With the death of Usama bin Laden at the hands of some secret squirrel frogmen in Pakistan, there came a nationwide interest as to who killed UBL. “Navy SEALs” was released to the public whether via the White House or the Department of Defense.
But it was those “subject matter experts” such as Sean Naylor, Jeremy Scahill, etc. who made sure to correct the media that it was actually the SEALs of JSOC, aka DEVGRU, or simply SEAL Team 6. I even heard the mention of “Task Force Blue” on CNN. Amazing…
As the days after settled down, the internet/blogging community kept asking the same two questions. The first question from those not in “the know” was simply – “Who is SEAL Team 6??” The second question was by the ones who were in the know as well as the entire US Army Special Operations Command – “WTF the SEALs?? Not Delta?! That’s BS! blah blah.”
To be honest I was one of those asking the second question. The UBL operation and the choice of the unit lead to the topic of “What is the difference between Delta and SEAL Team Six?” by many individuals out there. 100% of civilians and 99% of the military will tell you there is no difference and that they are identical. Those who served in the JSOC task forces overseas will all tell you that the case is just not so.
You can tell a lot about a unit by its foundations or its core. Almost 100 percent of the SEAL Team Six shooters came from the SEAL Teams whilst Delta Force is comprised of personnel from the Ranger Regiment, Special Forces, the conventional Army, as well as even 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 SF; two VERY distinct units with completely different missions and cultures.
On 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 and on the other side 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 both 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 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 Counter-Terrorist units. It’s the strong SF backgrounds by many of Delta’s operators that made that operation possible.
Although the SEALs have been tasked with some FID over the years; none of them really prefer to do it (just ask Brandon) and they don’t do it on the same proficiency as Army SF. I personally think SEAL Team Six is a little more one-sided than Delta because the incredible majority of its members all grew up on the Teams doing the same missions and undertaking the same training.
Just as SF and the Rangers are vastly different from each other, so are the SEALs from both those units as well. 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: DEVGRU.
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 the one-month selection course somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. The course attracts over a hundred candidates primarily from the Ranger and SF communities, but from other components as well.
The Rangers and SF soldiers who attend are already some battle-hardened seasoned shooters who have attended numerous grueling selection and training courses previously. And yet the failure rate is still over 90%. Even just finishing the course is not enough as there is a commander’s review board/interview at the end that determines if this person should be accepted into the unit.
If the candidate is accepted, he attends the 6-month Operator Training Course (OTC) which still manages to wash people out who can’t keep up with stressful training curriculum – I understand 60-70% 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.
SEAL Team Six’s selection process is very interesting in my opinion. It’s comprised of two parts: the Review and Green Team. The Review portion consists of the SEAL submitting his application for entrance to the team. After which his name, team designation, and picture are posted on a wall in a corridor at Dam Neck and it is up to the individual members to give that candidate a check sign or a minus sign to signify if he should be allowed to undertake the selection process.
If the SEAL is accepted, he attends the six-month-long “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 take part in a draft process held by different representatives from the squadrons because SEAL Team Six members are almost all SEALs — many of the Green Teamers and the 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 the Team is rumored to be open to members of the Marines as well as long as they attend BUD/S (they don’t need to attend SQT). I don’t have any concrete information if any are on the Team.
Both units operate in the same spectrum of special operations; counter-terrorism, 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 versus 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 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 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 Force are infantrymen by MOS or were infantrymen at some point in their careers. SEALs are not or never were infantrymen nor have they spent time training as infantrymen; they are a maritime special operations force that focuses on direct action and special reconnaissance.
My time in Afghanistan in 2005 was wrought with boredom and non-existent combat, so I have never been on an Afghan objective with SEAL Team Six (I got my feet wet in Iraq with Delta).
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.”
As this became an issue, especially with the resurgence of the Taliban in mass (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.
I 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.
This article was written by Iassen Donov and originally published on September 15, 2019.