We have a bad habit in the Special Operations community of inter-service, inter-unit, and even intra-team rivalry. Whether it is Special Forces against SEALs, “white” against “black” SOF, Rangers against SEALs, any military SOF unit against CIA paramilitary forces, Army special missions units against Navy special missions units, or one SEAL platoon against another platoon at the same SEAL Team, we all—at one time or another—can get carried away in the high-school-like game of pitting ourselves against a similar, but inevitably different, SOF unit.
Not that this is always a negative tendency, either.
Sometimes such rivalries create useful competition, which drives one unit to be better than the next, thus moving all of SOF to improve itself, one rivalry at a time. It is like free market competition in some ways. You want to be the best, so you train harder and work toward perfection, which then makes all SOF units more effective fighting forces.
And yet, like true free market competition, when left unregulated, such rivalries can sometimes take things off the rails.
There are times when we tend to take the competition too far. There are times when the rivalries, like in a heated football game, lead to all-out brawls, both metaphorically, and sometimes, literally. That is when things go too far.
This all surely sounds pretty nebulous, admittedly, and this author is consciously choosing not to name specific episodes, whether recent or in the past. This website has undoubtedly been involved in some of those skirmishes, and is far from blameless in every kerfuffle.
That being said, this author does have a relatively unique perspective when it comes to these rivalries, in that he served as both a SEAL and a clandestine service officer at the CIA, one who worked closely with the latter organization’s paramilitary units in a theater of war over a sustained timeframe. In other words, this author has seen different SOF units operate, has experienced firsthand their culture, and has seen them fight the good fight on behalf of U.S. national interests.
And that is what it all boils down to, right?
To a unit, and to a man, and without fail, every single one of these SOF organizations, in all four armed services, and at the CIA, have one thing in common: They are fiercely and unwaveringly pursuing and protecting America’s national security aims, and working at the top of their respective games to do so.
Yes, these units compete and aim to outshine each other. Yes, they would gladly steal each others’ missions any day of the week. Yes, they will tell you that each one of them is the best at what they do, hands down. Yes, they will claim that they are the true experts at their particular specialties. And no, they will never, ever admit that they are not as good as a rival unit.
But will Rangers march miles through the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to rescue a gravely wounded Navy SEAL? Will a CIA paramilitary unit respond instantly to a troops-in-contact call from a nearby Special Forces A-team? Will a SEAL officer detailed to a British SAS platoon risk life and limb to recover the body of a mortally wounded CIA ground branch officer in the middle of a firefight?
You’re damn right they will.
Because we truly are one team, fighting one fight. Deep down, all SOF warriors understand this, and in practice, are guided by this principle in their operations. Yes, fights will erupt among and between the SOF active duty and veterans’ communities, but on the battlefield, that is all left behind, and we are all brothers.
Brothers will always and forever argue amongst themselves, but in a fight, they will never fail to have each others’ backs.