Elite & Special Forces Main Page US Elite & Special Forces Main Page

Last Updated: 28 March, 2016

1.0     Introduction

“From its very inception the United States Army Special Forces (SF) has been enmeshed in controversy, its mission misunderstood to varying degrees, and its very existence sometimes opposed by some of the Army hierarchy.” (Rottman, 1985, p.3).

US Army SF TabsThis article is about the United States Army Special Operations Command which includes units such as the US Army’s Special Forces, aka the Green Berets.

The article will look at the background to the US Army’s Special Operations Command and the type of soldiers within it. The article will also describe the Command’s organisation which encompasses a wide variety of units and organisations.

Finally, the article will provide some useful links and books, as well as access to useful document and references.

2.0     Background

Logo, USASOC, US Army Special Operations CommandThe United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC or ARSOF) was established on 01 December 1989 and is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

It is one of four components of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and one of nine Army Service Component Commands of the US Army.

USASOC consists of military (Regular, Reserve and National Guard) and civilian personnel in operator, enabler and support roles (Vogel, 2015). The military personnel of USASOC can be divided into: US Army Special Forces (aka the Green Berets), Rangers, special operations aviators, civil affairs soldiers, and military information support operators, training cadre and sustainment soldiers.

  • Special Forces (aka the Green Berets): The US Army’s Special Forces, whose motto is “De Oppress Liber – to Free the Oppressed”, perform seven missions, which makes them unique because they are employed in peacetime, during conflicts and in war scenarios. The seven missions are:
    • Unconventional warfare.
    • Foreign Internal Defence (FID).
    • Special Reconnaissance.
    • Direct Action: “Direct action operations are short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions conducted as a special operation in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments, as well as employing specialised military capabilities to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover, or damage designated targets. Direct action differs from conventional offensive actions in the level of physical and political risk, operational techniques, and the degree of discriminate and precise use of force to achieve specific objectives.” (Feickert, 2015, p.3).
    • Combatting terrorism.
    • Counter-proliferation.
    • Information Operations.
  • Rangers: The US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment is a unique Special Operations Force comprised of specially selected and trained US Army soldiers. The Rangers conduct large-scale Joint Forcible Entry operations while simultaneously executing surgical Special Operations raids across the globe. The 75th Ranger Regiment’s motto is “Rangers Lead the Way.”
  • Army Special Operations Aviators: Army Special Operations Aviators are highly trained and ready to accomplish the very toughest missions in all environments, anywhere in the world, day or night, with unparalleled precision. The professionalism and capabilities of Army Special Operations Aviation are developed through a ‘train as you fight’ mentality.
  • Civil Affairs (CA) Soldiers: CA units support military commanders by working with civil authorities and civilian populations in the commander’s area of operations during peacetime, contingency operations and war. CA specialists identify critical requirements needed by local citizens in war or disaster situations.
  • Military Information Support Operations (MISO): MISO operators cover a broad range of US political, military, economic and ideological activities used by the US government to secure national objectives. MISO units develop, produce and disseminate truthful information to foreign audiences in support of US policies.
  • Training Cadre: The US Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Centre and School assesses, trains, educates and manages Army Special Operations Force Operators for Special Forces, MISO and CA.
  • Sustainment Soldiers: Sustainers (aka Combat Service Support or CSS) are responsible for providing logistical, medical and signal support for Army Special Operations Forces worldwide in support of contingency missions and war-fighting commanders.

USASOC is the largest special operations organisation within USSOCOM with approximately 27,000 personnel (Feickert, 2015; USSOCOM, 2015a), down from 28,500 in 2013 (Robinson, 2013). Machina (2014) identifies 36,698 personnel of which 93% are military and 7% are civilian.

2.1     USASOC Mission

The mission of USASOC is “to enhance the readiness of Army Special Operations Forces.” (USSOCOM, 2015a).

2.2     Women and USASOC

Women in the US military have, for a number of years, been able to serve in a variety of SOF-related roles, including:

  • Intelligence;
  • MISO and CA units;
  • Female engagement teams;
  • Cultural support teams; and
  • Air Force special operations aviation roles.

As of March 2015, approximately two-thirds of the roles in USSOCOM were integrated (Vogel, 2015).

On 04 December 2015, the US Secretary of Defence, Ash Carter, announced that beginning in January 2016, all military occupations would be open to women (Pellerin, 2015).

However, in a survey of over 7,600 special operations forces personnel by the RAND Corporation, the overwhelming view was negative: “Allowing women to serve in Navy SEAL, Army Delta or other commando units could hurt their effectiveness and lower the standards, and it may drive men away from the dangerous posts.” (Baldor, 2015).

2.3     World War II Origins of US Army Special Operations

For some detailed information on the origins and history of the US Army’s special forces and special operations forces then look at the links provided in the Useful Books section at the end (these are free to download books).

2.4     Internship Programmes

USASOC has been known on occasion to provide internship opportunities to students. In 2015 USASOC working in partnership with the North Carolina State University (NCSU, 2015) provided work experience through its 12-week Summer Internship Programme within the Combat Development Directorate.

3.0     Organisation of USASOC

Logo, USASOC, Parachute Team Black DaggersThe HQ USASOC is located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is commanded by a Lieutenant General (OF-8), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9).

The USASOC is organised around the following major commands/units (USSOCOM, 2015a):

  • Headquarters (HQ).
  • 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne): consisting of the Special Forces Groups,
  • MISG, Civil Affairs and Sustainment.
  • The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Centre and School: consisting of training, education and medical components.
  • 75th Ranger Regiment.
  • Special Operations Aviation Command.

Other elements of USASOC include (NSCU, 2015):

  • The Security Operations Training Facility (SOTF).
  • The Combat Development Directorate (CCD): which is responsible for Combat and Material Development; Systems Project Management; Operational Testing; and Science & Advanced Technologies design and Function for Soldier Systems, Tactical Vehicles, Communications and Information systems.
  • USASOC Parachute Team Black Daggers: Formed in January 2002, the Black Daggers are the official USASOC Parachute Demonstration Team, whose mission it is to perform live aerial demonstrations in support of the US Army Special Operations community relations/recruiting. The team are based at Simmons Army Airfield at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

4.0     1st Special Forces Command (Airborne)

Logo, USASOC, US Army Special Operations Command, US, Special Forces (2)On 30 September 2014, USASOC established the HQ 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) (1st SFC (A)) (Trevithick, 2014) bringing “together more than 15,000 Green Berets and other special troops in a single new organization.” Prior to this the Green Berets had been commanded by the US Army Special Forces Command and numbered “11,657” military and civilian personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28).

The 1st SFC (A) is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and is commanded by a Major General (OF-7), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9). The command consists of:

  • Seven Special Forces Groups;
  • Two Military Information Support Groups;
  • The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade; and
  • The 528th Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne).

As part of the command reorganisation, the fourth battalion in each of the Special Forces Groups reorganised to provide the Theatre Special Operations Commanders with:

  • Increased special warfare mission command capability;
  • Persistent preparation of the; and
  • Associated special warfare tasks through a purpose-built, regionally-expert force.

Another consequence of the reorganisation was the reduction in manpower of 1,000 “in order to stay within shrinking budgets.” (Trevithick, 2014).

The 1st SFC (A) is currently composed of seven Special Forces Groups (Airborne) (SFG (A)), of which five are Active Duty (aka Regular Army) and two are National Guard (aka Army Reserve). “Regional orientation is the hallmark of SF Soldiers and units, with each of the five Regular Army and two Army National Guard SFGs regionally aligned with a GCC” [Geographic Combatant Command], as indicated below (US Army, 2014, p.4-3). 1st SFC (A) units include:

  • Five Active Duty units (Feickert, 2015):
    • 1st SFG (A), Fort Lewis, Washington; aligned with US Pacific Command.
    • 3rd SFG (A), Fort Bragg, North Carolina; aligned with US Central Command.
    • 5th SFG (A), Fort Campbell, Kentucky; aligned with US Central Command.
    • 7th SFG (A), Elgin Air Force Base, Florida (formerly Fort Bragg, North Carolina moving in 2011 under Base Realignment and Closure (BARC)); aligned with US Southern Command.
    • 10th SFG (A), Fort Carson, Colorado; aligned with US European and Africa Commands.
  • Two National Guard units (dispersed across 18 states) (Peters et al., 2012; Feickert, 2015):
    • 19th SFG (A), HQ in Camp Williams, Utah; aligned with US Pacific Command (5-19th aligned with US Africa Command).
    • 20th SFG (A), HQ in Birmingham, Alabama; aligned with US Central Command (3-20th aligned with US Southern Command).

The five Active Duty SFG (A) each consist of a HQ company, one support battalion and four SF battalions. Each SFG (A) consists “of about 1,400 soldiers each” (Feickert, 2015, p.3) and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The SFG (A) are composed of a number of units and sub-units:

  • Special Forces Group (Battalion): Is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) and consists of:
    • One HQ;
    • One support company; and
    • Three SF companies.
  • Special Forces Group (Company): Is commanded by a Major (OF-3) and consists of:
    • One Operational Detachment (OD) B (SFODB) (aka Company HQ), typically a 15 member team;
    • Six SF Operational Detachment Alpha (SFODA): A typical SF company has one ODA trained in underwater operations and one ODA trained in military free-fall parachuting. The remaining ODAs may be trained in SF military mountaineering, surface maritime operations (water infiltration and scout swimmer), or mobility operations based on each ODA mission-essential task list.
  • SFODA: Known as ‘A’ Teams and typically has 12 team members. The ODA is commanded by a Captain (OF-2). Other key leadership on an ODA are the assistant detachment commander (an SF warrant officer) and the operations sergeant (a master sergeant). The ODA has one intelligence sergeant and two specialists in each of the four primary SF functional areas: weapons, engineer, medical and communications.

4.1     Military Information Support Operations Groups (Airborne)

There are two Active Duty Military Information Support Groups (MISG), the 4th Military Information Support Group (MISG) (Airborne) and the 8th Military Information Support Group (MISG) (Airborne), which are both stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (Feickert, 2015). Their subordinate units are aligned with the Geographic Combatant Commands. In 2013 MISG numbered “729” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28).

The MISG units have undergone a number of name changes over the years, generally swapping between psychological operations and military support operations. For example, Shadow Spear (2014) stated that:

“All Military Information Support Operations Command (MISOC) units at Fort Bragg, N.C., have re-designated as Psychological Operations (PSYOP) units effective Aug.5, 2014. The former 4th and 8th Military Information Support Groups (Airborne) are now the 4th Psychological Operations Group (POG) (Airborne) and the 8th Psychological Operations Group (POG) (Airborne), with their subordinate units being called Psychological Operations Battalions (POB). MISOC will retain its namesake for the time being. This re-naming of PSYOP units will not affect any unit organization or operations as 4th and 8th POG continue to operate.”

Feickert (2015, p.3) states “Military Information Support Operations (formerly known as psychological operations) units disseminate information to large foreign audiences through mass media.”

The purpose of MISO or PSYOP is to provide strategic influence forces to combatant commanders, US Ambassadors, and other agencies to synchronise plans and execute inform and influence activities (IIA) across the range of military operations.

MISO is a part of the broad range of US political, military, economic and ideological activities used by the US government to secure national objectives. Used during peacetime, contingencies and declared war these activities are not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often violent environments. Persuading rather than compelling physically, they rely on logic, fear, desire or other mental factors to promote specific emotions, attitudes or behaviours.

The ultimate objective of MISO is to convince enemy, neutral, and friendly nations and forces to take action favourable to the US and its allies. Personnel include regional experts and linguists who understand political, cultural, ethnic and religious subtleties and use persuasion to influence perceptions and encourage desired behaviour. With functional experts in all aspects of tactical communications, MISO offers joint force commanders’ unmatched abilities to influence target audiences as well as strategic influence capabilities to US diplomacy.

In addition to supporting commanders, MISO provides interagency strategic influence capabilities to other US government agencies. In operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to drug interdiction, MISO enhances the impact of those agencies’ actions. Their activities can be used to spread information about ongoing programmes and to gain support from the local populace.

The Multimedia Support Section (MSS) plans, coordinates and executes full spectrum production activities to generate and distribute commercial quality tactical information products to include, but not limited to: television commercials, radio broadcasts, print, web-based and other forms of mobile media necessary to support standard tactical level objectives (USSOCOM, 2015b).

4.2     95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne)

Logo, USASOC, 95th Civil Affairs BrigadeThe 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) is the only active CA unit that exclusively supports USSOCOM (Feickert, 2015) and in 2013 it numbered “1,266” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28). In September 2011 the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade was activated to support the US Army’s General Purpose Forces (GPFs). All other civil affairs units reside in the Reserves and are affiliated with Army GPF units.

Civil Affairs units, which are some of the most frequently deployed SOF assets, provide experts in every area of civil government in order to help administer civilian affairs in operational theatres.

The Brigade has five battalions, each commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) and includes:

  • 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, aligned with US Africa Command;
  • 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion, aligned with US European Command;
  • 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, aligned with US Central Command;
  • 97th Civil Affairs Battalion, aligned with US Pacific Command; and
  • 98th Civil Affairs Battalion, aligned with US Southern Command.

In brief, civil affairs units, which are some of the most frequently deployed SOF assets, provide experts in every area of civil government in order to help administer civilian affairs in operational theatres.

In detail, civil affairs enable military commanders and US Ambassadors to improve relationships with various stakeholders in a local area to meet the objectives of the US government by working with US Department of State country teams, government and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) at all levels and with local populations in peaceful, contingency and hostile environments. Civil affairs units can be rapidly deployed to a variety of locations, from remote areas with small villages to larger population centres.

Civil affairs aid host nations by:

  • Assessing the needs of an area;
  • Bringing together local and non-local resources to ensure long-term stability;
  • Degrading and defeating violent extremist organisations and their ideologies;
  • Involvement in disaster prevention, management and recovery; and
  • Human and civil infrastructure assistance programmes.

4.3     528th Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne)

Logo, USASOC, 528th Sustainment BrigadeThe 528th Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Brigade is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9). In 2013, the Brigade consisted of “729” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28).

The mission of the Brigade is to provide enduring logistics, signal support and medical care to USASOC. In order to fulfil this mission, the Brigade provides operational command and control of logistics (C2), medical (Level II force health protection (FHP)), and signal operations in any environment, anywhere in the world. Capable of conducting full spectrum operations but chartered to provide mission command and sustainment management capability in support of early-entry/rapid-response USASOC and Joint SOF operations.

The Brigade consists of (Rickleff, 2014; USSOCOM, 2015a):

  • 112th Signal Battalion (described as the 112th Special Operations Signal Brigade in the 2016 budget estimates (USSOCOM, 2015b, p.841), and consists of four signal companies and six signal detachments that are assigned to the regional TSOCs. It provides operational and tactical communications for USASOC and joint commanders in support of contingency, crisis action and global operations.
  • Special Troops Battalion, includes support operations cell and formerly SOMEDO.
  • Special Operations Medical Detachment (SOMEDO).
  • 195th Support Company (National Guard): A multifunctional airborne unit that provides limited warehousing of ammunition, water, food service, special operations/conventional vehicle maintenance, transportation, limited engineering capability and medical support to deployed SOF units.
  • 197th Support Company: Part of the Texas Army National Guard, it is an airborne unit designed to augment and round out the 528th to provide staff and base operating support. The unit is available for deployment worldwide in support of contingency missions. Their capabilities include maintenance, field messing, medical assistance, mortuary affairs, limited base support and aerial delivery.

5.0     The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Centre and School

Logo, USASOC, John F Kennedy Special Warfare Centre & SchoolThe US Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Centre and School (USAJFKSWCS) is located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is also known as the Special Warfare Centre of Excellence or SWCS.

The USAJFKSWCS is commanded by a Major General (OF-7), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9). In 2013, the school consisted of “1,924” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28), up from 1,195 in 2009.

As one of the US Army’s premier educational institutions, the USAJFKSWCS manages the education and training of SOF soldiers in the Army’s three distinct SOF branches:

  • Special Forces;
  • Civil Affairs; and
  • Psychological Operations (PSYOP) or Military Information Support (MISO).

On any given day, there are approximately 3,100 students enrolled on the various training programmes managed by the USAJFKSWCS, ranging from entry-level training to advanced war-fighting skills for seasoned officers and NCOs. The USAJFKSWCS consists of (US Army, 2006):

  • The 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne): The group qualifies soldiers to enter the SOF community and also teaches them advanced tactical skills as they progress through their careers.
  • The Joint Special Operations Medical Training Centre, operating under the auspices of the Special Warfare Medical Group (Airborne), is the central training facility for Department of Defence SOF combat medics.
  • The school leads efforts to professionalise the US Army’s entire SOF through the Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute and the David K. Thuma NCO Academy, both part of the Special Warfare Education Group (Airborne).
  • Directorate of Training and Doctrine.
  • Directorate of Special Operations Proponency.

While most courses are conducted at Fort Bragg, the USAJFKSWCS enhances its training by maintaining facilities, and relationships with outside institutions, across the US.

“The performance training level of all Special Operations Forces Soldiers is critically important to the completion and execution of SOF missions” (USSOCOM, 2013, p.14), and all Special Forces groups, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), and the 75th Ranger Regiment have their own Human Performance programmes that specialise in the specific needs of their units.

The Human Performance programme at the USAJFKSWCS is undertaken by the Tactical Human Optimisation, Rapid Rehabilitation & Reconditioning (THOR3) Team. The THOR3 Team, in addition to providing training and programming, are also responsible for the human performance education and training mission for all of USASOC, and lays the groundwork for SOF personnel to learn why they are in need of such specialised professionals and how to utilise them effectively.

The THOR3 Team consists of strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists, and a performance dietician who work daily with personnel from all aspects of USASOC. The THOR3 Team assures all personnel assigned, from the students to the senior commanders, reach the proper level of human performance for the mission at hand. The THOR3 Team’s goals vary from person to person, ranging from personnel recovering from an injury sustained while deployed to others who are training for an upcoming mission or deployment.

While the focus of the THOR3 programme is to improve current operational longevity and reduce the potential for injury, the added value to the SOF operator is the improvement in their overall quality of life lasting long after retirement.

5.1     1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne)

Special Forces Obstacle Course, Nasty NickThe 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) (1st SWTG (A)) is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It is commanded by a Brigadier-General (OF-6), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9).

The 1st SWTG (A) consists of a group HQ, training support battalion and four training battalions, and has a three-fold role:

  • Coordinate, conduct and supervise training through the training battalions (see below);
  • Coordinate and supervise course development and design; and
  • Participate in training strategy and life-cycle training model development.

The 1st SWTG (A) also provides administrative, logistical, fiscal, and intelligence support to all personnel assigned or attached to the USAJFKSWCS through the group HQ and support battalion.

As well as providing basic and advanced training to US Army personnel, the 1st SWTG (A) also provides training to select Department of Defence, inter-agency and foreign personnel.

The 1st SWTG (A) is organised as follows:

  • Group HQ (HHC, Headquarters and Headquarters Company).
  • 1st Battalion: Special Forces Field Training:
    • B Company: Small Unit Tactics (SUT).
    • C Company: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Training.
    • D Company: Unconventional Warfare Culmination Exercise (UW CULEX) at Uwharrie National Forest in Robin Sage, North Carolina.
  • 2nd Battalion: Advanced Skills:
    • A Company (Fort Lewis, Washington):
      • Advanced Special Operations Training (ASOT).
      • Special Forces Intelligence Sergeant Course (SFISC) (18F).
    • B Company (Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona):
      • The Military Free-Fall Advanced Tactical Infiltration (MFF ATI) Course is a 3-week course that focuses on High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) techniques.
      • Special Operations Terminal Attack Controllers Course (SOTACC).
    • C Company: Underwater Operations (UWO, aka Combat Diver Qualification Couse) (Key West, Florida).
    • D Company:
      • Special Forces Advanced Reconnaissance, Target Analysis, and Exploitation Techniques Course (SFARTAETC): This course includes combat weapons marksmanship, close quarters battle (CQB) and explosive and mechanical breaching. Live weapons fire and assault tactics and techniques are conducted under simulated conditions using predetermined scenarios in/on specially configured structures/ranges. The CIF (CINCs In-Extremis Force) Company within a SFG (A) is tasked with training the counter terrorist (CT) teams of foreign militaries.
      • Special Forces Sniper Course (SFSC).
  • 3rd Battalion: Civil Affairs (CA) and Psychological Operations (PSYOPs) (Fort Bragg, North Carolina):
    • A Company:
      • 37F Advanced Individual Training (AIT)
      • 38B AIT.
    • B Company:
      • Psychological Operations Qualification Course (POQC).
      • Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC).
      • Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).
  • 4th Battalion: MOS 18 Training:
    • A Company: 18A, team leader training.
    • B Company: 18B, weapons training.
    • C Company: 18C, engineer training.
    • D Company: 18E, communications training.
  • SPT Battalion: Support:
    • A Company: Administration.
    • B Company: Transport.
    • C Company: Maintenance/Rigger.
    • D Company: Student Company.
    • International Special Forces Training Course (ISFTC): Announced in January 2006, the 15-week course takes students through a comprehensive SF programme. It is designed to develop NATO standard SOF tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) to enhance individual military skills, develop counter insurgency and counter terrorist expertise, and pass on proven techniques. It typically occurs twice per year, with 30 students per course.

5.2     Special Warfare Education Group (Airborne)

The Special Warfare Education Group (Airborne) serves as the USAJFKSWCS Commanding General’s advisor for training and education issues. It provides training and education opportunities that enable the USAJFKSWCS staff and faculty to perform as flexible, adaptive USASOC leaders and trainers.

It also provides library services that support USASOC education and training, as well as doctrinal and research requirements. The group archives and makes available historical USASOC documents and collections.

Finally, it establishes relationships with civilian and military universities and colleges, civilian agencies, and other organisations.

5.3     Special Warfare Medical Group (Airborne)

The Joint Special Operations Medical Training Centre (SOMTC), operating under the auspices of the Special Warfare Medical Group (Airborne) (SWMG (A)), and in association with the US Naval Special Operations Medical Institute (NSOMI), is the central training facility for SOF combat medics (USSOCOM, 2015b).

The SWMG (A) is located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9).

The SOMTC conducts the medical portion (i.e. Phase 3 or specialist training) of SF medical sergeant training. In addition, SOMTC trains medics for the US Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Command, US Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, US Air Force Special Operations Command, US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, Civil Affairs soldiers, and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).

5.4     David K. Thuma NCO Academy

The David K. Thuma NCO Academy (NCOA) serves as the USAJFKSWCS executive agent for the NCO education system. As such it ensures the quality of training, education and professional development for the US Army’s SOF NCO Corps. The NCOA is a premier learning institution that develops adaptive, innovative, and warrior-focused NCOs who have the right mix of training and education for the leadership requirements of Army, joint, interagency, inter-government, and multinational operations.

The NCOA is located in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is commanded by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9) with the title of Commandant. It is dedicated to Master Sergeant David K. Thuma who was killed on 18 June 1988 (Blakely, 2010).

5.5     Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute

US Special Forces, Warrant Officer, USSOCOMThe Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute (SFWOI) is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is commanded by a Chief Warrant Officer 4 or 5 with the title of Commandant.

The SFWOI provides professional military education for SF warrant officers at every level of their career, supporting all of the lifelong learning requirements of both warrant officer candidates and senior warrant officers in the 180A MOS.

Eligible NCOs attend the 20-week (16-weeks before 2011) Special Forces Warrant Officer Tactical and Technical Certification Course (WOTTCC), which is the first step in a warrant officer’s official education. The course, of which there is typically three per year, teaches and refines an individual’s ability to plan and execute SF operations, and candidates graduate with the grade of warrant officer 1 (WO1). The course provides Army BOLC and Special Forces proponent based MEL 7 training and education to provide the force with skilled assistant detachment commanders.

The 10-week Special Forces Warrant Officer Advanced Course (SFWOAC) provides proponent-based MEL 6 professional military education to mid-grade SF warrant officers (CWO 2 & 3) in order to prepare them to serve as operational-level planners and operations officers in SF units, component commands, joint task forces and joint staffs as subject matter experts in unconventional warfare and foreign internal defence. The SFWOAC is preceded by approximately 100 hours of distance-learning lessons which must be completed before students report to Fort Bragg for the final (residential) phase of the course.

While the SF warrant officer is a master technician of the SF trade, they are the only combat leaders in the US Army’s warrant officer corps. Warrant officers in the rank of WO1, CW2, and select CW3s serve on a Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha (SFOD-A) primarily as the assistant detachment commander and can also serve as the detachment commander (in the absence of a commander) or commander of specialised teams. CW3 through CW5 SF warrant officers serve as staff operations warrant officers within the SF group and at higher commands within SF, Army SOF, and joint SOF staffs. They may lead task-organised SOF elements as directed and they serve as senior warrant officer advisors (SWOAs) to the commander for all warrant officer matters and other interests as directed.

Select CW5s serve as the Command Chief Warrant Officer (CCWO) for the Commander USASOC, CCWO for the Commanders of the SF groups and SWOA to Commander USASOC as an integral part of the commander’s personal staff.

In May 2010, after a three year trial period of managing its own warrant officer training programme, the USAJFKSWCS was authorised to permanently appoint its warrant officers (Beal et al., 2009; Chase, 2010).

5.6     Directorate of Training and Doctrine

The Directorate of Training and Doctrine (DOTD) (US Army, 2006) consists of an office of the director, a training management office, a directorate management office, and six divisions: Joint and Army doctrine integration; SF training and doctrine; CA/CMO training and doctrine; PSYOP training and doctrine; media production; and training development.

The mission of DOTD is to analyse, design and develop USASOC doctrine and training. Additionally, DOTD reviews Joint and Army doctrine prepared by USSOCOM, Joint Forces Command, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, Air Land Sea Application Centre, and other military organisations for USASOC integration.

5.7     Directorate of Special Operations Proponency

The Directorate of Special Operations Proponency (US Army, 2006) is responsible for oversight and management of USASOC branches, functional areas, warrant officer military occupational specialties, enlisted career management fields, additional skill identifiers, and special qualification identifiers, in accordance with AR 600-3, The Army Personnel Proponent System.

The Directorate of Special Operations Proponency develops personnel proponent plans, policies, and programmes relative to the eight life-cycle management functions. It performs liaison with the personnel proponency offices in Department of the Army HQ; all branches of the Army; other military Services; and the US Army Accessions Command, United States Army Recruiting Command, and the Special Operations Recruiting Company.

6.0     75th Ranger Regiment

Logo, USASOC, ARSOF, Rangers, 75th Ranger RegimentThe 75th Ranger Regiment is located at Fort Benning, Georgia, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), who is assisted by a Command Sergeant Major (OR-9).

It is an elite airborne light infantry unit specialising in direct action operations. The unit was officially designated on “17 April 1986” and reorganised under the Regimental system, and “the lineage, honours, awards, and campaign credit won by the World War II and Korean War Ranger units were presented to the 75th Rangers.” (Rottman, 1987, p.48).

6.1     Organisation

In 2013, the unit had a total of “3,229” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28) and was organised as follows (Feickert, 2015):

  • Regimental HQ and HQ Company (HHC): Located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • 1/75th or 1st Ranger Battalion: Each battalion, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), is identically organised with: Located at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia,
  • 2/75th or 2nd Ranger Battalion: Located at Fort Lewis, Washington.
  • 3/75th or 3rd Ranger Battalion: Located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
  • Regimental Special Troops Battalion (RSTB): Located at Fort Benning, Georgia and activated on 17 July 2006. Contains: HQ and HQ company; Reconnaissance Company; Communication Company; Military Intelligence Company; and Selection and Training Company.
  • (Unmanned Aerial System) “UAS Platoon Training” (USSOCOM, 2015b, p.1007).

The Ranger regiment is supported by a United States Air Force (USAF) staff weather team and has a habitual relationship with a USAF air support operations squadron for joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) support. Each battalion has a USAF tactical air control party (TACP) attached to it.

The Ranger infantry battalion is the primary combat element within the regiment. It is similar to an airborne light infantry battalion (including mortar, reconnaissance and sniper platoons), but it does not have an antitank company. Each battalion consists of a HHC, five Ranger infantry (rifle) companies (Alpha to Delta) and a Ranger support company (Echo). Each rifle company has three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon.

6.2     Role and Tasks

The 75th Ranger Regiment is the US Army’s premier raid force, with specialised skills that enables the Rangers to perform a variety of missions. Originally, Ranger missions were intended to be of limited duration, and included:

  • Direct Action;
  • Raids against high value targets (HVT);
  • Interdiction of lines of communications;
  • Attacks on command, control, and communications facilities, as well as service support elements.
  • Airfield seizure;
  • Airborne and air assaults;
  • Special reconnaissance; and
  • Personnel recovery.

They have since been additionally tasked with supporting counterterrorist and hostage rescue missions.

The RSTB conducts sustainment, intelligence, reconnaissance and maintenance missions which were previously accomplished by small detachments assigned to the Rangers Regimental HQ, and then attached within each of the three Ranger battalions. The activation of the RSTB is part of the shift of the Ranger force’s focus from short term ‘contingency missions’ towards continuous combat operations without loss in lethality or flexibility.

The Rangers – unlike SF, PSYOP and CA – are globally oriented, rather than regionally oriented. Current force structure and contingency requirements preclude their apportionment to a specific Geographic Combatant Command. They can deploy worldwide when a US military presence would serve national interests.

7.0     United States Army Special Operations Aviation Command

Logo, USASOC, USASOAC, US Army Special Operations Aviation CommandThe US Army’s Special Operations Aviation Command (ARSOAC or USASOAC) is located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is commanded by a Brigadier-General (OF-6).

USASOAC, which is the USASOC aviation staff proponent, was activated on 25 March 2011 and in 2013 numbered “3,029” personnel (Robinson, 2013, p.28). From the previous decade’s experience of persistent engagement, it was recognised by USASOC aviation leaders that there was a need to separate the combat role of Army SOF aviation from the resourcing responsibilities. The structure provided the appropriate command and control, manning and visibility for the complex and sensitive tasks required of various Army SOF aviation units and organisations.

The specific role of USASOAC is to support other SOF units by planning and conducting special air operations in all operational environment. More generally, USASOAC provides aviation oversight as well as service and component interface to ensure system integration, fleet modernisation, material readiness, and training and doctrine development.

USASOAC’s specially organised, trained and equipped aviation units provide the joint force special operations component commander (JFSOCC) with the capability to infiltrate, resupply and exfiltrate SOF elements engaged in all special operations core tasks.

SOF “pilots [are] trained to fly the most sophisticated Army rotary-wing aircraft in the harshest environments, day or night, and in adverse weather.” (Feickert, 2015, p.3).

USASOAC, SIMO, Systems Integration Management OfficeUnits and organisations of the USASOAC include:

  • 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), discussed below.
  • Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion, discussed below.
  • System Integration Management Office (SIMO): is located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and became a staff directorate under USASOAC on 02 April 2012. The primary mission of SIMO is to facilitate the modernisation and sustainment of the USASOAC’s highly modified rotary wing aircraft and their associated mission equipment. In general, SIMO is responsible for technology exploration, development, and systems integration and fielding. Elements of SIMO include the Test and Evaluation Cell, the Avionics and Software Cell and the Logistics Cell.
  • USASOC Flight Company: Known as USASOC Flight Detachment prior to 29 May 2013, is located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
  • Aviation Maintenance Support Office: The Aviation Maintenance Support Office is located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) (Dawkins, 2014).
  • Technical Application Project Office.

7.1     160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)

Logo, 160th SOAR, SOF, Special Forces, Night Stalkers, USASOACThe 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (160th SOAR (A)) is located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5).

The role of the 160th SOAR (A) is to provide aviation support to SOF missions in all Geographic Combatant Commands.

The 160th SOAR (A), known as the ‘Night Stalkers’, pioneered the US Army’s night time flying techniques and are consequently recognised for their proficiency in night time operations. The unit became known as the Night Stalkers because of its capability to strike undetected during the hours of darkness and its unprecedented combat successes.

The 160th SOAR (A) continue to be pioneers by continually developing and employing new TTPs for the battlespace and provides joint SOF with the most advanced infiltration and exfiltration capabilities together with precision fires. The majority of operations are conducted at night, possibly in limited visibility and often at very high/low altitudes.

For SOF, rotary-wing aviation is a key capability in an irregular warfare or counterinsurgency environment. The SOAR employ a mix of highly modified Chinook (MH-47G), Blackhawk (MH-60M) and assault and attack configurations of ‘Little Bird’ helicopters (AH/MH-6M).

The 160th SOAR (A) is pretty unique in that no other organisation is responsible for recruiting, assessing and selecting candidates, and then conducting its own qualification course with organic assets to develop special operations aviators and crewmen.

The 160th SOAR (A) is composed of four battalions located across three states:

  • 1/160th Battalion located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
  • 2/160th Battalion located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
  • 3/160th Battalion located at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.
  • 4/160th Battalion located at Fort Lewis, Washington.

In November 2013 the SOAR incorporated its first Grey Eagle Company, i.e. Drones, and was in addition to the organic Unmanned Aerial System/Surveillance (UAS) platoon (Hoffman, 2013).

7.2     Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion

USASOAC, SOATB Training BattalionThe Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion (SOATB) is located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). SOATB was upgraded from company to battalion status as part of the 2011 command activation.

The role of the SOATB is to conduct Army special operations aviation individual training and education in order to produce crew members and support personnel with basic and advanced qualifications for the 160th SOAR (A).

Both officers and enlisted personnel must go through a similar course known as ‘Combat Skills’ (also known as ‘Green Platoon’ training) before assignment to the 160th SOAR (A) (Potter, 2013).

In 2008 (US Army, 2008) Green Platoon/Combat Skills, for enlisted personnel, was a 5-week (20- to 28-weeks for officers) assessment and training programme that taught basic soldiering skills, such as: advanced first aid techniques; combatives; land navigation; and weapons training. The course is now 3-weeks (2019), down from 6-weeks (SORB, 2015). Trainees would also face intense physical conditioning sessions, which included:

  • Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT):
  • 4-6 mile runs;
  • 4-10 mile road marches carrying a 45lb load; and
  • Rope climb/pull-ups (heaves).

Aviation officers and soldiers undertake further programmes of instruction (POIs) before becoming Basic Mission Qualified (BMQ) in their aircraft.

After a further series of test qualifications, experience and leadership, an aviator is designated Fully Mission Qualified (FMQ). After 3-5 years as an FMQ, an aviator will have the chance to assess for flight lead qualification.

The SOATB also operates Allison Aquatics Training Facility at Fort Campbell to teach water survival techniques (Dawkins, 2013).

The 160th SOAR (A) previously recruited only men for combat positions, but in June 2013 opened those positions to women as well.

8.0     Useful Links

9.0     Useful Documents

10.0     Useful Books

Bahmanyar, M. (2004) Warrior 69: Darby’s Rangers 1942-45. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Hogan Jr, D.W. () U.S. Army Special Operations in World War II. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/070/70-42/index.html. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Kelly, F.J. (1973) U.S. Army Special Forces 1961-1971. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/090/90-23-1/. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Liptak, E. (2009) Elite 173: Office of Strategic Services 1942-45: The World War II Origins of the CIA. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Pushies, F.J. (2005) Night Stalkers: 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). St Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Press.

Rottman, G.L. (1985) Elite 4: US Army Special Forces 1952-1984. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Simpson III, C.M. (1983) Inside the Green Berets: The First Thirty Years – A History of the U.S. Army Special Forces. 1st Ed. London: Arms & Armour Press.

Stanton, S.L. (1987) Vietnam: Order of Battle. London: Bookthrift Company.

Stanton, S.L. (1990) The Green Berets at War: U.S. Army Special Forces in Asia, 1956-1975. New York, NY: Presidio Press.

Stanton, S.L. (1993) Rangers at War: LRRPs in Vietnam. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Werner, B. (2006) Elite 45: First Special Service Force 1942-44. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

11.0     References

Baldor, L.C. (2015) US Special Operators Say No to Women in Special Operations Jobs. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/12/11/us-special-operators-say-no-to-women-in-special-operations-jobs.html. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Beal, S.A., Kilcullen, R., Lussier, J.W., Dartin, D. & Ferro, G. (2009) Assessment of the Warrant Officer Technical and Tactical Certification Course (WOTTC). Research Report 1901. Arlington, Virginia: US Army Research Institute for the Behavioural and Social Sciences.

Blakely, R. (2010) Master Sergeant David K. Thuma. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.rogerblakely.com/apps/blog/show/4641892-master-sergeant-david-k-thuma. [Accessed: 13 January, 2016].

Chase, D. (2010) Special Forces Warrant Officer Institute Graduates Final Class Before Gaining Unique Appointing Authority. Available from World Wide Web: https://warrantofficerhistory.org/PDF/SFWOI_PermAptAuth-May10.pdf. [Accessed: 13 January, 2016].

Dawkins II, T.S. (2013) Aquatics Training Gets Boost. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.fortcampbellcourier.com/news/article_903544e4-0059-11e3-8935-001a4bcf887a.html. [Accessed: 14 January, 2016].

Dawkins II, T.S. (2014) 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment attends Corrosion Symposium at Fort Campbell. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2014/03/05/160th-special-operations-aviation-regiment-attends-corrosion-symposium-fort-campbell/. [Accessed: 14 January, 2016].

Feickert, A. (2015) U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.

Hoffman, M. (2013) Grey Eagle Company Joins 160th SOAR. Available from World Wide Web: http://defensetech.org/2013/12/12/grey-eagle-company-joins-160th-soar/. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Machina, F. (2014) Resourcing Special Operations. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.asmconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/30-Machina.pdf. [Accessed: 16 December, 2015].

NCSU (North Carolina State University) (2015) United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Combat Development Directorate (CDD) Internship Program. Available from World Wide Web: https://design.ncsu.edu/resources/career-services/job-postings/united-states-army-special-operations-command-usasoc-combat. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Pellerin, C. (2015) SecDef Opens all Military Occupations to Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.therecruiterjournal.com/secdef-opens-all-military-occupations-to-women.html. [Accessed: 04 December, 2016].

Potter, E. (2013) Special Operations Aviation Training Battalion (SOATB) welcomes new commander at Fort Campbell. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2013/06/03/special-operations-aviation-training-battalion-soatb-welcomes-new-commander-at-fort-campbell/. [Accessed: 14 January, 2016].

Rickleff, D.K. (2014) Colonel Daniel K. Rickleff, Commander, 528th Sustainment Brigade (Airborne). Available from World Wide Web: http://www.specops-dhp.com/interesting-post/colonel-daniel-k-rickleff-commander-528th-sustainment-brigade-airborne/. [Accessed: 13 January, 2016].

Robinson, L. (2013) Council Special Report No.66. The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces. New York, NY: Council on Foreign Relations.

Shadow Spear (2014) MISOC Units Re-designate as PSYOP. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.shadowspear.com/2014/08/misoc-units-re-designate-as-psyop/. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

SORB (Special Operations Recruiting Battalion) (2015) Green Platoon Training Overview. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.sorbrecruiting.com/160TH_Training2.htm. [Accessed: 14 January, 2016].

Trevithick, J. (2014) The U.S. Army Has Quietly Created a New Commando Division: 1st Special Forces Command brings together thousands of Green Berets. Available from World Wide Web: https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-u-s-army-has-quietly-created-a-new-commando-division-2b90961b4821#.rzmdf9dnv. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

US Army (2006) FM 3-05: Army Special Operations Forces. Washington, D.C.: US Army.

US Army (2008) 160th SOAR(A) Green Platoon Train-up Program. Available from World Wide Web: http://web.archive.org/web/20080531170029/http://www.campbell.army.mil/newinternet/UnitPages/SpecialForces/greenplatoon.htm. [14 January, 2016].

US Army (2014) FM 3-18: Special Forces Operations. Washington, D.C.: US Army.

USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) (2013) New SOF: Special Operations Fitness. Tip of the Spear. Special Issue: Preservation of the Force and Families. February 2013, pp.14-15.

USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) (2015a) USSOCOM Fact Book 2016. Tampa, Florida: USSOCOM.

USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) (2015b) United States Special Operations Command Operation and Maintenance, Defense-Wide Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Estimates. Tampa, Florida: USSOCOM.

Vogel, J.L. (2015) Statement of General Joseph L. Vogel, U.S. Army Commander United States Special Operations Command before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 18, 2015. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.socom.mil/Documents/2015%20USSOCOM%20Posture%20Statement.pdf. [Accessed: 29 December, 2015].