The military is full of professional jargon and SOF is certainly no exception. With the growing interest in Special Operations, I hear a lot of terminology used to describe us that makes me cringe. The worst part is that some of these terms are thrown around so often that they become an institution in and of themselves and I find myself using them as well.
The Tier designation is commonly referenced as a type of ranking in books, video games, and folks on the internet on a daily basis. Usually people are using Tier One to imply Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. The problem is that Tier One is not really a ranking system and the Tier status actually refers to the level of funding a unit gets. There is a reciprocal relationship, the high priority units get the most funding, so these are the Tier One units. However, I find that this term gets thrown around by people without understanding it’s meaning.
I remember seeing ads for the video game, Battlefield 3, on the subway that asked, Are you ready for Tier One? It was the type thing that was clearly written by those outside the SOF community, as I’ve never heard someone who served in Delta or ST6 refer to themselves or their unit as Tier One.
This is a term that was coined by Delta Force back in the day, because apparently there were some legal issues with using “operative” as it might be confused with certain CIA personnel. Operator was used in the place of Soldier to describe the assaulters, snipers, and other maneuver elements in Delta. Today, this word gets thrown around like it is nobody’s business. Everyone is an operator now. I was glad that in the 75th we always knew that we were Rangers and not Operators. When I was in SF we always cringed when some instructor at a training course referred to us as Operators. We were Special Forces, not Delta.
This is by far the most over used term going. Every unit is elite these days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is some special term that should be reserved for use only by SOF. In fact, I think this term should be done away with by the military entirely. It means nothing and gives people an unrealistic perception of what they are really capable of. Colonel Ron Reid-Daly was the Commander of the Selous Scouts, perhaps the most unconventional SOF unit that has ever existed, and he despised the term elite.
Image courtesy of US Army