Blue Light had been disbanded, and Delta Force continued to train to respond to terrorist threats around the globe. They would soon get their chance at real action. In November of 1979, Iranian students broke into the American embassy in Tehran and seized the Americans working there, kicking off a hostage crisis that lasted for 444 days. For Delta, the hostage situation would culminate in Operation Eagle Claw, another devastating growing pain for America’s counterterrorism efforts.

Back in 5th Special Forces Group, the members of Blue Light were a bit disappointed. Looking back on his experience in Blue Light, the unit’s sergeant major said, “It was fun, but frustrating to be told ‘we don’t need you anymore.'” However, Special Forces was not bowing out of counterterrorism completely. Out at Mott Lake, a new course run by 5th Special Forces Group was established—Special Operations Training (SOT)—which was not really a counterterrorism course, but an advanced weapons course. For a long time it was run by 5th Group, but it was later absorbed by the Special Forces school house, the JFK Special Warfare Center. Colonel Mountel “was trying to capture the application of precision force developed by Blue Light,” Roger said, which was based on lessons learned from the Son Tay raid.

Regional commanders expressed a desire for an in-extremis force that would be forward-deployed to respond to emergency situations. Det-A, a 10th Special Forces Group element, forward-deployed to Germany and was given a counterterrorism mission on top of their normal responsibilities: to conduct unconventional warfare behind enemy lines in the event that the Soviets came charging through the Fulda Gap and into Western Europe. Later, Charlie Company, 1st battalion, 7th Group, stationed in Panama, and 1st Group, stationed in Okinawa, also received the in-extremis mission. Today, each Special Forces Group has a company assigned to a direct-action mission called the Commanders In-extremis Force (CIF), which can conduct counterterrorism missions.

Colonel Charlie Beckwith and Colonel Bob Mountel might have been rivals while they were in the military, but both officers left a powerful legacy for today’s special operations soldiers, and gave America the beginnings of a very robust counterterrorism capability.

Over the years, terrorism has changed, and counterterrorism units have had to adapt. “Today, aircraft hostage situations are almost passe,” Roger said. “The West has gotten much better at countering them, and like any good guerrilla, as you and I are trained to be, you will change your tactics,” he said, referring to our Special Forces training. Marxism was beginning to fail in the 1980s, and by the early 1990s, the Marxist terrorist organizations eventually gave way to Islamists groups such as al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

Jim, a former Delta Force squadron commander, has reservations:

The Western world had a thing about predicting future terrorist acts, a field where we seldom have success. The enemies have the advantage of time, many potential targets, and methods of attack. Some groups copy others, so past actions may reoccur in similar guises. For example, on one occasion, the Delta and 22 SAS commander said we should quit training for aircraft hijackings, as they did not expect any more—such techniques had gone by the wayside. Terrorists use terror as political theater and different terrorist groups are at different levels of maturity. However, terror organizations did not all emerge at the same time or under the same conditions. Different groups have different audiences, different goals, and are not at the same level of organizational maturity. Emerging groups may copy others and put their own twist to similar actions. Some recent aircraft hijackings were in Asia and were less sophisticated than those conducted in the Middle East in the ’70s. After a day of training, we used to sit around and have open discussion of techniques, equipment, and related matters. We also had a cold beer and surmised what the bad guys might do next. We developed tactics that might meet those threats and developed some plans that have never seen the light of day, matters of which we don’t discuss.”

Delta Force continued to evolve, developing not as an offshoot of British special operations, but as a distinctly American unit that had more in common with the OSS than the SAS. The British influence has always been there, though, largely due to Beckwith.