There are distinct differences between SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force that are worthy of exploration, but in the minds of the American public, only one of these elite war fighting units is the most popular. They draw more headlines, sell more books, and use more hair gel than the rest of the special operations community combined… and you guessed it, it’s the SEALs. Why is that America’s love affair with “operators” lends itself so easily to SEAL worship when Delta, or the Combat Applications Group (CAG), has been running and gunning with the very best of them for more than 40 years?
If you ask me, it’s got a lot to do Hollywood. If your average service member knows very little about the reality of special operations, it stands to reason that your average American knows even less. What people do know about the secretive world of these elite warfighters can be gleaned almost entirely from popular culture and attention-grabbing headlines — and there’s no denying that Navy SEALs have dominated both for decades.
Just like in real life, Delta has been present throughout however, but unlike their headline-grabbing SEAL counterparts, the fictional operators of Delta depicted in movies tend to embody the “silent professional” ethos once so coveted within the spec. ops community — often featured in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action sequences or referred to through such heavy military vernacular that laymen don’t realize what unit is being discussed at all. From “Sicario” to “The Dark Knight,” Delta‘s appearances in these films tends to be glossed over when compared to their SEAL counterparts.
As a movie nerd, I decided to take it upon myself to address this cultural imbalance on behalf of brave men like George Hand, who would have earned my respect and admiration as a writer if he hadn’t already taken that hill years prior as a Delta operator. George and his ilk may not go after the bright lights of Hollywood in search of proper representation, but a few movies have managed to pull it off, nonetheless. So, without any further ado, here are three times you didn’t realize the badasses you were watching on screen were supposed to be Delta.
“The Hunted” – Benicio del Toro plays Delta SFC Aaron Hallam
2003’s “The Hunted” depicts civilian military instructor and survival expert L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones) on the hunt for a Delta operator that’s gone rogue. The film suggests that the operator in question, SFC Aaron Hallam (del Torro), was either set up during a sensitive operation or grew so disillusioned with what he was doing that he goes on the run, laying the groundwork for the film’s conflict.
The movie, like many showing the shadowy world of special operations, takes a number of liberties regarding what Delta is and how it does its business, but that’s to be expected thanks to the immense degree of secrecy surrounding the Army’s most elite special operations unit. In particular, “The Hunted” focused on the wilderness survival skills and knife fighting capabilities Delta operators possess. Is it realistic? Maybe a few parts. But is it fun? Oh hell yeah.
“The Punisher” – Thomas Jane’s Punisher was in Delta
Although Netflix’s more recent Punisher iteration (and the one in the comics) was a former U.S. Marine, the first Punisher to hit the big screen hailed from Delta, according to a few lines in the script. In 2004’s “The Punisher,” the titular character’s backstory was modified to depict the hero as an undercover FBI agent that had previously been a member of Delta Force. This distinction suggests that it was during Frank Castle’s time in Delta that he picked up the skills he needed to go on a Punisher-style vigilante rampage, so although the movie doesn’t show Castle’s time in Delta, his ability to pick apart Howard Saint’s criminal empire serves as a reminder of just how capable Delta operators are considered to be in the minds of Hollywood screenwriters and the enemy alike.
“Sicario” – The main characters weren’t Delta, but the best shooters were
2015’s “Sicario” offered a powerful combination of realism and absolute fiction in its depiction of CIA operations in and around Mexico, and while the protagonists of the film were primarily CIA or “other agency” contractors, the shooters that fought alongside them were often referred to as Delta — to include during one of the best firefights I’ve seen put to film in years, the immensely dramatic border crossing scene. Pay close attention to the way some of the operators handle their weapons, notable ensuring they don’t flag one another and engaging threats quickly and accurately. As far as movies go, this scene isn’t just an action-packed ride, it’s also a great advertisement for what Delta shooters can do.
Just because: The coolest Delta depiction in a movie will always be SFC Norm ‘Hoot’ Gibson in Black Hawk Down
Eric Bana’s depiction of SFC Hoot Gibson in “Black Hawk Down” stands out in my mind as the first time I saw a Delta operator depicted on screen in a realistic way. Hoot wasn’t a real operator that fought during the 1993 Mogadishu raid, but was based on a combination of real operators that were. Bana’s “Hoot” demonstrates incredible poise in the face of a seemingly overwhelming hostile force, but at the end of the movie, you come to learn that it wasn’t just stoicism in combat that makes these war fighters a bit different when compared even to the highly trained Army Rangers they fought alongside. As Hoot explains why he’s heading back into the fight after the end of the harrowing ordeal, it’s hard not to let his words echo around in your chest cavity for a while… urging you to be something a bit bigger, a bit better, than you were before.
If you ask me, that’s the sort of stuff Delta is made of.