know as an infamous terror and assassination program. In each of the 44 provinces of South Vietnam CIA run interrogation centers were established to process suspects. And process they did as the numbers rolled in, 17,000 asking for amnesty, 28,000 captured, and 20,000 killed in action. Saigon and Washington were heartened by such numbers but others were not so sanguine. A State Department official who was an advisor to the South Vietnamese stated that "It was a unilateral American program, never recognized by the South Vietnamese government. CIA representatives recruited, organized, supplied and directly paid counter terror teams, whose function was to use Viet Cong techniques of terror—assassination, abuses, kidnappings and intimidation—against the Viet Cong leadership." The numbers were impressive; however, one analyst would claim "They assassinated a lot of the wrong damn people. Excesses were definitely committed and old scores settled as less than trustworthy informants pursued individual vendettas. All true, but one must remember that the individuals involved in intelligence and unconventional warfare often deal with unsavory characters. Eventually William Colby, CIA official in charge of all activities in Asia, himself an old OSS veteran of World War II, had to issue a reminder to all that torture and assassination were not part and parcel of the Phoenix program. Additionally he informed all involved with the program that if individuals found the Phoenix program so distasteful on moral grounds, due to the excesses committed by our allies, they could be immediately reassigned with no harm to their subsequent careers. Soldiers to include Special Forces would not be given such an opportunity for reassignment. They would continue, then as now, to be bound by the laws of war and military justice system, no matter how imperfect.
To the uninformed the concept of rules and regulations limiting warfare may seem strange; after all, is it not true that "all's fair in love and war," to use a somewhat hackney phrase. The laws of war, again, which all military personnel are bound by, tolerate no such grey areas as the Phoenix program or targeted assassinations, at least in theory. Attempts to modify or regulate behavior in warfare are as old as war itself, with numerous examples going back almost to the dawn of time. Alexander the Great, in 335 B.C., is said to have informed his troops before assaulting a besieged town that "Do not destroy today what will be yours tomorrow," a clear attempt to moderate the looting of a city after it had fallen, acceptable behavior in warfare during the classical period.
Plato, in the Republic, writing on war, attempted to establish the principle of burial for the dead and prohibition on despoiling the dead, after the heated fury of battle had passed. Later, in the Middle Ages, additional rules limiting warfare became established practice, at least in Europe, due to the efforts of the Roman Catholic Church. Restrictions on targets began to be codified, to include prohibiting the attacking of churches, religious buildings and priests or nuns by armies. In modern language, these were protected places or forbidden targets. Additionally the concept of non-combatants began to be understood with the sick, old, women and children no longer considered worthy opponents. Other influences toward moderating wartime behavior would include the formation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Switzerland in 1863 by Henri Dunant, and international agreements in the 20th century designed to control the impact of war both on participants and bystanders. The Hague Convention Number 4 of 1907 and the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 would establish beyond a doubt the law of war.
Purposes of the law of war would be many but would mainly exist for three purposes; one, to protect both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering; two, to safeguard fundamental human rights of persons who fall into the hands of the enemy, particularly prisoners of war, the wounded and sick, and civilians not involved in the hostilities, and finally, to facilitate the restoration of peace. However, the communist nations of our globe would claim not to be bound by any such laws of war, and would infamously mistreat any prisoners who fell into their hands as "war criminals.
American soldiers, to include the Special Forces, would continue to be bound by such laws of war, even in the unconventional war going on in Vietnam. All U.S. Army Special Forces, in 1969, operated under the control of 5th Special Forces Group, headquartered at Nha Trang, on the southeast coast of South Vietnam. Colonel Robert B. "Bob" Rheault took command of 5th SFGA in Vietnam in May of 1969. Colonel Rheault was a 1946 graduate of the US Military Academy, who had missed the Second World War but would go on to win the Silver Star, our nation's third highest combat decoration fighting in Korea. Rheault was a unique officer in a unique force; additionally he was independently wealthy, coming from an old Boston family. He spoke French without a flaw, would be educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, West Point, and finally the University of Paris for a masters degree in international relations. No stranger to Special Forces, his initial tour was with the 10th SFGA in Germany during the late 1950's. Colonel Rheault would attend the SF Qualification course, the "Q" course, in 1961, and would command the 1st SFGA on Okinawa before being assigned to Vietnam to take command of the 5th SFGA. It would probably be no exaggeration to say Rheult was one of the most respected and beloved officers ever in SF, a "must promote" to General Officer rank if his command, and career, had not been ended prematurely by the Green Beret affair.
In 1969, Special Forces Detachments or A Teams were placed throughout the country in 80 or so isolated camps. The A Teams were the "point of the spear" working, living, advising, fighting and dieing with the locals. SF was uniquely positioned to gather and report intelligence. The Military Assistance Advisory Command Intelligence Officer, or J-2, at one point during the war estimated that some 50% or so of all intelligence gathered daily was from SF and its sources. Some camps had such a level of knowledge that they were able to successfully identify Viet Cong, by name, operating in their area, and then quietly go about eliminating same. In order to accomplish its intelligence gathering mission in Vietnam, a number of intelligence oriented special missions would be established and given code names, similar to the Phoenix program. One of these intelligence programs established by 5th SFGA in country was Project GAMMA, a unilateral, covert intelligence collection operation targeted against North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong base camps in Cambodia, to include the weak Cambodian government's aiding and abetting of the communists. In February of 1968 SF Detachment B-57 was transferred from Saigon to Nha Trang and officially designated as Project GAMMA headquarters, with responsibility for managing the entire program. The program itself had potential very serious international repercussions due to the then secret B-52 strategic bombing missions being flown at the time against those communist base camps across the border in Cambodia. If the classified program was discovered, political repercussions in the U.S. and elsewhere would be most serious, given the poisonous political atmosphere of the day.
Personnel working on Project GAMMA were given cover as civil affairs, CA, and psychological operations, PSYOPS, officers augmenting A Teams near the Cambodian border. Five collection teams were authorized and soon had some 13 nets established with 98 codename agents providing intelligence of some manner. In October of 1968 the top intelligence officer in Vietnam on General Abrams staff estimated that Project GAMMA was providing 65 per cent of the information known on North Vietnamese Army (NVA) strength and locations in Cambodia, and some 75 per cent of the same information known on NVA within South Vietnam. The Special Forces in Vietnam, and Detachment B-57 led by Major David Crew, had developed into arguably the most productive intelligence collection project the U.S. had throughout Southeast Asia. It has been said that the reason that Project GAMMA was so successful was due to the fact that the South Vietnamese had been not "read on" to the program. As a successful 1968 turned into 1969 for Project GAMMA, it was noticed by Detachment B-57 that many extremely valuable intelligence nets and agents had began to disappear, and many feared the worse, that the highly classified operation had been compromised by a double agent.
The S-3 or Operations Officer, Captain Budge Williams, for the project felt that Project GAMMA was in danger of going under from an unseen and unknown communist spy. Other intelligence and counter-intelligence officers, to include Captain Leland Brumley, Major Thomas Middleton, and Chief Warrant Officer Edward Boyle became convinced also there was a security leak somewhere in the organization. All began investigations but made little headway until the spring of 1969, but did discover the unpleasant truth that some of the South Vietnamese SF working for US forces were involved in selling weapons and medical supplies to the communists. Then, ironically enough, an SF reconnaissance team, in a classified area across the border where US troops officially did not operate, discovered documents and a roll of film in a communist base camp. When the film was developed one of the Viet Cong pictures on the roll was believed to be that of Project GAMMA Vietnamese agent Thai Khac Chuyen. The leak has been discovered, or had it?
After conferring with the Agency, the SF soldiers involved in the investigate were told that the best way of handling the problem would be to get rid of the double agent, but the CIA could not authorize the execution, somewhat disingenuously. The agent handler for Thai Khac Chuyen, Sergeant Alvin Smith, identified him from the captured photo. It is interesting to note that Sergeant Smith was not a Special Forces soldier but rather an intelligence specialist who had been assigned to Project GAMMA and Special Forces. Sergeant Smith's supervisor, Captain Robert Marasco, ordered that the agent in question be brought in for questioning to include a polygraph test; which ominously the agent had not been given when recruited for Project GAMMA. If standard operating procedure had followed, the test would have already been conducted during his recruitment. Other doubts existed about the Vietnamese agent to include the fact that he was originally from North Vietnam, still had family north of the border, his English language skills were uncommonly good, and he had gone from job to job working for US forces fighting in South Vietnam, with trouble always following his departure.
Eventually Mr. Chuyen would undergo some ten days of rigorous interrogation and solitary confinement to include the use of polygraph tests and sodium pentathol, commonly known as "truth serum." The bad news, at least for the agent, was the fact that the polygraph tests would indicate that Mr. Chuyen was not telling the truth when he denied having compromised any Project GAMMA security details and working for the Viet Cong. Additionally the possibility existed that Chuyen was also working for the South Vietnamese intelligence service on the side, a triple agent. For the SF officers of B-57 and Project GAMMA, the leak that everyone had been looking for had been found. It would be distasteful but they knew what must be done; if Chuyen was turned over to the South Vietnamese Army or National Police, there was the chance he might go free due to the actions of another communist plant, and cause further damage and loss of American lives.
Thus, in June of 1969 three of the B-57 officers would drug Thai Khac Chuyen, put him on a boat and take him out into Nha Trang Bay, not far from the 5th SFGA headquarters. He was shot twice in the head, weighed down with chains and dumped into the dark shark-infested waters of the South China Sea. Without a doubt a killing but one could make the argument the time tested standard procedure for identifying and eliminating a known double agent during wartime. An appropriate cover story was developed to explain the now obvious absence of the agent, if questions were asked he was believed to have disappeared after being sent on a mission behind enemy lines to test his loyalty to the cause. The Group Commander, Colonel Rheault, knew of the execution and approved the execution and cover story as above.
It was then that control of the affair began to be lost, never to be regained. Sergeant Smith, Mr. Chuyen's handler, began to be concerned for his security and safety, and sought sanctuary with the CIA office in Nha Trang. It would not take long for that to get out, even in a war zone, and soon all eight officers and noncommissioned officers involved in the execution, to include Colonel Rheault, were arrested on charges of premeditated murder, an offense punishable under the UCMJ, and confined in the infamous in country military facility known as the Long Binh Jail, or "LBJ" for obvious reasons. To make matters worse, if that was possible at the time, was the fact that Colonel Rheault had given a four star general, General Abrams, the cover story when asked about the agent's whereabouts.
Unfortunately, at least for 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam, the commander of all U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam that crucial year of 1969 was General Creighton W. Abrams. General Abrams, for better or worse, was perhaps one of the most forceful and dynamic leaders in the post-World War II Army. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, USMA, at West Point in 1936, Abrams has served in the old horse cavalry before the war, transitioning to tanks and armored forces during the war. Fighting in Europe, he soon proved himself to be one of the most capable young officers in the Army, serving in both the 1st and 4th Armored Divisions. Abrams became one of General George S. Patton, Junior's favorite officers. Patton reportedly said to a reporter during the war that "I'm supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army, but I have a peer—Abe Abrams. High praise indeed. During the Battle of the Bulge, Abrams successfully led the tank and infantry task force that relieved the besieged 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne in Belgium. General Abrams came out of the war one of the most decorated officers, and was clearly a rising star in the Army's stable of combat hardened commanders. General Abrams would die in 1974 while serving as the Army Chief of Staff. The Army's high regard for him would be shown in the following decade by naming the newest and most modern tank, the M-1 tank, the Abrams.
But along with all that capability, General Abrams was a man with strong opinions. His top intelligence officer in Vietnam, a classmate from USMA, has written that "This commonsensical, well-read, sophisticated man harbored some of the longest lasting, strangest, and most unusual prejudices. For one, he hated halfbacks, football halfbacks…Abrams held another unusual, and more serious, bias: he disliked paratroopers. General Abrams had played sixth string football at the academy, fighting in the trenches of the line. This experience seems to have developed in him quite the distaste for "glamorous" half-backs, which at some point was transferred to airborne forces, to include Special Forces. In a profile piece on General Abrams in the New York Times from 1969, the writer claimed that the post-World War II Army was run by the "Airborne Club," which included the Special Forces, and that Abrams "as a square-shooting, traditional soldier, he was shocked when some of the ‘dirty tricks' customary in Green Beret activity became known to him forcefully," and believed that "battles should be fought with feet planted firmly on the ground and that making a fetish out of jumping out of airplanes is puerile. It is probably not surprising that General Abrams never volunteered for or served a tour of duty with any airborne unit. I believe this is most unfortunate given the fact that he would have perhaps developed a better understanding of Airborne or Special Forces purposes and functions. Thus, when the Green Beret Affair would surface the Special Forces would most definitely not have a friend in court.
The article 32 investigation held by the U.S. Army in Vietnam, before General Courts Martial against all eight, quickly became engulfed in a firestorm of publicity. Most of the American public, and the Special Forces, believed that Colonel Rheault and all involved had been made scapegoats for a matter that reflected poorly upon the Army. One former member of Special Forces in Vietnam commented to the author that "We were thunderstruck, and thought what did he [Colonel Rheault] do wrong? National newspapers and television picked up the story, most likely due to the involvement of the Special Forces, and the affair became another lighting rod for pro and anti-war feeling. The hearing in Vietnam became somewhat of a circus after one of the Army defense lawyers for the 8 soldiers, Judge Advocate General Captain John Stevens Berry, called General Abrams and CIA officials to the witness stand. Both declined to get involved in the proceedings and testify. Finally in September of 1969 the Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor announced to all that all charges would be dropped against the 8 soldiers charged since the CIA, in the interests of national security, had refused to make its personnel available as witnesses, therefore making any manner of a fair trial possible. Colonel Rheault requested immediate retirement from the Army and all others charged in the affair had their careers effectively ended, also leaving the service afterwards.
The affair continued to have unfortunate repercussions for Special Forces and the Army. General Abrams, after having Colonel Rheault arrested on murder charges, had one of his headquarters staff officers, Colonel Alexander Lemberes, assigned to take over command of the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. The obvious problem with the assignment was that this officer was neither a qualified parachutist nor Special Forces officer; a bit like having a United Methodist preacher assigned to a Roman Catholic Church, rather nonsensical at best. When Colonel Lemberes attempted to wear an unearned Green Beret in his new command, the 5th SFGA Command Sergeant Major told him in no uncertain terms to take the beret off. Eventually the Army Chief of Staff, General
Westmoreland, no stranger to the airborne, would step in and assign a qualified officer to command Special Forces in Vietnam. By the end of 1969 the Green Beret affair would be over, but questions raised and issues involved would come back again years later.
The 1969 Green Beret Affair brought up issues that continue to resonate in our Global War on Terror with SF continuing to operate in that shadowy world of unconventional warfare. Occasionally these issues surface and come to the attention of the press and American public as per the 3rd SFGA Special Forces Detachment that faced recent charges of premeditated murder for shooting an "enemy combatant." Last year on 13 October 2006 at the small village of Ster Kalay near the Pakistan border, members of Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 372 of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, positively identified and killed Nawab Buntangyar, an Afghan national on the approved Operation Enduring Freedom target list. Spotted outside a residential compound, dressed in civilian clothes, not wearing a uniform, or carrying a weapon, Buntangyar was shot in the head while speaking the local police from 100 yards away by a concealed SF sniper. The enemy target had been involved in suicide and roadside bombing attacks; thus, the "take down" of the target, an enemy combatant, was considered "a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement.
But for reasons that still remain vague, murder charges were preferred against the SF Detachment Commander, a Captain, and the Operations Sergeant, a Master Sergeant. Once again, just as in 1969, an Article 32 hearing was held, as per the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), before a General Court-Martial. Both soldiers were charged with violating Article 118 of the UCMJ, premeditated murder. Once again, SF soldiers became the objects of national press attention to include two ends of the ideological spectrum, the New York Times and Fox Network and Bill O'Rilley. However, after the hearing the two star general in charge of all SF at Fort Bragg dismissed the charges, an outcome just as in 1969. An isolated incident perhaps but an illustrative example of the rules of engagement that our soldiers operate under on a daily basis, where a split second decision made on the battlefield to shoot or not shoot, can be reviewed later in the cool comfort of the court room. This is a level of oversight that will continue, even in the shadowy world of SF and unconventional warfare. Army Special Forces will continue to work with the CIA, FBI, and other agencies; commonly referred to in today's lexicon as Other Government Agencies, or OGAs. One could say some of the OGAs at times may not be bound by laws and rules but our Armed Forces are, make no doubt. Rules of engagement, carefully drawn up by military lawyers, will continue to govern what our troops can or cannot do, with legal review from higher always a possibility.
In the end what would the "Green Beret Affair" signify? Was it, as one author has suggested, a sort of a "Caine Mutiny of the Vietnam War," raising complex issues of morality, murder and professional jealousy? Was the execution of an identified double, or perhaps triple, agent murder, or simply standard operating procedure old as warfare itself? Did General Abrams and the Army leap upon the case in order to make a point and discredit and discipline an unruly child, Special Forces?
The affair was ultimately a tragedy. Committed and capable officers found themselves on two sides of a chasm in warfare; on one side World War II era officers to whom events were black and white, right and wrong. The other side was a younger generation, less respectful of rules and regulations, perhaps, but completely committed to winning. Both main players in the affair, Colonel Rheault and General Abrams, were graduates of the Military Academy at West Point, separated in time by 10 years. That is were the similarities end. The affair became a clash of philosophies, world views and personalities.
Ultimately we will never know whether or not the executed agent, Thai Khac Chuyen, was truly working for the Communist Viet Cong, the American Special Forces, the South Vietnamese government, or a combination of all three. Evidence suggests that he was guilty of at least attempting to conceal the truth, a dangerous game, and one that led to his execution in the summer of 1969. He became just another causality in unconventional warfare. As we have seen above, the 1969 Vietnam "Green Beret Affair," is not unique as our forces continue to face similar moral and legal issues daily in the current Global War on Terror. However, as seen above, all Americans can take comfort in the fact that even our "best and brightest" remain subject to the law of war and military justice. That is one certainty in an uncertain war that will not change.
|The Green Beret
|The Green Beret
(United States Army)
United States Army Special Forces shoulder sleeve insignia
||June 19, 1952 – present
|| United States of America
||United States Army
||Special Operations Forces
- Unconventional Warfare
- Foreign Internal Defense
- Special Reconnaissance
- Direct Action
- Information operations
- Humanitarian missions
||United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)
United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)
||Green Berets, Quiet Professionals, Soldier-Diplomats
||De Oppresso Liber
(US Army's translation: "To Liberate the Oppressed")
Operation Urgent Fury
Operation Just Cause
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
The United States Army Special Forces, also known as Green Berets, is a Special Operations Force (SOF) of the United States Army tasked with five primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, 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.
The original and most important mission of the Special Forces had been "unconventional warfare", while other capabilities, such as direct action, were gradually added.
Their official motto is De Oppresso Liber (Latin: To Liberate the Oppressed), a reference to one of their primary missions, training and advising foreign indigenous forces.
Currently, Special Forces units are deployed in Operation Iraqi 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.
The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) recruits operators from the Army's Special Forces. Joint Army Special Forces and CIA operations go back to the famed MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War. This cooperation still exists today and is seen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
History and traditions
1st Special Forces Regiment distinctive unit insignia, bearing the motto de oppresso liber
Distinctive Unit Insignia.
On a wreath of the colors (Argent and Sable), two arrows saltirewise Argent. The crest is the crossed arrow collar (branch) insignia of the First Special Service Force, (a joint World War II American-Canadian commando unit organized in 1942), changed from gold to silver for harmony with the shield and to make a difference from collar insignia. The motto more fully translated means, "From Oppression We Will Liberate Them.” Description: A silver color metal and enamel device 1 1/8 inches (2.86 cm) in height consisting of a pair of silver arrows in saltire, points up and surmounted at their junction by a silver dagger with black handle point up; all over and between a black motto scroll arcing to base and inscribed "DE OPPRESSO LIBER" in silver letters. Symbolism: The crest is the crossed arrow collar insignia (insignia of branch) of the First Special Force, World War II. The motto is translated as "From Oppression We Will Liberate Them." Background: The distinctive unit insignia was approved on 8 July 1960. The insignia of the 1st Special Forces was authorized to be worn by personnel of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne) and its subordinate units on 7 March 1991.
Some of the Office of Strategic Services units have much more similarity in terms of mission with the original US 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. COL Aaron Bank, considered the founding commander of the first Special Forces Group created, served in OSS during World War II.
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 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, US Army Special Forces did not operate as a unit in that war. Experience gained in the Korean War, however, influenced the development of US Army Special Forces doctrine.
US 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. US Army Special Forces is the only US 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 US become 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.
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.
The "US 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit" aka the Alamo Scouts included in lineage of the US Special Forces
Their lineage dates back to include more than 200 years of unconventional warfare history, with notable predecessors including the Revolutionary War "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion, the WWII OSS Jedburgh Teams, OSS Detachment 101 in Burma, and the Alamo Scouts. Since their establishment in 1952, Special Forces soldiers have distinguished themselves in Vietnam (17 Medals of Honor), El Salvador, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, and, in an FID role, Operation Enduring Freedom - Horn of Africa, which was transferred to Africa Command in 2008.
SF team members work closely together and rely on one another under isolated circumstances for long periods of time, both during extended deployments and in garrison. Because of this, they develop clannish relationships and long-standing personal ties. SF noncommissioned officers (NCO) often spend their entire careers in Special Forces, rotating among assignments to detachments, higher staff billets, liaison positions, and instructor duties at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS). Special Forces officers, on the other hand, historically spend a limited amount of time early in their careers assigned to SF detachments. They are then required to move to staff positions or to higher command echelons. With the creation of USSOCOM, SF commanders have risen to the highest ranks of US Army command, including command of USSOCOM, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.and being the best conisional force in the world due to the ability to be force mulitplers.
Creation of Army Special Forces
Special Forces were formed in 1952, initially under the US Army Psychological Warfare Division headed by then-BG 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 US 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. COL 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.
BG William P. Yarborough (left)
meets with President John F. Kennedy
at Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 12, 1961.
The Green Beret
The origins of the Green Beret are in Scotland during the Second World War. US Army Rangers and Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives, who underwent training from the Royal Marines were awarded the Green Beret upon completion of the grueling and revolutionary commando course. The beret was not authorized by the US 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 originally unauthorized for wear by the U.S. Army. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized them for use exclusively by the US 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 the beret 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." Aside from the well-recognized beret, Special Forces soldiers are also known for their more informal attire than other members of the U.S. military.
"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 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."
1st Special Forces Group, Joint Special Operations Task Force, Philippines (JSOTF-P), examines a baby in 2007, during a medical civic action project in the village of Malisbeng, Republic of the Philippines. JSOTF-P is supporting the AFP in their war on terror efforts and humanitarian missions in their county.
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 men 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 written and performed by Barry Sadler, The Green Berets (film) produced, directed, 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.
It should be noted that calling Special Forces soldiers "Green Berets" is a misconception and that other elite units such as SEALs, Rangers and others are not part of the Special Forces, but are special operations forces (though they are "special forces" in the generic sense). Special Forces (always capitalize), SF, or Special Forces soldiers is the proper name of the United States Army Special Forces.
First deployment in Cold War-era 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 programme 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.
Southeast Asia (Indochina Wars)
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 US prisoners of war, had a ground element completely made up of Special Forces soldiers.
B. R. Lang, wearing 6th SFG flash, 1970. (TDY Laos Project 404; 1971 Studies and Observations Group).
The main SF unit in South Vietnam was the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). SF soldiers assigned to the 5th Group earned seventeen 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 murderof 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.
In the 1980s US 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. US 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 mission was successful overall and led to stability in the region.
A 19th Special Forces Group soldier mans an M60 machine gun on a HMMWV in Afghanistan, in March 2004. An AT4 anti-tank rocket can be seen in the foreground.
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 US 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 do 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. Like all military units in Afghanistan, SF is extremely stretched, spread-out. The majority of SF soldiers are deployed to Iraq, even though Afghanistan is twice as large, which has caused many problems for SF and other forces in the country.
Special Forces along with Iraqi Army forces conduct an air assault in-route to their mission objective to capture terrorists of a known insurgent force, September 2007.
Just like in Afghanistan, SF were the first military units in Iraq. 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 has been to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Basic Element - SF Operational Detachment-Alpha (ODA) composition
Members of Operational Detachment Alpha 3336, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) recon the remote Shok Valley of Afghanistan where they fought an almost seven-hour battle with terrorists in a remote mountainside village.
A Special Forces company consists of six ODAs (Operational Detachments Alpha) 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.
Company HQ Element - SF Operational Detachment-Bravo (ODB) composition
A Special Forces company commander meets with village elders and members to in the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 2007.
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 in both in the 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. Each SF company has one ODA that specializes in HALO (military free fall parachuting) and one trained in combat diving. Other ODA specialties include military mountaineering, maritime operations, and personnel recovery.
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.
Battalion HQ Element - SF Operational Detachment-Charlie (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: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Headquarters/Support.
SF Group strength
Until recently an SF Group has consisted of three Battalions, but since the Department of Defense has authorized US 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 Charlie detachment is responsible for a theater or a major subcomponent, and can raise brigade or larger guerrilla forces. Subordinate to it are the Bravo detachments, 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 Stategic Reconnaissance (SR).
||1st Special Forces Group - Headquartered at Fort Lewis, Washington along with its 2nd and 3rd 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 Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 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 2010, 7SFGA is scheduled to relocate to Eglin Air Force Base in 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 Boeblingen 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, and California, 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; 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.
||6th Special Forces Group - Active from 1963 to 1971. Based at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Assigned to Southwest Asia (Iraq, Iran, etc.) and Southeast Asia. Many of the 103 original Son tay raider volunteers were from 6SFGA.
||8th Special Forces Group - Active from 1963 to 1972. Responsible for training armies of Latin America in counter-insurgency tactics.
||11th Special Forces Group - Active from 1961 to 1994.
||12th Special Forces Group (United States) - Active from 1961 to 1994.
Selection and training
"Bronze Bruce", the Special Warfare Memorial Statue
Entry into Special Forces
Entry into Special Forces begins with Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Getting "Selected" at SFAS (Phase 1) will enable a candidate to continue on to the next four phases of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC, or the "Q Course"). If a candidate successfully completes these next four phases he will graduate as a Special Forces soldier and be assigned to a 12-man Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA), or "A team."
Pipelines to SFAS
A version of SFAS was first introduced as a selection mechanism in the mid-1980s by the Commanding General of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at the time, Brigadier General James Guest.
There are now two ways for male soldiers (female soldiers are not permitted to serve in Special Forces) to volunteer to attend SFAS:
- As an existing soldier in the US Army with the Enlisted rank of E-4 (Corporal/Specialist) or higher, and for Officers the rank of O-2 (1st Lieutenant) promotable to O-3 (Captain), or existing O-3s.
- The other path is that of direct entry, referred to as Initial Accession or IA. Here an individual who has no prior military service or who has previously separated from military service is given the opportunity to attend SFAS. Both the Active Duty and National Guard components offer Special Forces Initial Accession programs. The Active Duty program is referred to as the "18X Program" because of the Initial Entry Code that appears on the assignment orders. These soldiers will attend Infantry One Station Unit Training (OSUT, the combination of Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training), Airborne School, and a preparation course to help prepare them for SFAS, as well as two additional preparation courses to help prepare them for Phase 2 of the Q-Course, if selected. This program is commonly referred to as the "X-Ray Program", derived from "18X". The candidates in this program are known as "X-Rays"
All SF trainees must have completed the United States Army Airborne School before beginning Phase 2 of the Q-Course.
Special Forces Assessment and Selection
Special Forces soldiers from Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) demonstrate how to perform a four-man stack in an artificial building during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX.
Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) is the first phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course, held at Camp Mackall. It is a mentally and physically demanding course designed to see if the soldier has the twelve "Whole Man" attributes to continue in Special Forces training and to serve on an ODA: intelligence, physical fitness, motivation, trustworthiness, accountability, maturity, stability, judgment, decisiveness, teamwork, influence, and communications. Approximately forty percent of all candidates attempting SFAS are successful, Many unsuccessful candidates elect to Voluntarily Withdraw (VW), while others suffer injuries in the course of training and are "Medically Dropped." Those that successfully complete the course must then be selected by the final selection board. Many candidates who make it to the end of the course are not selected because the board deems that they lack the required attributes of an SF soldier, or that they are not yet ready to attempt the next phase in SF training.
Events in SFAS include numerous long land navigation courses. All land navigation courses are conducted day and night under heavy loads of equipment, in any weather conditions, and in rough, hilly terrain. Land navigation is done alone with no assistance from instructors or fellow students and is always done on a time limit, which decreases as the course moves along, and are upwards of 12 miles. Instructors also use obstacle course runs, team events (usually moving heavy loads such as telephone poles and old jeep trucks through sand for miles on end as a 12-man team, with all individual equipment), the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), a swim assessment, and numerous physiological exams such as IQ tests and the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test to evaluate candidates. The last event is a 24–32 mile long road march known as "the Trek" or Long Range Individual Movement (LRIM).
- Those who quit are Voluntarily Withdrawn (VW) by the course cadre are generally designated NTR or Not-to-Return. This generally ends any opportunity a candidate may have to become a Special Forces soldier. Active Duty military candidates will be returned to their previous units, and IA 18X candidates will be transferred to infantry units as 11B Infantrymen.
- Candidates who are "medically dropped," and who are not then medically discharged from the military due to serious injury, are often permitted to "recycle," and to attempt the course again as soon as they are physically able to do so.
- Candidates who successfully complete the course but who are "Boarded" and not selected ("Non-Select") are generally given the opportunity to attend selection again in 12 or 24 months. It must be noted, however, that the time window to attend SFAS a second time can be heavily influenced by deployment schedules, as "non-selected" candidates are assigned to infantry units in the meantime.
Successful Active Duty candidates usually return to their previous units to await a slot in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). Because an Initial Accession (IA) 18X candidate lacks a previous unit, he will normally enter the Q Course immediately after attending a second preparatory course.
MOS, group, and language selection
Upon selection at SFAS, all Active Duty enlisted and IA 18X candidates will be briefed on:
- The five Special Forces Active Duty Groups
- The four Special Forces Military Occupational Specialities (MOS) initially open to them
- The languages utilized in each Special Forces Group
Candidates will then complete what is often referred to as a '"wish list." Enlisted candidates will rank in order of preference the MOS that he prefers (18B, 18C, 18D, 18E). Officer candidates will attend the 18A course. Both enlisted and officer candidates will list in order of preference the SF Groups in which they prefer to serve (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th) and the languages in which they prefer to be trained.
Language selection is dependent on the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) test scores of the candidate, as well as the SF Group to which they are assigned. Different SF Groups focus on different areas of responsibility (AOR), which require different languages.
A board assigns each enlisted and officer candidate his MOS, Group placement, and language. The MOS, Group, and language that a selected candidate is assigned is not guaranteed, and is contingent upon the needs of the Special Forces community. Generally 80% of selected candidates are awarded their primary choices.
Special Forces Qualification Course
The Q Course features some of the most intensive training in the US military. When a candidate enters the Q Course, he is assigned to the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg. This training is phases 2–6 of the Q-Course
Phase II consists of either 18 or 24 weeks of intense language training. Upon completion of this training, candidates are required to attain a minimum rating score in their assigned language, scored on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT).
After Phase II, candidates begin Phase III, which is a 13-week block of instruction in small unit tactics (SUT) including raids, ambushes, patrols, recons, and other strikes against enemy forces. Students learn how to properly plan these operations using Warning Orders, Operations Order, and Frag Orders as well as other mission planning techniques. The students will plan, present, lead and execute these operations. This part of phase III focuses on small unit tactics and patrolling. During Phase III students also attend the three week Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) course (level C).
Following the completion of Phase III, candidates then begin Phase IV, for specific training within one of the five initial Special Forces specialties: 18A, SF Detachment Commander; 18B, SF Weapons Sergeant; 18C, SF Engineering Sergeant; 18D, SF Medical Sergeant; and 18E, SF Communications Sergeant. 18A, 18B, 18C, and 18E training courses are 15 weeks long. The 18D training course is 48 weeks long.
The candidates culminate their Special Forces training by participating in Operation ROBIN SAGE, a 4 week long large-scale unconventional warfare exercise (Phase V) conducted over 50,000 square miles of North Carolina. The students are put into 12-man ODAs, organized the same way they are in a real mission. After an intense planning and presenting week the students make an airborne infiltration into the fictional country of Pineland, where they must link up with an "indigenous" force, train them and then lead them in the fight to liberate Pineland from their oppressive government.
Phase VI is graduation. The day before graduation there is a regimental dinner where representatives from each group will present each soldier with his green beret. The next day the students will formally graduate from the Special Forces Qualification Course and will go to their first ODA as fully trained, ready-to-deploy, Special Forces Soldiers.
After successfully completing the Special Forces Qualification Course, Special Forces soldiers are then eligible for many advanced skills courses. These include the Military Free Fall Parachutist Course (MFF), the Combat Diver Qualification Course, the Special Forces Sniper Course (SFSC), and the Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance and Exploitation Techniques Course (SFARETEC). Additionally, Special Forces soldiers may participate in special operations training courses offered by other services and allied nations throughout their careers.
Fighting soldiers from the sky
Fearless men who jump and die
Men who mean just what they say
The brave men of the Green Berets
Silver wings upon their chests
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Trained to live off nature's land
Trained to combat hand-to-hand
Men who fight by night and day
Courage taken from the Green Beret
Silver wings upon their chests
These are men, America's best
One hundred men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret
Back at home a young wife waits
Her Green Beret has met his fate
He has died for those oppressed
Leaving her this last request
Put silver wings on my son's chest
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret
|Minnesota's MIA (Vietnam War)
"They shall not grow old,
as we that are left behind grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them..."
- from "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon -
|Ron Toothaker: Green Beret, Vietnam veteran
|1ST RECON BN. COM
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