The United States Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets because of their distinctive service headgear, are a special operations force tasked with five primary missions: unconventional warfare (the original and most important mission of Special Forces), foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counter-terrorism.
Role and DutiesEdit
The first two emphasize language, cultural, and training skills in working with foreign troops. Other duties include combat search and rescue (CSAR), counter-narcotics, counter-proliferation, hostage rescue, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, information operations, peacekeeping, psychological operations, security assistance, and manhunts; other components of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) or other U.S. government activities may also specialize in these secondary areas. Many of their operational techniques are classified, but some nonfiction works and doctrinal manuals are available.
As special operations units, Special Forces are not necessarily under the command authority of the ground commanders in those countries. Instead, while in theater, SF units may report directly to a geographic combatant command, USSOCOM, or other command authorities. The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) recruits from the Army's Special Forces. Joint CIA-Army Special Forces operations go back to the famed MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War. This cooperation still exists today and is seen in the War in Afghanistan.
The roots of the Green Beret can be traced back to the Second World War when Major-General Lucian Truscott of the U.S. Army was a liaison officer with the British General Staff. In 1942 he submitted a proposal to General George Marshall that an American unit be set up "along the lines of the British Commandos". On June 19, 1942 the 1st Ranger Battalion was sanctioned, recruited, and began training in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, under the care of Royal Marines and British Army Commandos. The prospective Rangers and later OSS recruits would be taken through the gruelling All Arms Commando Course which remains largely unchanged to this day. On completion of training at the Commando Training Depot at Achnacarry Castle in Scotland, those that passed had the right to wear the British Commando green beret, but it was not part of the regulation uniform at the time and was disallowed by the U.S. Army.
U.S. Army Special Forces adopted the Green Beret unofficially in 1954 after searching for a piece of headgear that would set them apart as an elite fighting force. Members of the 77th SFG began searching through their accumulated berets and settled on the Rifle Green color of British Rifle Regiments (as opposed to the Lovat Green of the Commandos) from Captain Miguel de la Pena's collection. Captain Frank Dallas had the new beret designed and produced in small numbers for the members of the 10th & 77th Special Forces Groups.
Their new headdress was first worn at a retirement parade at Fort Bragg on 12 June 1955 for Lieutenant General Joseph P. Cleland, the now-former commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Onlookers thought that the commandos were a foreign delegation from NATO. In 1956 General Paul D. Adams, the post commander at Fort Bragg, banned the wearing of the distinctive headdress, (although members of the Special Forces continued to wear it surreptitiously). This was reversed on 25 September 1961 by Department of the Army Message 578636, which designated the green beret as the exclusive headdress of the Army Special Forces.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized them for use exclusively by the U.S. Special Forces. Preparing for an 12 October visit to the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the President sent word to the Center's commander, Colonel William P. Yarborough, for all Special Forces soldiers to wear green berets as part of the event. The President felt that since they had a special mission, Special Forces should have something to set them apart from the rest. In 1962, he called the green beret "a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom".
Forrest Lindley, a writer for the newspaper Stars and Stripes who served with Special Forces in Vietnam said of Kennedy's authorization: "It was President Kennedy who was responsible for the rebuilding of the Special Forces and giving us back our Green Beret. People were sneaking around wearing [them] when conventional forces weren't in the area and it was sort of a cat and mouse game. Then Kennedy authorized the Green Beret as a mark of distinction, everybody had to scramble around to find berets that were really green. We were bringing them down from Canada. Some were handmade, with the dye coming out in the rain".
Special Forces have a special bond with Kennedy, going back to his funeral. At the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of JFK's death, General Michael D. Healy, the last commander of Special Forces in Vietnam, spoke at Arlington Cemetery. Later, a wreath in the form of the Green Beret would be placed on the grave, continuing a tradition that began the day of his funeral when a sergeant in charge of a detail of Special Forces men guarding the grave placed his beret on the coffin.