With the death of Osama Bin Laden (OBL) at the hands of some secret squirrel frogmen in Pakistan, there came a nationwide interest in who killed OBL. The phrase “Navy SEALs” was quickly released to the public, whether via the White House or the Department of Defense.

But it was those “subject matter experts,” including Sean Naylor, Jeremy Scahill, to name a few, who made sure to correct the media that it was actually the SEALs of JSOC, aka {redacted}, or simply SEAL Team Six. (On CNN I even heard the mention of “Task Force Blue.” Amazing…)

As the days after settled down, the Internet/blogging community kept asking the same two questions. The first question came from those not in the know, which was simply: “Who is SEAL Team Six?” and the second question was asked by those who were in the know, as well as the entire U.S. Army Special Operations Command:

“WTF – the SEALs? Not Delta? That’s BS!”

To be honest, I was one of those asking the second question. The OBL operation and the choice of the unit lead to the topic: What is the difference between Delta and Seal Team Six? One hundred percent of civilians and ninety-nine percent of the military will tell you that there is no difference, that they are identical. But those who served in the JSOC task forces overseas will all tell you that this is just not so.

Culture Differences

You can tell a lot about a unit by its foundations or its core. Almost all of the SEAL Team Six shooters came from the SEAL teams, while Delta is comprised of personnel from the Ranger Regiment, Special Forces, the conventional Army, and from members of other military branches (there have even been SEAL Team Six members who have vetted for Delta over the years).

For Delta, the majority come from the 75th and Special Forces – two very distinct units with completely different missions and cultures. On the one side, you have members who grew up in a unit whose sole purpose in life was to skull-stomp terrorists with the utmost violence. On the other, you have a unit whose expertise in foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare makes them masters in the art of training, advising, and force multiplying (the way future wars will be fought). Combine these two elements into one, and you have an incredibly versatile unit in your arsenal.

This alone is a major difference between these two units.

To give you an example: In the 1980s, when the U.S. was heavily involved with the war in El Salvador, our government sent in Special Forces Operational Detachments-A or “A-Teams” (ODAs) to help organize and train their conventional military. In that same time frame, we also deployed teams from Delta to organize and train the El Salvadorian counterterrorist units. It’s the strong Special Forces backgrounds by many of Delta‘s operators that made that operation possible.

Although the SEALs have been tasked with some foreign internal defense (FID) over the years, none of them really prefer to do it (trust me on this!), and they don’t do it with the same proficiency as Army Special Forces. I personally think SEAL Team Six is a little more one-sided than Delta, because the majority of its members all grew up on the Teams doing the same missions and undertaking the same training.

Just as Special Forces and the Rangers are vastly different from each other, so are the SEALs different from both those units. Culturally, Delta‘s composition naturally leads it to be its own distinct unit, completely separate from others. And on that same side, SEAL Team Six, because of its composition and culture, will always be “another SEAL team” with different capabilities and responsibilities, regardless of its other fancy name: {redacted}.

Training and Selection

One major difference between both units is the way they select their members. In my opinion, it’s apples and oranges.

Delta‘s selection process is very simple: Twice a year the unit holds a one-month selection course somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. The course attracts over a hundred candidates, primarily from the Ranger and Special Forces communities but from other components as well.

The Rangers and Special Forces soldiers who attend are seasoned, battle-hardened shooters who have already attended numerous grueling selection and training courses. Yet the failure rate is still over ninety percent. Just finishing the course is still not enough, as there is a commander’s review board/interview at the end that determines whether each person should be accepted into the unit or not.

If the candidate is accepted, he attends the six-month Operator Training Course (OTC), which still manages to wash people out who can’t keep up with the stressful training curriculum. (My understanding is that sixty to seventy percent pass.) If you want to get into the specifics on selection and OTC, you can read plenty of books, including Inside Delta Force, Kill Bin Laden, and The Mission, The Men, and Me.

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SEAL Team Six’s selection process is very interesting. It’s comprised of two parts: The Review and Green Team. The Review portion consists of the SEAL submitting his application for entrance to Team Six, after which his name, team designation, and picture is posted on a wall in a corridor at Dam Neck-and it is up to the individual SEAL Team Six members to give that candidate a check sign or a minus sign to signify whether or not he should be allowed to undertake the selection process.

If the SEAL is accepted, he attends the six-month Green Team. Green Team is very similar to Delta‘s OTC and is held once a year. Fifty percent do not complete the course. At the end of Green Team, the graduates are part of a draft process that is held by different representatives from the squadrons. Because SEAL Team Six are almost fully comprised of SEALs, many of the Green Teamers and the SEAL Team Six members know each other from past assignments or training. It’s in this process that the graduates get “drafted” into their respective squadrons.

NOTE: I mention that almost all members of SEAL Team Six are SEALs and not all because SEAL Team Six is rumored to be open to members of the Marines as well, as long as they have attended BUD/s (they don’t need to attend SQT). I don’t have any concrete information whether any are actually on the team.

Operational Capabilities

Both units operate in the same spectrum of special operations, counterterrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, and counter-proliferation. Most of the time they can be interchangeable with one another. Both units have been widely known to conduct exchange programs with one another.

The team that I worked with in Iraq had a SEAL Team Six sniper attached to them. He defended an Iraqi police station from being overrun by insurgents during the Battle of Mosul, in 2004, from a hotel rooftop. To answer your question, yes, he was a badass. In a place like Iraq where most of the combat was conducted in urban and close quarters environments, you really can’t tell the difference between a Delta operation verses a SEAL Team Six operation.

Afghanistan has shown to be a different case. Many times during an assault against an objective in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, a simple clandestine HVT (high-value target) snatch-and-grab operation can turn into a major ambush. When this happens, the operation just turned conventional.

There is no “special” way to react to an ambush or contact that is taught only to SOF units and kept hidden from other units. React to ambush is a basic infantry battle drill, and when the shit hits the fan, you better believe a Delta operator will be doing the same thing an 11-Bravo private from the 101st is doing on an Afghan objective somewhere else.

Here is where some of the cultural differences play a major part in how both units operate.

The vast majority of Delta are infantrymen by Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), or were infantrymen at some point in their careers. SEALs are not and never were infantrymen, nor have they ever spent time training as infantrymen; they are a maritime Special Operations force that focuses on direct action and special reconnaissance.

To put it best, my good friend, a squad leader with the Rangers, who has hit countless objectives side-by-side with SEAL Team Six expresses that the unit is incapable of making the switch from operators to basic infantry grunts when the need to do so arises. It’s not a fault of the unit, but simply a by-product of where the shooters were “raised.” (During my time in Afghanistan, I never was on an Afghan objective with SEAL Team Six, although I did get my feet wet in Iraq with Delta.)

As this became an issue, especially with the resurgence of the Taliban en masse circa 2008, JSOC commanders created a very symbiotic relationship between SEAL Team Six and the Rangers. The two units complemented each other and have had a very close relationship in Afghanistan ever since.

Hope this paints a non-classified picture of the fundamental differences between AFO Neptune and AFO Wolfpack. See what I did there?

One team, one fight. Tombstones don’t have unit designations.

Editor’s note: This article was written by Iassen Donov.


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