While it could be said that every unit which falls under the “special ops” umbrella is comprised of operators who can move, shoot, and communicate with lethal efficiency, different units developed to address specialized challenges.

As the years wore on, and particularly since the onset of the Global War on Terrorism, lines may have blurred a bit between specialties in many cases, allowing various units to conduct similar operations. But, the specific nature of each continues to inform the internal culture of divisions that fall under the command of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), honoring their heritage as well as the prowess their service experience allots.

Many people who understand America’s special operations apparatus are usually most familiar with the elements of one of SOCOM’s subordinate commands, the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC. Officially, JSOC is tasked with studying special operations requirements and techniques in order to ensure the best methods of unit interoperability are employed, while fielding new equipment and conducting special operations exercises, training, and missions in the best interest of our nation. To be succinct, JSOC has the “best of the best.” It might help to think of them as America’s war-fighting All-Star team.

Units of JSOC include:

  • The Intelligence Support Activity, commonly called “The Activity”
  • The U.S. Air Force 24th Special Tactics Squadron
  • The U.S. Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) or the recently popularized SEAL Team Six
  • The U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment: Regimental Reconnaissance Company
  • The U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, commonly known as Delta Force

However, listing these names does little to clear up potential confusion, so allow me to elaborate briefly on three of these four units.

DEVGRU, SEAL Team 6, and whatever their current (and classified) operational title may be are all referring to the same group of elite Navy SEALs. Team 6 recruits from within, choosing only the best of the already elite Navy SEAL community. Delta is often compared to Seal Team 6 in terms of operational capabilities and grueling indoctrination and training, but differs from its sea-based brethren primarily in recruiting tactics: Delta operators may come from any branch, and are sometimes even former SEALs.

The Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS) is perhaps the least recognized of the three, which may be because pararescuemen, combat controllers, and Tactical Air Control Parties deployed by the 24th STS usually serve alongside DEVGRU or Delta teams, rather than fielding complete teams on their own. These airmen synchronize and control elements of air support or provide medical assistance to other special operators in the field.

Beyond the elite units housed within JSOC, SOCOM boasts a number of other special operations teams that may be best addressed by dividing them by their representative military branches.