What are the U.S. Special Forces?

list of special forces

When most of us hear the term U.S. Special Forces (or U.S. Special Operations), what comes to mind may be shaped by what we see in movies.

On the silver screen, U.S. Special Operations such as the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, and Green Berets, etc. are tough-as-nails heroes with almost super-human abilities. They persevere against the odds and always beat the enemy.

While that narrative may be exciting to watch, there’s much more to the U.S. Special Forces than what can be crammed into a 90-minute movie.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the U.S. Special Operations units that exist in different branches of the military and the essential roles these teams play in protecting our country. 

Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)

You may know this team by their popular nickname, the Green Berets. The first USASOC unit was formed in 1952 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and has played a major role in major conflicts ever since.

In fact, no other military Special Operations unit has played a larger role in the war against terror than the Green Berets. They may make surgical strikes to eliminate terrorist cells or stop terrorist plots. In addition, each member of the team must be fluent in a foreign language, so they can mingle with locals in enemy territory and gather intelligence that would be otherwise unattainable.

Green Berets also have the mission of training the military of developing countries that have good relations with the Unites States.

As you can imagine, training to become a member of the Green Berets is intense. In the past two years, the Army created the 18X – Special Forces Enlistment Option, which outlines what new recruits must do to become part of this elite force.

Army Rangers: The 75th Regiment

list of special forces

The first Army Ranger battalion was created during World War II at the insistence of Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, who believed that the United States needed a superior fighting unit similar to the British Commandos. The first Ranger unit fought with distinction in several successful campaigns during World War II in Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and Germany.

Since then, Army Rangers have come to be known as a highly trained, agile, and lethal team capable of conducting complex special missions. No other unit can be deployed as quickly as the Army Rangers.

They can insert themselves into any combat situation with just 18 hours’ notice by sea, land, or air. When you think of soldiers parachuting directly into the middle of military action, you’re thinking of the Army Rangers.

Soldiers who wish to become assigned to a Ranger battalion must first become airborne qualified (they need to know how to jump out of airplanes). Then there’s the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), which consists of three weeks of physical and written tests including Army Physical Fitness Test, the Army Combat Water Survival Test.

To become a full-fledged Army Ranger, a soldier must first achieve an officer’s rank. Then, they must go through Ranger School, an infamously grueling 61-day course developed to expose recruits to situations equal to what is experienced in actual combat.

Army Special Operations Aviation Command (ARSOAC) 

The ARSOAC is known more commonly by their (admittedly much cooler) nickname, the Night Stalkers. The Night Stalkers can trace their roots back to 1962 when the Army recognized a need for a dedicated aviation unit.

The Night Stalkers fly helicopters to provide air cover for ground troops in combat, perform rescue missions, and conduct surgical strikes on identified enemy targets.

Their motto is quite simple “Night Stalkers don’t quit.” Nothing gets in the way of them completing their mission. 

Delta Force

list of special forces

When the United States wants to complete a tough mission but doesn’t want anyone to know that they were involved, then Delta Force is sent in.

Everything you’ve heard about or think you know about Delta Force is most likely just rumor or inaccurate at best. Most of the information about this elite fighting force is classified. But here’s what we do know.

Delta Force was first conceived and created in the late 1970’s when aircraft hijacking and hostage captures were becoming more common and were a major worry for most citizens in the United States and other western nations. Charles Beckwith, an Army Colonel, came up with the idea for this elite fighting force after seeing the British Special Air Service (SAS) in action. Impressed with their mobility and technical skill, he knew the United States needed a similar force protecting its citizens.

The Delta Force picks applicants just twice annually from the 82nd Airborne, Army Special Forces, and Army Rangers. Those recruits who can pass an intense screening process may then move to the Delta Special Operators Training Course for five to six weeks of testing and training. Delta Force reportedly has the best military training facility in the world, including an indoor combat simulation course known as the “house of horrors.”

Navy SEALs

The Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) can trace their beginnings back to the Second World War. While they weren’t called SEALs yet, this first specialized team proved to be invaluable as they cleared beaches, demolished bridges, and conducted minesweeping operations during not only during World War II, but in the Korean conflict as well. In January 1962, the Navy officially commissioned SEAL Teams One and Two.

Here’s what sets Navy SEALs apart other military special operations units. They enter and exit combat zones from oceans, rivers, lakes or even shallower waters. Their stealthy methods enable them to take on missions against enemy targets that would be impossible for larger forces to get to quietly.

Mobile, fast, and lethal the SEALs conduct some of the most dangerous missions on the planet. They are perhaps most famously known for taking down Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Sailors must first pass a physical fitness and endurance test called the SEAL Challenge just to be able to apply for Navy SEAL training.

Many believe SEAL training to be the most grueling military training in the world and even includes a phase called “hell week” where candidates are pushed to the limits of physical endurance and are only allowed to sleep for a few hours the entire week.

Navy Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crew (SWCC)

list of special forces

The SWCC can be traced back to the PT boats of WWII and the “swift boats” used in the Vietnam War.

The members of the SWCC are trained to operate state-of-the-art naval craft to patrol coastal waters and support Special Operations. They are especially prized for their ability to move quickly into shallow waters to deploy and retrieve SEALs.

The members of the SWCC are highly trained in a number of specializations including navigation, weaponry, parachuting, radio communication, engineering, and reconnaissance. In times of war and peace, they can keep eyes on a target and deliver real-time data decision makers need to take action in high-pressure situations.


The history of Force RECON traces back to World War II, when an “Observation Group” of the 1st Marine Division was formed. Force RECON, like the name suggests, is tasked with is conducting amphibious reconnaissance, surveillance, and small-scale raids on enemy targets in support of the Marines.

RECON Marines are also flexible enough to enter from multiple platforms such as parachute, sea, and helicopter. They can also call in fire support if needed.

In 2001, there were just about 500 RECON Marines. Today, however, there are more than 2,000 RECON Marines, which demonstrates how vital they are to modern warfare.

U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC)

MARSOC is the Marines’ contribution to special operations on the battlefield. This group is also known as the Marine Raiders.

They have a strong reputation for being capable of conducting complex raids on enemy targets, high-level reconnaissance, and sabotage. Although they do reconnaissance missions as well, Raiders should not be confused with Marine Force RECON which is a separate team.

Although the Raiders have ancestry that dates back to World War II, they are actually the most recent Special Forces team in the military, having come into existence in 2006.

Similar to the Green Berets, the Raiders train military units of many United States’ allies. Unlike the Green Berets, however, the Raiders will conduct training during peace time, whereas the Green Berets conduct training in conflict zones.

Air Force Special Tactics Teams

list of special forces

There are four Air Force Special Tactics Teams careers: 1) Combat Control, 2) Pararescue, 3) Special Reconnaissance, And 4) Tactical Air Control Party Specialist (TACP).

Air Force Combat Controllers carry out some of the toughest missions in the entire military, operating in remote and hostile areas. The work as a one-man attachment to other special forces from all military branches.

Pararescue Airmen are responsible for rescuing downed military personnel all over the world. They are skilled in parachuting, scuba, rock climbing, and extreme weather trained.

Special Reconnaissance specialize in battlefield awareness, gathering and exploiting key information and enemy targets utilizing cutting-edge technology.

Finally, Tactical Air Control Party Specialist (TACP) work with Army and Marine units on the frontline with the purpose to identify and call in air strikes on the right target at a precise time.

What U.S. Special Forces Have in Common

There’s no doubt that U.S. Special Forces play an essential role in the success of the United States’ military operations around the world. Each team in each branch of service has its own special set of skills that can be called upon when needed.

However, the most important trait any member of a Special Forces team must have is flexibility. Military combat is ever changing and evolving. The military goals of the United States change over time as well.

The men of the U.S. Special Forces, quite simply, must be ready to do what is required of them. That may be conducting stealth reconnaissance missions, training allies, conducting a direct-action raid, or performing a search and rescue mission.

As long as we have members of the military that want to endure the sacrifice, challenge, and training it takes to become a member of U.S. Special Forces, the United States will continue to have one of the strongest and most strategic military forces on the planet.

If you’re considering joining the military as an officer or are looking to separate from active duty, then you’ll need a compelling military to civilian resume that quickly highlights your education, skills, and the value that you bring. Contact us today for more information.

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and service-members transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.  

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