Part of me dies inside when I hear people talk about “tier one” or white “vanilla” special operations in relation to so-called black special operations. The public throws these words around, but realistically, they only do it because of the the number of active duty and retired special operations soldiers who use these words without having a clue what they are talking about. There it is, I said it. A lot of active duty SOF soldiers and veterans are completely ignorant about the task organization of their units.
Then video game developers took the ignorant opinions of former SOF soldiers turned consultants to heart and incorporated “tier one” as a marketing gimmick. The implication of course is that tier one is our black ops ninjas that rappel through sky lights wearing balaclavas and shooting the latest gas-piston boom stick being advertised in Guns & Ammo magazine.
The tier levels within the Department of Defense organize different military units and determine how they are funded, trained, and equipped. Your tier level has nothing to do with how much of a badass you are. There are fat civilians who are technically Tier One but the comic book store guy from the Simpsons isn’t going to lock out of subs or do a military free fall jump behind enemy lines. The fact that so many soldiers misunderstand the tier system is partly a function of the details of that system being classified. Part of it is also due to institutional inbreeding and a high school culture masquerading as a professional one.
The same goes for those who like to talk about so-called white SOF and black SOF. Yeah, I get it. White SOF does operations which are visible and black SOF does operations that are low-visibility. Of course, reality is far more complicated. If you look at what units are brought in to work with black SOF, you quickly see that the distinction between white and black is completely blurred. The higher the tier you are, the less likely it is that you are doing anything without help from the other tiers. Just don’t tell the kids on Instagram that I said that because some o-rings will get blown out.