On April 9, 1987, the creation of the Special Forces branch for Army officers was a gamechanger for the SOCOM and Special Forces communities.

Today’s USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) operates daily in nearly 100 countries as Special Operations troops from all of the combined services do their part in defending U.S. interests abroad. SOCOM has a dedicated command of nearly 70,000 personnel.

Special Operations troops are taking on the lion’s share of the fighting in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan as they are an integral part of the United States’ strategy for defeating our enemies there. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, SOCOM is a relative newcomer to the U.S. military. 

The Army’s Special Forces were created in 1952 as former members of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) were assigned with paratroopers and Army Rangers to fill out the ranks of the 10th Special Forces Group headed by Colonel Aaron Bank.

Members of the 10th Special Forces Group, “The Originals” trace their origins back to June 1952 at Fort Bragg. They adopted the Trojan Horse Badge in 1955 and adorned their Green Berets with them. The emblem design was by Capt. Roger M Pezzelle. (U.S. Army)

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 infiltrate by land, sea or air, deep into enemy-occupied territory and organize the resistance/guerrilla potential to conduct Special Forces operations, with emphasis on guerrilla warfare.”

Special Forces grew steadily and the new unit was heavily involved in Vietnam. Special Forces A-Teams were spread all over the country and found themselves a tremendously loyal ally in the Montagnard people of the mountains of Southeast Asia. By the time the war was over, SF soldiers had earned 20 Medals of Honor, one Distinguished Service Medal, 90 Distinguished Service Crosses, 814 Silver Star Medals, 13,234 Bronze Star Medals, 235 Legions of Merit, 46 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 232 Soldier’s Medals, 4,891 Air Medals, 6,908 Army Commendation Medals and 2,658 Purple Hearts.

Green Berets, SSG Parsons, SSG Brakeman, SFC Simpson, SFC Strick, SSG Sheppard and, 1LT Sullivan in their distinctive Night-Tiger Stripe camo at FOB Kham Duc, Vietnam, in February 1967. Note the M79 40MM grenade launchers and early M16’s in .556 caliber.

After the Vietnam war wound down, the military cut back on special operations forces and tried to build a large conventional force for a European land battle with the Soviet Union. As a result, the 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 8th Special Forces groups were deactivated. The Pentagon, never a fan of “specialized” or “elite” units, tried to wipe the slate clean of them. Nevertheless, the 7th SFG narrowly escaped the ax. 

So, the Special Forces were left with just three active-duty groups, the 5th, 7th, and 10th SFGs. Ronald Reagan’s election and the debacle at Desert One in Iran would change all that. During the attempted rescue of American hostages in Iran, an ad-hoc force of Delta Force commandos, Army Rangers, Air Force, and Marine pilots failed because the pilots weren’t specifically trained for that type of mission.