SF troops come from humble and austere beginnings. The original Special Forces troops were formed on Smoke Bomb Hill in 1952. Special Forces were created as former members of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) were assigned with paratroopers and Rangers, with a sprinkling of former members of the Army’s 1st Special Service Force, to fill out the ranks of the 10th Special Forces Group headed by Colonel Aaron Bank.
OSS and SF were tasked with training, equipping, and leading indigenous forces in the art of guerrilla warfare. The mission of the 10th, according to Bank, was to “to infiltrate by land, sea or air, deep into enemy-occupied territory and organize the resistance/guerrilla [sic] potential to conduct Special Forces operations, with emphasis on guerrilla warfare.”
It was just in June of 1983 that Special Forces-qualified troops celebrated the first milestone, of several to follow, with the authorization to wear the Special Forces tab. The “long tab,” as it is known, was worn on the uniform’s left shoulder. The teal and gold tab would become a symbol of who “was SF qualified.”
In the past, support troops assigned to SF units would wear a green beret with just a unit identifier (Candy Stripe) under the unit crest. Before the tab’s introduction, qualified SF troops were referred to as being “Flash qualified” as only Green Berets wore a full flash on their berets. After the tab was created, support troops went to a maroon beret with a full flash while only SF qualified troops would henceforth wear green berets.
On October 1, 1984, the Army established a separate career management field (CMF 18) for SF enlisted men. The Special Forces warrant officer career field (180A) soon followed. The Warrant Officer program did away with the 2LTs who would be A-Team Executive Officers and replaced them with senior and experienced NCOs. The Special Forces branch (18A) for Army officers was created on April 9, 1987. It was another big milestone for SF and changed everything.
The results were a much better, more capable, and more experienced core of officers and enlisted men — troops would henceforth be dedicated solely to Special Forces operations. No longer would officers stick around only long enough to “get their ticket punched” and be forced to move on to other assignments and career fields. It was also at that time that both the 1st and the 3rd Special Forces Groups were reactivated; they have since served with distinction.
In 1987, the command that the Special Forces Groups fall under, SOCOM, would also be formed.
The Special Forces Command has area groups focused on every part of the world. These regional groups come complete with language capability, cultural experience, and knowledge of the area, its people, and its main actors.
Today’s U.S. Army Green Berets are operating in numerous countries around the world. There are five Special Forces Groups (1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th) in the active army and two National Guard Groups (19th and 20th) that round out the force. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria have put such a burden on the units’ operational tempo that the Army authorized the activation of the 4th battalion for each of the Special Forces groups.
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