18 July 2014

FWS Topics: Special Operations Forces Part: 3- Q&A


The world of global Special Operations is one cloaked in secrecy and rumor. This combination has fueled a cottage industry of websites, books, and threads on discussion boards. In my life, I've only met a few verified members of Special Operations, and to an outsider, the lives of these special warfighters is vastly different than my life or anyone else I know. This spawns questions from people like me on how these elite warfighters live and fight. Here in part three of the FWS discussions of Special Operations Forces, we will answer common questions about Special Forces.

Who is the Best?
I often get asked this question, especially after the Bin Laden Raid, and I answer in this way: it depends on what your what or whom your objective is, where your objective is located geographically, what the mission profile is for achieving the mission's objectives, and what action are you empowered with, once you are at the objective? We have to remember, Special Operations  Forces are a dagger of precision force, not a hammer of blunt violent. Special Forces can best be used by their government, if the government and the military organization understand the mission, the outcomes, the people and their skillsets involved in the SPECOPS community, and how to best match up the skills and experiences of the operator(s) with the right type of mission.

What is it Like to be in Special Forces?
People assume that life in Special Operations is filled with excitement, daring missions that are the envy of every red-blooded male...however, what is the reality of day-to-day life in SPECOPS? In most modern SOF units, a full members of these units will be deployed from six months up to 18 months without a trip home. The home life of most Special Forces members runs from wives that understand and accept the conditions of their special marriage, to complete dysfunction and isolation For example, in the SEAL Teams, the divorce rate is as high as 90%. One SEAL wife said that he husband was home for three Christmas in his 15+ years of service.
Being a SPECOPS member means that you can be called on at any moment to go into a hotzone, and be gone for weeks. This isolates SOF members from the pace of "normal" life, and most SOF members have forge friendships with other SOF members, and old friendships fall away. During these deployments, there is the waiting, then there is combat, all while operating away from the support of the big army, and often in austere settings. SOF members have to depend on their teammates and their mentality abilities to out-think the situation. When not on deployment, SOF members are keeping their skills up-to-date, going on exercises, and fulfilling military requirements, because SOF is the tip of the spear.  

How Do You Become a Special Forces Member?

Entry into the shadowy world of SPECOPS is not an easy one, and soldiers that embark on selection, have been planning for years for this very day. It takes blood, sweat, tears, guts, and determination to pass selection, and be badged as an elite warrior. The average among the majority of SOF units is that you must already be an member of the military, in top physical and mental condition. Some units require combat service, or a certain rank, and some have no requirements, save for passing through hell. The US Army used to require that you had a certain rank for entry into the selection process of the Green Berets, however, Afghanistan and Iraq altered that. Now, even an private in the US Army had be accepted into selection. When I was in high school, US Navy required that you had to serve for two years prior to applying to the SEALs. Today, as long as you can pass the SEAL entry exam, and then you suffer through BUD/S, following by two years of additional training. One thing is common among global SPECOPS community, selection and training are designed to allow the cream to rise, washout those that are not meant for Special Forces service.

The Problem with  Increasing the Size of SOF
Since the terrorist attacks in 2001, the Special Operations community has been busy with more operations than since the days of Vietnam, along with an expansion of the number of units, budget, and members. Governments and military organizations have made promises to increase the total population of Special Forces, but that presents a unique problem common in the SOF community. Take the the US Army and the US Navy for example. Both have been asked by the US government and DoD to increase the number of SOF members. In order to accomplish this manpower goal, the size of the total Army and Navy must be increased to allow for a greater recruiting pool. As the spokesperson for USSOCOM put it "the more milk, the more cream."
In addition, there needs to be places for the people that do not get into the Special Operations community to go. The SEALs washout rate is 90%, and there has to be a job in the Navy for these sailors, and if you increase the number of SEALs, you will need to increase "plan B" jobs. The same is true of the US Army SF as well. Then there is another consideration, the time and the type of the people that can make it through the years of training to become elite warfighters. It takes years before a full-fledged SOF member is ready for field operations. Years. That is just the training. Even to apply to US Army SF, you have to be an E-3 or be accepted into the 18X initial accession program. Anther factor in regards to increase SOF populations is that the type of person needed by the Special Operations community. Not everyone can be a SEAL or Green Beret, and that is by design. There is a certain number of people in the world that are willing to make the giant sacrifices to be in SPECOPS, that can make it through the physical, mental, and emotion taxing process of selection. You would not want a streamlined selection process though. Special Forces are asked to do the possible, and they should be able to accomplish the mission.
Despite the higher pay, overall positive current public opinion, and high civilian interest in SPECOPS missions, the Green Berets are running about 94%, and manpower is always an issue. Bring up the question of could we even increase the numbers if the current position are not filled? Part of the issue with getting those personnel numbers up is the braindrain on SOF by private military companies.



Why Do People Join the Special Forces?
Being in the SPECOPS community is one of the most common male fantasies and it has been that way since ancient times. Stories of brave deeds and glorious battles were told over campfires, that highlighted the lives of the warriors at Troy and the Battle of Thernoplylae. Today, the life of a Special Forces soldier is a tough one, and given the amount of sacrifice that is involved with being in a SPECOPS unit, why do soldiers chose to join this shadow community? Some soldier see the world of Special Operations has a the top challenge in the military, and these types of soldiers reveal challenges. Then we see soldiers that want to serve their nation, and defend their society with the best of what their nation can offer. These soldiers are aware that they want to serve in the military, but if and when they go off to war, they want to be surrounded by the best...giving them more of a chance of coming home. Then we just get those that want to protect the homeland, and the tip of the spear has been the SOF units. Then we get those that do want to service their nation, but are more independent than the Big Army would like, and in the SPECOPS community, these irregular stories can find a home.
Some soldiers are seeking adventure via missions that are celebrated in books, movies, and oral history. While others are seeking an lifestyle that is radically different than the typical pattern of civilian life. Some join SPECOPS units for career advancement. At one time, Special Forces was a one way to ticket to career death. Soldiers in SOF units were regarded as mavericks and troublemakers that were not big army material. That is not so today. Today, being in SOF, is a path to command positions and rank advancement, especially within the command structure of the SPECOPS community itself.
Another reason for people applying to SOF units came after September 11th, 2001: defending the homeland. There is no doubt that SOF units were the tip of the spear during the conflict in Afghanistan, and given the nature of the conflict, some see Special Operations as the way to prevent another attack and to teach those who committed this act of terror a valuable lesson. Then there is the last reason...and it is not a popular one. Entering and staying in SPECOPS units is a choice, and there are some that serve within these units because they like the shit. This is not a popular theory for why people join and stay within the Special Operations community, because we in the civilian world are used to that type of answer.

Why Do Special Forces Wear Berets? Beards? and those Shemaghs?
It seems the majority of SOF units have a beret to distinguish themselves from other branches of the armed forces and even the color can differentiate unit from unit (no raspberry though). The beret goes back to Scottish forces around the 16th century, but it was  the Spanish General Tomas de Zumalacarregui that first used the beret has an official military headwear to be both protective against the elements and be easy care. The beret was little known outside of French during the First and Second World Wars. There is little information how the beret made the translation to the headwear of specialized units, however the practice seems to date from the 2nd World War, when the British commando units chose the beret.
The beard has long been associated with Special Forces, and this goes back far longer than just the modern conflict in A-Stan. Facial was allowed in some military units around the 19th and 20th century, depending on the fashion of the day...we know that some units in the Civil War, the Crimean War, and the 1st World War all featured soldiers wit facial hair The Special Forces beard can be traced back to the unconventional warfighters of the Long Range Desert Patrol and other desert fighters. In Arab tradition, the beard is a symbol of manhood, and if a man cannot grew a beard there is a cultural shame. At various points in Special Forces history, operators in Arabic countries have grown beards to fit in and bridge the gap between different worlds. When Special Forces entered Afghanistan, units like the SAS, KSK, DEVGRU and CAG all grew their beards to blend into the local culture and respect local customs. It is believed that the "tactical beard" phenomenon lead to the rise in popular of the beard in civilian culture and the popularity of Duck Dynasty.
Much like the "tactical beard" phenomenon, the war in Afghanistan has risen an rarely known piece of Arabic clothing, the Shemagh or Keffiyeh, into popular culture and a seemingly standard piece of kit with western SPECOPS units operating in the desert. I will testify to the practically nature of the Shemagh, I own three, and use them in various tasks, including paintball. Originally, western SPECOPS and intelligence units in Afghanistan wore them to blend in with the locals,especially when CIA SAD teams, the Green Berets, SEALs, SBS, and DELTA where embedded with Northern Alliance forces. As moe Shemaghs made the rounds in these western military units, these pattern scarves were seen as a handy piece of kit, especially in desert conditions. Other soldiers that look up to the elite SPECOPS unit, saw their donning of the Shemagh, and they became "tacticool". Soon, civilian fashion circles picked up on how cool they looked, and the Keffiyeh became a symbol of the times. They do look cool...  


Why Elite Are More Glamorous than Regular Forces?
I picked up this topic some time ago on the TV Tropes website, and I've thinking about this topic since: why are Special Forces so cool with popular media and the civilian world's collective consciousness? First, it is pretty oblivious to anyone not living in a Tibetan Monastery that SOF units and their missions are the stuff of popular media. From blockbusters like Blackhawk Down and Lone Survivor, to one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, Call of Duty, to the thousands of nonfiction/fiction book titles  concerning the world of Special Operations. This even applies to science fiction...just look at HALO! And we can say that is not just confined to military works. Just examine TV shows like Gossip GirlBeverly Hill 90120, and The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. We humans seem, as my wife puts it, want to live vicariously, and see worlds that we cannot enter, and for much of us that includes the mansions of California and the missions of Special Operations warriors.
There is also a basic human desire to worship strength and celebrate the strong, and SPECOPS units are comprised of the best of the best in the military. I think Han's speech from Enter the Dragon should sum it up:"It is difficult to associate these horrors with the proud civilizations that created them: Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, the Samurai... They worshiped strength, because it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive".

"Shouldn't We Just Have All Special Forces?"
One day at lunch, I got this question from an RN. No shit, she actually said to me this: “couldn’t we just make all of our soldiers’ special force, Will?” I shock my head and answered as best I could I have to remember in these times that not everyone has studied military history, read many books on Special Forces, and dwelled on the subject like I and others have. Most people believe that due to the popular media portrayal of SOF units and their members, they seem like prefect warriors that can defeat armies with a few dozen highly trained bearded warriors. After all, couldn't the UNSC have defeated the Covenant invasion if they all of their soldiers had been SPARTANs like the Master Chief? It is true that SOF units have accomplished great feats of daring and inspirited much esprit de corps, but at times you need an invasion force of thousands with armor and warships. The best examples that I can give are from the decline of the Greek city-state of Spartan and the events of October 3th and 4th, 1993. 
In the general public's point-of-view, the warriors of Sparta are the best that ever was and they are gods-of-war with badass abds. Some historians believe that the Spartans were the best warriors of history (I personally think that it was the Samurai), but while the Spartans were forging their strength, they were sowing the seeds of their own undoing. Originally the Spartan city-state was one of the most admired in the Golden Age of Greece, and was named for the Queen of Laconia. Sparta started started out as the religious and culture center of the Laconia region of Greece.
It was the 7th century invasion and forced annexation of Messenian that give rise to the Sparta that most know today. For over a century, Spartan rule was resisted by Messenians, and this forged the new martial mindset and the massive alternation of their society. After the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus, Sparta became the Sparta we know and celebrate today. The apex of Spartan classical society was about 10,000 male warriors, called the homoioi or "the equals", which is about the same size as US Special Forces. Under the homoioi was 50,000 to 60,000 free-people of Laconia, called perioikoi. These people, along with about 100,000 slaves or herlots, were the supporters of the warrior caste via farming and blacksmithing. This did not make for a large population to draw from in case of a war like other city-states and empires. While most city-states were in fear and awe of the Spatan warriors, there were just too few, especially after the bloody Peloponnesian War.
Given their strict society and the traditions they operated under, Spartan warriors took much time to train, and children died in the training, leading to fewer fully trained warriors. Some have called the Spartans "picky" when it came to selection for their homoioi, and their own warrior ethos, lead to decline of the once mighty Spartan. Much like Special Operations members, the Spartan warriors were superior to the normal infantry/hoplites of their enemies and allies, however, number count, especially in the tactics of the Classical Greek world. While a Spartan warrior was equal to double or triple the number of normal soldiers, they were simply outmanned and could not replace their number with lower birth-rates than other city-states. To solve this issue, they used helot slaves as soldiers with the promise of freedom at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC against the city-state of Thebes. This battle with the Herlot revolt, was the end of Sparta's military domination. They were defeated by Alexander the Great and brought into the Roman Empire in 146 BC.
In August of 1993,after the situation in Somalia was again becoming unstable, and after four US Soldiers were killed by an remote detonated explosive device, President Clinton authorized an Special Forces mission to capture Warlord Aidid and dismantle his organization. Task Force Ranger was comprised of 160 elite SPECOPS soldiers from DELTA, ST6, 160th SOAR, 75th Rangers, USAF PJs and CCTs. The name of the operation was GOTHIC SERPENT. We all know the story, during a raid to capture several key members of Aidid's organization at the Olympic Hotel, and once Cliff "Elvis" Wolcott's Super 6-1 Blackhawk and Michael Durant's Super 6-4 Blackhawk helicopter were both struck with an RPG rounds, the mission changed, as the ground forces attempted to secure the crash sites.
From October 3rd-4th, 1993, these units would be engaged by local militia, while the limited US force performed heroic deeds. There is little doubt that some of the best special warriors in the US military were engaged in brutal street combat, these soldiers needed more help than Task Force Ranger had available. The battle of Mogadishu was a battle of numbers and the Somalia gunmen had more, and despite the training, commitment,bravery, and skill, these operators needed help. When the 10th Mountain and the Pakistan armor vehicles showed up to pull the soldiers out of the hotzone, it shows something important about the nature of SPECOPS and the "regular" army: they need one another. The Big Army cannot launch and successfully complete the types of unconventional irregular missions that SPECOPS can. Nor can SPECOPS bring the firepower of the combined arms of the big army, and the level of integration being tactical armor, infantry, tac-air support to bring the pain to the enemy. Both the Spartans and the Battle of Mogadishu demonstrate that SPECOPS cannot exist in a vacuum, they need the support elements and steer size of the big army, and the big army needs the scalpel-precision of SPECOPS units to wage irregular warfare from the shadows.  

The Public Perception of SOF 
As someone who has studied various Special Forces units and the missions of these elite warfighters, the public’s perception is often comical at best, and at worse, completely uninformed. Often at work, I hear comments like: “we should just kill them with some special forces guys” and “we should just use a sniper or kick in a door.” This is also coupled with the notion that Special Forces soldiers dress like ninja, and are all black belts in some ultra-secret martial art. Part of this is due to the early public image of real Special Forces soldiers, like the 1980 SAS raid on the Iranian Embassy when they wore all black kit and gas masks with H&K MP5 SMGs.
After the film Black Hawk Down came out, the public associated the black Pro-Tec skate helmets with Special Forces soldiers, along with carbines outfitted with tactical lights and aiming devices. Today, the line is blurred between the Special Forces and other units, due to the current military gear-and-kit industry and the ability of soldiers to buy this custom gear, along with the M4A1 carbine becoming the standard issue in Afghanistan. Of course, there is a strong connection with beards and Shemaghs.

How Does Private Military Companies Effect the Special Forces?
Service in most nation's Special Forces units is the crowning glory of a long-held dream with much sacrifice for the soldier and their families. That being said, the money is just okay. The average SEAL team member with HALO certification is about $2,046 per month a month with all of the benefits of the Navy and base housing. Of course, the rank scale is increased for certifications, rank increase, combat duty, and so on. However, private military companies like Blackwater (now called Academi), Aegis Defense Services, or KBR hire former Special Operations warfighters for protection, training, and intelligence work for big money.
From reports, an former SOF trained soldier can make $10,000+ for a tour in-country, and some of the contractors are cleaning $100,000+ a year. This has created an "brain-drain" on the global Special Operations community. The temptation of making twice or three times there yearly pay, and the ability of dictate terms of service is very great, especially when these SOF guys have families and bills to pay. A few tours could mean the housing being paid much quicker, along with clearing debt and saving for retirement. To prevent the drain on SOF, governments have been increasing benefits and retention pay.

The Gear of Special Operations Units
It is true that Special Forces units are some equipped unique and specialized gear that reflect their status, mission, training, and funding level. It seems more lately that the gear of the Special Forces warfighter trickle down to the regular troops.One of the most reviewed and examined areas of SOF are their tactical kit, their weapons and their vehicles. Often, Special Forces members are the testbed platform for future tactical gear, equipment, and weapon systems. SOF remembers have more latitude and individual purchasing power than the typical “normal” military unit. This allows SOF teams to field new cutting edge gear. This is big business, especially latterly, for certain companies. If the elite love and use their product, they can expect an dramatic increase in sales due to everyone else wanting to be in the cool kids club. However, it can be more than just being trendy; often the warfighters of SOF units see more combat missions and intensive dynamic combat training, this leads to “high speed low drag” functional gear
One of the better examples is the various carbine variants of the M16. Dating back to Vietnam, most were mostly used by Special Forces, especially the commando-length carbines. Even the regular soldiers and REMFs knew that if you had an  When the Colt M4 carbine was adopted by US Forces in 1994, they were mostly in the hands of the elite soldiers even up until the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the beginning of these conflicts, the M4 carbine was the mark of the elite. However, today, nearly every soldier in the US military is issued an M4A1 with all manner of attachment devices to mount on the rails.
The same was true when it came to head gear. Often, Special Forces soldier were known for not wearing traditional helmets. In Vietnam, SOF units wore headbands and boonie hats. More recently, we've seen specialized variants of the traditional PASGT Kevlar helmet, called the Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH). Around the Today, the standard issue Advanced Combat Helmet (ACH) of the US Army the USMC Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH) are both descended from the old MICH design. Today, Special Forces warriors are seen with specialized variants of the ACH and ECH or even the Ops-Core FAST Ballistic helmet that are fitted with various NVG equipment and light attached via rails.

The Small Arms of Special Operations Units

There seems to be little cooler, in the world of firearms, than the weapons of the elite SOF units. Paintballers (me included!), Airsofters, and civilian shooters often invest serious amount of cash and time to modifier their weapons after the small arms of the SOF. When the original modern SOF units were founded around World War II, these Commando and Ranger units used weapons like the excellent 9mm German MP-40s, the Thompson .45ACP submachine gun, the British Sten submachine gun, the M1 Carbine, the STG-44, and the sound suppressed British Welrod 9mm/.32 pistol. Special Forces would expand into counter-terrorism roles in the 1970’s, and one of the tools of that trade would create a pattern in early SOF units and an enduring image in the public mindset: the use of submachine guns. When it came to hostage rescues, counter-terrorism, low-profile and close protection ops, the Heckler & Koch MP5 9x19mm SMG would be the choice for over twenty years and is considered the iconic SMG. Today, SMGs are on the way out, and are being replaced with compact assault carbines and the Personal Defense Weapon (PDW), like the FN P90 and the H&K MP7.
While popular media would wrongly assume that all CT/SOF/LE units use the MP5 for most missions. What was being missed was the use of carbine length (and shorter) assault rifles. Since weapons like the paratrooper variant of the M1 Carbine, the M1A1 folding stock of World War II, special mission units have cut-down and modified small arms to fit their unique mission profiles. Gun stocks were modified to fold or collapse, along with being made lighter weight via plastic or wire, like the FN FAL Para or the AKS-47/AKS-74. 
Creating more compact rifles via shorter barrels and/or foregrips was a hallmark of SOF assault rifles, like the Colt Commando/CAR-15. Some weapons were given both treatments to forge an overall shorter weapon, befitting of the various combat environments, like the Soviet AKS-74U, Mark 18 Mod 0 CQBR, and the H&K G36C. Another modification by Special Forces members to their weapons was the addition of various attachments. Special Forces were some of the first units to fit their assault rifles and carbines with scopes, laser aiming devices, flashlights, specialized slings, sound suppressors, and underslung grenade launchers. Today, given the massive popularity of attachment rail systems, the SOF units are not the only ones modifying their standard issued assault rifles and carbines. 
Today, given the massive popularity of attachment rail systems, the SOF units are not the only ones modifying their standard issued assault rifles and carbines. Pistols have been a mark of the elite soldiers since the days of the Dragoon. In most military organizations, pistols are issued to a limited number of personnel, mostly NCOs and officers. However, in the SOF community, the wearing of a sidearm is SPO, and even the choice in sidearm can be personal choice. In the US SOF community; the 9mm Beretta M9, the .45ACP Colt 1911, the 9mm Glock 17, and the 9mm Sig Sauer 226 are the sidearms of choice. Even in units like the SAS, CAG, and DEVGR use these basic pistols above with modifications of course. 
There was one pistol developed by Heckler & Koch specifically for the Special Operation community: the .45ACP Mark 23 Offensive Handgun Weapons System. The OHWS project was tasked with developing an powerful (non-9mm) pistol platform for use in the rough combat conditions that SOF operates in, and could accept a laser aiming module and sound suppressor. This handgun was a response to the fears and doubts about 9mm combat handguns by Army SOF and Navy SEALs, and was originally going to chamber the 10mm. The Mark 23 was delivered, in .45ACP, to USSCOM units in 1996, and served mainly with the SEALs, Air Force SOF units, and Navy dive units. The Mark .23 SOCOM  pistol had a short service life, and most SOF units that had originally wanted the big, powerful handgun, went back to the 9mm, and pressured JSOC for another .45 that was less bulky and less costly. Today, most Mark 23 pistols are getting dusty in armories, while smaller framed .45ACP pistols by Kimber, Wilson Combat, Colt, and H&K are being bought and issued.   
SOF units have also been the place of development of some of the recent, what I like to call “hybridized weapon platforms”. The best examples are the Colt AR-15 and the Springfield M14. Centers like Naval Surface Warfare Crane Division and Knights Armament of Florida have taken these familiar weapon systems and used them to create new weapons with familiar ergonomics Crane took the M4A1 carbine and developed a close quarters SMG-sized assault rifles. KAC  modernize an aging battle-rifle from Vietnam, into an DMR system that is serving on the frontlines of two wars. Another KAC product was the sniper rifle/DMR was forged out of the familiar AR-15 platform, re-chambered to fire the 7.62mm NATO round, and this became the M-110 SASS.       

Special Forces and Hand-to-Hand Combat
There is a rumor held by civilians that once a soldiers joins the holy ranks of Special Forces, they receive training in some sort of forbidden military Martial Art that forges their bodies into deadly weapons, and with a single strike, they can kill you. For years, video tapes, books, and websites have all promised to delivery the ultimate badass military combat hand-to-hand system to your door for the low price of...well, you get the idea. Often, the snake-oil salesmen prostituted the good name of the IDF, SEALs, DELTA, SAS, and USMC RECON in order to sell the unaware their product. It is true is that, throughout the existence of modern SOF units, various advisers have been contracted to help develop training standards and update older hand-to-hand combat systems. Some of these systems were based on Martial Art concepts or fads at the time. For example, Judo, Jiu Jitsu and Karate were popular bases for combat arts that lasted up until the 1980's. In the 1980's, concept of Jeet Kune Do were explored by some SEAL teams. By the 1990's, MMA principles were added to the base of military Martial Arts. Some servicemembers living overseas take classes in native Martial Arts, and add that experience to their unit's training.
Right Square in the Balls, bitch!
So, what is the truth of SOF hand-to-hand combat training? Organized hand-to-hand combat training is as older as military organizations, where the more experience warrior, teaches the younger warrior. The plain fact is that the vast majority of SOF members are trained in hand-to-hand combat system approved by their organization, and most do take instruction outside of the base on their own to prove physical health and mental attitude. Special Forces train in hand-to-hand combat for several reason. It is excellent physical training tool that builds response time and stamina. The ability to handle some threats with less-than lethal manner, and if their weapon systems should not function, they have options. The core of these systems, as been a mixed martial arts approve with elements burrowed from one systems to another. But, as a general rule, the military would rather have their special operators training in other areas  besides hand-to-hand combat skills. Most of thisThe standard SOF hand-to-hand combat training is longer than regular forces, but the standard is about two hours per week. Overall, hand-to-hand combat training is not a critical skill in the eyes of USSCOM. Special Forces organizations are not tasked with cracking out Bruce Lee with a gun, or ninja soldiers. They are tasked with training well-round SOF members that can handle various threats and situations.
One of the exceptions to the rule, may be the Israeli Krav Maga Martial Art. Like most Martial Art systems, Krav Maga was developed for use in defensive roles in hostile situations, and by the 1950's, the IDF was instructing all of their armed forces and police in the ways of Krav Maga. Today, KM is one of the primary systems for self-defense, and is often of the base Martial Arts used in the formation of MMA styles. However, there is a "military" level of KM. Some sites call the KM style taught to the elite of IDF units "commando", but, most agree that there are variants of the standard civilian Krav Maga system that are separated by civilian and military.

Women and Special Operations Forces
One of the hot button topics in the Special Operations community is the inclusion of female special operators. Some believe that the majority of women are unable to hack it in SPECOPS training, or that standards will be lowered, or that women will be a distraction to male soldiers. Others believe that women will bring something new to the world of Special Operations. Some nations do allow female soldiers to apply for the Special Forces, but not the United States, the French Foreign Legion, nor Britain, or even Israel. In the nations where women are allowed to apply and go through SPECOPS selection, like the New Zealand SAS. However, I was unable to find a case were a female had passed the rigors of selection and been a fully badged member of theses international SOF units.
The closest SPECOPS unti that women have been able to enter is the Cultural Support Teams and the Female Engagement Teams. These specialized units were designed for western female soldiers to interact with the female and children of Afghan villages, to gather, help, and build trust. There was talk for years of an element of DELTA Force called "the funny platoon", which, according to rumor, employed women in on-site intelligence. This is similar to an SAS intelligence group that also used female agents to gather intel in Ireland. Other sources claim that the Funny Platoon was an oddball name for the in-house DELTA intelligence unit. In the next few years, it is believed that women will get their shot at entering the SPECOPS selection courses as female soldiers are allowed to serve in open combat units.

Examples of Global Special Operations Units

The Navy SEALs, SDVTs and Navy SWCC
The US SEALs, SWCC, and SDVT are all members of US Naval Special Warfare Command, and recently the profile of NAVSPECWAR units as risen since the War on Terror. Out of the 300,000+ number of active personnel in the US Navy, the Naval Special Warfare Command, composed of SEALs, SWCC, SDVTS and the Naval Special Warfare Center only number about 9,000 members as of August of 2012, and are 14% of USSOCOM.  The SEAls were formed in 1962, and are descended from the World War II era "amphibious Scout/Raiders", tasked with cleared beaches, eyes-on recon, and direct assault. There was also the OSS Operational Swimmers and the UDTs that were all part of the SEAL DNA. At the moment, there eight SEAL Teams (1,2,3,4,5,7,8 and 10) located on both coasts of the US, plus Pearl Harbor. The success rate for completion of SEAL training is about 5% and the vast majority of operations conducted by the SEALs recently has been land based. Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen are the 160th SOAR for the water. Their mission is to delivery, support, and pickup the SEALs using all manner of watercraft that are generally armed to the goddamned teeth. The members of SWCC are damned impressive, and receive lengthy specialized training.
One of the more unknown SEAL units is the SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team or SDVT. These SEALs are assigned to SDVT after SQT, and are trained in underwater operations, the specialized mini-submarines for transport (ENFIL and EXFIL) of other SEALs, placement of mines, RECON, above and below the water, and other clandestine operations. Some sources I've read, say that, per average, the SDVT guys are more experienced in underwater operations and diving than the majority of current members, given the majority of current SEAL ops are on-land. The SEALs associated with the 2005 Operation RED WINGS were members of SDVT 1 (SDVT 2 was dismantled in 2008), and this demonstrated the versatility of the SEAL training and mission profile. 

The US Army Special Forces (Green Berets)
Founded in 1952, out of the ashes of the World War II OSS, the Green Berets and the "White Tigers" of the Korean War, the Green Berets would see their defining mission, helping local assets in an armed struggle, begin in 1962 in Vietnam, assisting the South Vietnam Army and the Montagnard. Since then, the Green Berets primary mission has been foreign military assistance direct action, recon, and counter-terrorism. Some sources believe that the US Army Special Forces are some of the busiest SOF units in the world, operating in the shadows in dozens of counties at one time, often not attracting attention to themselves. 
Out of the over half-a-million active duty US Army personnel, the US Special Forces are about 1% or about 4,000 active SF warfighters. The core field operation unit for the SF, is the Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODA), which is made up of 12 members, each tasked with a specific job that allows for a depth of skill. In US Army has more than just Green Berets in the Special Operations Command. There is also 160th SOAR, DELTA Force, the Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Rangers, command, education, and support personnel. In terms of the total USSOCOM population, the US Army Special Operations Command comprises 28,500 of the total 63,650 personnel, or 45%.   

The British Royal Marines Commandos
To those that think the USMC is old, try the Royal Marines, who can trace back their Marine linage to 1664. The Royal Marines are very similar in mission to the USMC, where both are naval infantry forces that conduct amphibious operations and expeditionary duties, but, that is were the similarities end. While some will say that the USMC is an elite unit, and it is to some degree, the British Royal Marines are an SOF unit with one of the longest training cycles in any western military (32 weeks) and have a storied history. At the moment, the 8000+ strong Royal Marines are serving in combat sizes in Afghanistan.

The US Air Force Para-Rescue
The motto of this elite USAF unit is: “that others shall live”, and these Parajumpers pull double duty as both healer and shooter. The Para-Rescue was developed to medically care of personnel in a combat situation, and PJs pride themselves on being able to access wounded personnel in hostile conditions that would repeal others. While the PJs have been around since 1946/47, they really came to the attention of general public during Vietnam and via Mark Bowden’s book Black Hawk Down.  Some consider the PJs one of the hardest Special Operations training in USSOCOM, due to the medical and swimming requirements. These requirements have kept the total number of PJs to around 350 male airmen. PJs are known to be the mix with other SPECOPS units, and some of the most decorated personnel in the Air Force are members of the PJs. 

The US Army 75th Ranger Regiment

As we've discussed earlier in this series, the Rangers are one of the oldest Special Operations units in service in America, and the modern Rangers can be traced back to the 2nd World War. Today, the 2200 or so Rangers are an elite light infantry unit of the US Army that highly skilled in infantry warfare, and often serve as the backup force or the QRF for Special Mission Units. 



The US MARSOC
United States Marine Corps Special Operation Command or MARSOC was founded in 2007, and is not related to USMC Force RECON nor the USMC Scout-Snipers. When the US went into Afghanistan in 2001, the USMC was the only branch of the US military NOT in-country during the initial operations. To alter that the USMC would not be left out of the party, the USMC formed their own SOF unit, the MARSOC around 2006. At present, MARSOC has about 2500 operators, and presently works in A-Stan and other AOs around the global, and represents about 4% of USSOCOM, or 2,600 out of 63,650. Unlike Force RECON, MARSOC is part of USSCOM, and is under the command of said organization. IN practice, they operate in mixed SOF teams, and some have commented that MARSOC have the same capabilities as US Army Green Berets. The development of MARSCO has called into question the continued existence of USMC’s scout-snipers and Force RECON. Some Marines of the scout-snipers and RECON have transferred to MARSCO. 

USMC FORCE RECON

USMC Force Reconnaissance was formed in 1957 for use in deep recon, direct support and direct action missions within the USMC. The name alone has been a holy one since I was a kid, but many cannot name what the Force RECON Marines do. Some have pointed to a present “identity” and “role” confusion in the 21st century. The mission roles of Force RECON are devoted to scouts, on-site intelligence gathering via reconnaissance in a land and maritime environment, this includes deep within hostile territory. They are also tasked with direct support and direct actions missions, including VBSS and counter-piracy operations. Much of the tasks devoted to maritime and ambitious operations are similar to SEALs roles as well. At present, Force RECON is not part of USSCOM, and operates in a capability to assist SOF operations and units, but is not under the direct command of USSCOM. There are some concerns about the future of Force RECON, and members of Force RECON have transferred to MARSOC. Some “experts” have concluded that Force RECON will be married to MARSOC in the next few years. Some point to the misuse of Force RECON during the War in Iraq (as documented in Generation Kill). 


USMC Scout-Sniper
In the USMC, the elite scout-sniper service represents about 500 marines that are tasked with finding the enemy, and killing that enemy with supporting certain operational objectives and unit in-field. 
In the community of Marine Corps snipers there is one name that is larger than life, the legendary Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathock. He would embody the spirit of the scout-sniper service of the USMC, and serve as an example for future Marine Scout-Snipers. At present, the Scout-Sniper service uses the M110 DMR rifle and the bolt-action M40 sniper rifle. It is believed that the future of the scout-snipers of the USMC is dim 

The British Special Air Service (SAS)

One of the earliest modern Special Forces units that influence the development of the majority of current SOF units operating today is the Special Air Service (SAS). The Regiment was originally formed by David Sterling in 1941 to wage unconventional warfare on the Italians and Germans. and was deactivated in 1945 after the end of World War II. However, the Regiment was reactivated in 1947, from the elements of the Artists Rifles, and given the name “22 SAS Regiment”. The about 900 operators are divided up among several alphabetically named squadrons, with different tactical roles. Unlike the US CAG and DEVGRU, the SAS does not possess an upper echelon unit that SAS operators ascend towards. The closest subsection of the Regiment is the “special projects team” that mainly handles counter-terrorism assignments. It is widely believed that the SAS are one of the difficult SOF units to enter, and one of the best SOF units in the world. While the SAS were well known, they rocketed to the world stage in 1980, when during the hostage rescue at the Iranian Embassy, along the publication of Andy McNabb’s book Bravo Two Zero. Recently, the SAS have been involved in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Throughout the years, the British SAS as given raise to other SAS units in Commonwealth nations, like Australia, Rhodesia, and New Zealand. During an exchange between US and British Special Forces, Colonel Charlie Beckwith received the idea to form an US version of the SAS…we know them as DELTA Force today. The SAS operate today in joint SPECOPS NATO units like Taskforce BLACK.   

The US Air Force Special Operations Squadrons
It came as some surprise that the USAF operations no less than a ten SPECOPS units. While, the Pararesuce operators are well known, there are other ground-based units, like the Tactical Response Force that is the USAF unit that responses to threats to the USAF nuclear arsenal, like bombers and launch sites. Then there is the SOSFS, that protects AFSOC units at home and around the ground, with inside-the-wire and outside-the-wire security and counter-threat operations. One of the specialized units within the SOSFS, is the Emergency Services Teams, that compared to an USAF SWAT team. Then we have Combat Weathermen, that collect on-site weather data, and often these members work within a specialized SOF team. Rounding out the ground AFSOC units is the Close Combat Controls and the PJs. These ground based units are the blanket of Special Tactics Teams. In the air, there are several specialized aviation units devoted to specialized clandestine aerial operations, and some other units that operate the AC-130 gunships. Overall, the AFSOC has 18,000 members and is currently involved in operations around the world.   
The British Long Range Desert Group
During some of the darkest days of World War II, about 350 soldiers from Ireland, Britain, New Zealand and Rhodesia comprised the specialized desert operations vehicular group known as the LRDG between 1940-1945. The goal of these intrepid desert Special Forces units was to recon the vast North African desert territory, stage raids on the Axis desert forces, gather intelligence, and to act as guides to other units. Highly successful, the LRDG has become pioneers and legends in the SOF community and the Second World War. Up until the LRDG was formed, nothing like their mission had been done before. Current Special Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan own a great deal to the LRDG, especially those depend on overlanding vehicle operations, like Operation: MEDUSA. Oddly, the LRDG requested to be transferred to the fight about the Imperial Japanese, but were refused, and the unit was disbanded. 

The Afghan National Army Commandos
When Afghanistan was united under the new government in Kabul, the United States embarked on a mission to develop an new Afghan Army and Special Forces units to one day, defend Afghanistan from AQ/Taliban groups. Commandos are alreadt members of the ANA, and are put through a 12 week course to become an Commando and earn their maroon beret. After graduation, the newly minted commandos are placed into 18 weeks of supervised units under the command of US SF members. Since 2007, the ANA Commandos have been trained and lead by Special Forces trainers under ISAF, especially the US Army Green Berets. At the moment, there about 10,000 Commandos stationed at Camp Morehead near Kabul in service with the ANA, and are equipped in a similar fashion to US SOF units, with tricked out Colt M4A1s, carbines streamlined Kelvar helmets, tac-gear, and other tacticool items. However, the ANA Commandos organization is similar to the 75th Ranger Battalion. By 2012, the ANA Commandos were conducting night-ops with a full SOF mission with completely Afghan personnel. 

The British Special Boat Service (SBS)
This naval SPECOPS commando unit was formed in 1940 under the name “Special Boat Section” and like the SAS, it was disbanded after the 2nd World War after heroic deeds in the line of service. However, the Royal Marines altered the name to “Special Boat Service”, and the unit is today, the Special Operations unit of the British Navy, and most comprised of Royal Marines. Most seem to compare the SBS to the SEALs The SBS has about 200-250 personnel, which are called “swimmer-canoeists”, and are divided among four squadrons.  Recent SBS operations, much like the US Navy SEALs, are mainly operating on-land missions during the conflicts in Iraq and A-Stan. SBS operators were seen in the intense and bloody battle of Qala-i-Jangi, and were in a joint SPECOPS unit that hunted Bin Laden at the Battle of Tora Bora, with DELTA Force, and a small SBS team secured Bagram Airport in 2001. Recently, it has come out that SBS officers were in the planning team of OPERATION: Neptune Spear. When Daniel Craig took over the duties of James Bond, and the backstory of Bond was rewritten, he was placed in the SBS prior to joining MI6.

The British "X Squadron"
There is little in the way of confirmed information about this unit. However, there are rumors only about this SOF unit. It is believed that the X Squadron of the SBS, combines both SBS and SAS operators into a joint operational unit, much like US joint SPECOPS units that feature ST6 and DELTA operators, like Task Force 121. According to rumor, the X Squadron is housed at the Royal Marine Base at Poole, England, and have operated in Afghanistan and Iraq. 




The Russian Spetsnaz

The name “Spectsnaz” is actually an abbreviation in Russian, and dates back to 1938. Soviet military thinker, Mikhail Svehnykov, envisioned the need for an unconventional warfare infantry unit. However, it wasn’t until 1950 that the Spetsnaz were formed.  The Spetsnazs are not limited to the army, there are also naval Spetsnaz, and until recently, some Spetsnaz units operated under the authority of the Russian intelligence service, the GRU. Much like the United States, the Russian military as a number of SOF units, and in 2012, the Russian military reconstructed their Special Operations community, and it believed that there are 12,000 in the Spetsnaz. During the Cold War, units of Spetsnaz commandos were seen in operations to stabilize satellite Warsaw Pact nations, in Vietnam during the war, and were heavily involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. From 1999 through 2004, the Spetsnaz were heavily involved in 2nd Chechen War, and were seen by the global community during the tragic 2004 Beslan School Siege. Much like Operation: Eagle Claw in 1980, the Beslan tragedy woke the Russian Special Operations community up and lead to reform.


US Asymmetric Warfare Group
In 2004, the US Army founded the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), and some websites at the time, wrongly thought to be the new name of DELTA Force. Based out of Fort Meade, Maryland, the AWG is part of the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, and is a response to the War on Terror and grew out of the IED taskforce from 2003. The mission of the five active AWG squads that total about 400 members is basically an in-field armed taskforce of training and advisement that witness the on-the-ground situation, advise the in-field units, and alters current training doctrine based on the on-site. Since the formation of the AWG, they have been busy in Afghanistan and overseas bases associated with deploying units. 

The Iraqi Republic Guard
During the rein of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Army Republican Guard were the cream of the military. Unlike a great number of SPECOPS units featured on this list, the Republican Guard were combined arms with crack Special Forces paratrooper infantry, top-of-the-line Soviet tanks and the Iraq own "Lion of Babylon" MBT, along with other armored vehicles. Republican Guardmens were Ba'athist, completely loyal to the regime, and were under the command of one of Saddam's sons. 
In reward for being the core of Saddam's government, they received power with the government/society, greater pay, better food, better equipment, and greater status...and there was the fancy black beret as well. At the apex of the Hussein rein, the Republican Guard was at 70,000. There was even a more elite Republican Guard within the Republican Guard, called the "Special" Republican Guard that number 12,000 that was even more loyal to the regime and was tasked with the protection of the Hussein family and the chosen few of the Ba'athist Iraq. After the 2003 Invasion, the two Republican Guards were dissolved, and some melted into an insurgency. The Republican Guard are interesting example of a different type of Special Operations unit that enforces the will of an dicator and props up the regime.

The French Special Forces
Much like their other NATO allies, the French military has several SOF units across their armed forces. The primary SOF unit is the 1st Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, that original called the Free French SAS during the 2nd World War. This unit is compared to the British SAS and the American Green Berets. The French Navy has their Naval Marine Commandos that are compared to the SEALs and the Royal Marines, and have seen combat duties in Afghanistan. One of the well known French specialized units is the French Foreign Legion.
But what is it the FFL and are they really SOF? The FFL is an military organization over two century old, and today the 8000 legionnaires come from over 130 nations, all are expected to speak French and fight for France. Only men are accepted in the Legion, and only 1-in-the-12 pass selection, and one-in-ten will die in service of the FFL.  Once passed, they earn the white and the title of Legionnaire. After years of training, the FFL are expected to fight for France, when called. The FFL is one of the most unique infantry force in the world. Members of the Legion join to escape their old lives or find purpose or adventure.
These trainee Legionaries are given a new name and identity, along with joining the new family. The Legion's purpose was to be an army within army, and sent to the worst jobs and the worst parts of the world. They the dirty and the expendable. Originally, the Legion was an independent entity of the French Army until they attempted to assassin French President Charles de Gaul and stage a coup in 1961. After that, the Legion was brought under the supervision of the French Army, and transformed into a light, rapid deployment force that could go into hotspots around the world that possesses one of the strongest unit morale and identity. One of the odd duties of the FFL is to protect the French Space Program launch site in Guiana.

The SPECWARCOM of the Republic of Korea Army

Since 1958,  the Special Warfare Command of the Korean Army, or the “black berets” have been the tip of the spear for the Repubic of Korea's military, and the various units that comprise the ROKSPECWARCOM have a different focus than most SPECOPS in the world. The 6000 special soldiers know their enemy and how that war could come at any moment. This is on of the reason why the ROKSPECWARCOM have been training for operations in North Korea for some time. On the other side of the border, the North Koreans are rumored to have 200,000, which would be more than any other military organization on the planet. Units of the ROK SOF  have served in combat. During the Vietnam War, ROK SOF units operated against the Viet-Cong and the NVA, and they were well known for their fearsome skill. Some members of ROK SOF have worked in UN Peacekeeper operations, like East Temor. If there is ever war between the North and South, the ROK SOF will be there.

The Polish GROM 
Before the fall of the Warsaw Pact and Communism, it was unimaginable that US SOF and Polish SOF units would train and fight together in special missions. GROM stands for Grupa Reagowania Operacyino Manewrowego or "operational maneuver response group". GROM was formed in 1990 and named for an World War II era elite Polish unit, and is one of the five SPECOPS in the Polish military. For many of us, GROM would come to global attention during the War on Terror, when GROM operators fought in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. GROM was formed after Polish diplomats were killed in Lebanon. Today, the 500 strong GROM trains with some of the best SOF units in the world, and has worked with these global units in combat operations. Some have called GROM one of the best SOF units in the world that you don't hear about. 

The Rhodesian Selous Scouts (1973-1980)
From 1965-1980, the nation of Rhodesia, named for Cecil Rhodes, could traces its roots back to the days of white colonization in Africa. would exist against the wishes of the international community, especially Britain. From the very beginning of Rhodesia, the nation would wage a irregular war against several factions of communism guerrillas, namely the ZIPRA and the ZAPU. Both were wanting to established an black-led Communism national state under the name of Zimbabwe, and these groups were supported by nations surrounding Rhodesia and the Soviet Union. Some of the tension in Rhodesia was fueled by racial struggles and suppression. The conditions of the Rhodesian Bush Wars would fuel the formation of the combat RECON unit, the Selous Scouts in 1973. Named for 19th century British explorer and ranger Frederick Selous, the 1500 Selous Scouts were uniquely designed for the Bush Wars. The role of the Selous Scouts was to gather in-field intelligence via contacts in the frontier villages and a spy networks.
In direct actions irregular warfare missions, the Selous Scouts were to use their tactical bush field-craft to counter the insurgency via their own tactics and out in the bush of Rhodesia and nations that border. The scouts used the FN FAL and the H&K G3 battle rifles, an unique tactical webbing system with chest rigs, along wearing the iconic Rhodesian bush camo pattern fatigues and canvas light boots. By 1979-80, the war was over and so was Rhodesia. At the end of the Bush Wars, only 40 scouts have been killed in battle. Today, Rhodesia is called Zimbabwe under shit-stain Robert Mugabe, who has a place reserved in the "special" hell. The motto of the Selous Scouts was "Pamwe Chete" or "all together"in the Shona language. Many of the Selous Scouts veterans joined South African military after the fall of Rhodesia. Today, the history of Rhodesia and the Selous Scouts are controversial.  

The Culture of "Wannabes" and Special Forces
My Paintball Armory
Let me be clear: I am an prime example of the culture of wannabe SPECOPS soldiers and I've never served a single day in the military. The only uniform I've worn was for my high school fast food job. And the only combat I've engaged in slinging paintball during Oklahoma D-DAY in 2007. I've only once once pulled my Sig Sauer P229 .40 with the intention of using it. However, I used dress up in a DELTA Force Black Hawk Down inspirited layout for MILSIM paintball, and even today, I am still more MILSIM than the average Dallas paintballer. Today, I write military sci-fi, run one of the largest sites devoted to military science fiction, and play Call of Duty. I am the guy that real operators laugh at and call "wannabe".
You know who this is!
According to various interviews, SPECOPS soldiers mock and simply do not understand the civilian culture of Wannabes, but they shouldn't. Imitation is the sincerest foam of flattery, and all of the airsofters and MILSIM paintballers are, in a way, worshiping the elite soldiers. Also, this culture of Wannabes is nothing new and is part of the process to mint new members of SPECOPS. Boys and girls reading and watching the dramatizing deeds of Special Forces lit the fire of desire to one day join these elite ranks.

From the Fox Mulder Corner...Blackest of the Black?
Tier-One units of the JSOC are well known to most people with an internet connect, and they are considered the most elite operators in the military. But are there units, blacker than black? Rumors around the UFO community point to just such units. Some believe that the US Air Force as specialized UFO crash recovery teams. In one second season episodes of the X-Files, the "blue berets" were comically featured...but could this unit really exist? Keeping with this this thought, there are some that believe highly secret underground bases are protected by ultra-black units, like the base in Dulce, New Mexico. This become more of a theory after the release of Half-Life. One of the craziest theories involve off-world military forces, like the rumored SOLAR-WARREN, the US reverse-engineered UFO space fleet.
British Hacker Gary McKinnon as stated many times that when he hacked into NASA and US government databases, he saw files with military officers with off-world assignment duties, called "non-terrestrial officers". Some believe that SOLAR-WARREN has bases within the solar system, especially on the moons of Mars. This would be similar to the SG Teams seen in the Stargate universe. Other believe that some video footage taken in Iraq points to special operators using light-bending optical camouflage, or that there is a project like TREADSTONE or BLACKBRIAR from the Bourne films. Other think that there are secret government or alien shadow government assassins, created with alien and human DNA. While I don't know about ultra-black ops alien-hunting units, I do believe that we civilians do not know every SOF unit in the military.

Next Time on FWS...
In the fourth and final installment of the FWS discussion of Special Operations Forces, we will examining the depictions of Special Forces in science fiction, how sci-fi gets it and wrong, and examines...tons of examples. With some much work being already done on the fourth section, it should be up in two weeks!




Here is some videos to lighten the mood...

MARSOC vs. Green Berets RAP BATTLE!















Army Rangers vs. Navy SEALs RAP BATTLE!















Train like an Operator Workout!















The National Geographic "Special Forces" Documentary