HISTORY OF SPECIAL FORCES

Special Forces traces its roots as the Army’s premier proponent of unconventional warfare from the operational groups and Jedburgh teams of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

The OSS was formed in WWII to gather intelligence and conduct operations behind enemy lines in support of resistance groups in Europe and Burma. After the war, individuals such as Colonel Aaron Bank, Colonel Wendell Fertig and Lieutenant Colonel Russell Volckmann used their wartime OSS experience to formulate the doctrine of unconventional warfare that became the cornerstone of the Special Forces. In the Army’s official lineage and honors, the Special Forces groups are linked to the regiments of the First Special Service Force, an elite combined Canadian-American unit that fought in North Africa, Italy and Southern France.

Special Forces grew out of the establishment of the Special Operations Division of the Psychological Warfare Center activated at Fort Bragg, NC, in May 1952. In June of 1952, the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) was established under Colonel Bank. Concurrently with this was the establishment of the Psychological Warfare School, which ultimately became today’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. The 10th Special Forces Group deployed to Bad Tolz, Germany, in September 1953. The remaining cadre at Fort Bragg formed the 77th Special Forces Group, which in May 1960 became today’s 7th Special Forces Group. The intervening years saw the number of Special Forces groups rise and fall.

Special Forces Soldiers first saw combat in 1953 as individuals deployed from the 10th SFG (Airborne) to Korea. These men worked with the partisan forces conducting operations behind enemy lines. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, teams of Special Forces Soldiers deployed to Laos to work with the Royal Laotian Army. Operation White Star was the precursor to Special Forces operations in Vietnam. In Vietnam, Special Forces teams worked as advisors to the Vietnamese Army and the Civilian Irregular Defense Forces, trained and led quick-reaction units called Mike Forces, and conducted cross-border operations as the Studies and Observation Group, MACV-SOG. The 5th SFG was formed as the requirement for Special Forces troops grew. In the 14 years Special Forces were in Vietnam, they established a record for bravery and proficiency second to none.

The three decades following Vietnam witnessed Special Forces participation in virtually every campaign fought by the U.S. Army. In Grenada, Haiti, Panama and the Balkans, Special Forces teams conducted unconventional warfare operations in support of the Regular Army. In Operation Desert Storm, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf described the Special Forces as "the eyes and ears" of the conventional forces and the "glue that held the coalition together." In the post-9/11 Global War on Terror, SF has played a critical role in destroying Taliban/al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, rooting out insurgents in Iraq, training foreign troops to fight terrorists or drug warlords, and crossing the globe to liberate the oppressed.

Their missions often require rapid and discreet responses to unique situations throughout the world. As the global scouts for the U.S. military, Special Forces' ubiquitous presence generally guarantees that SF is the first on the ground or already at a crisis location as trouble emerges. For this reason, they are experts in unilateral direct-action operations and unconventional warfare, as well as having thorough knowledge of foreign languages, customs and cultures. In addition, they are masters of training and organizing insurgents, surrogate fighters, indigenous forces and foreign militaries in support of U.S. national objectives.

Special Forces team members work closely together and rely on each other for long periods of time, both during deployments and in garrison. Because of this, they develop close relationships and personal ties which foster a team cohesion and esprit de corps which is rarely found elsewhere in the military.