First activated in May 1952, the lineage of the Special Forces dates back more than 200 years, from predecessors such as “Swamp Fox” during the Revolutionary War. During World War II, soldiers from the US Army Rangers and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives were trained under the Royal Marines. Once the grueling commando course was completed, each of the participants received a green beret. However, at that time the beret was not authorized to be worn by the American soldiers.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy changed the rules and stated the green beret was now an official part of the Special Forces uniform. Prior to his visit to Fort Bragg, North Carolina on October 12, 1961, President Kennedy told Brigadier General William P. Yarborough the Special Forces soldiers were to wear their green berets when he arrived. He felt since the missions assigned to the soldiers of the Special Forces were unique to them, they should have a distinguishing aspect to their uniform which set them apart from the others; thus he referred to the green beret as “a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.”
After President Kennedy died on November 22, 1963, a special connection was born between the Green Berets and his memory. During the funeral, members of the Special Forces served as the honor guard. At the end of the service, a sergeant in charge of one of the Special Forces details placed his beret on the late president’s coffin in an act of respect. On the 25th anniversary of Kennedy’s death in 1988, General Michael D. Healy spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. The last commander of Special Forces in Vietnam, General Healy presided over the laying of a wreath in the form of a green beret on Kennedy’s grave.
Headed by Brigadier General Robert A. McClure, the formation of the Special Forces was originally a part of the US Army Psychological Warfare Division. In June 1952, Colonel Aaron Bank commanded the initial 10th Special Forces Group (SFG). The formation of this group coincided with the Psychological Warfare School, whose name was later changed to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School.
Following the deployment of the 10th SFG to Germany in September 1952, the 77th SFG formed at Fort Bragg, NC. In May of 1960, this group then became the 7th Special Forces Group.
After their establishment, the soldiers of the Special Forces showed themselves to be highly distinguished during Vietnam. During the war, 17 Green Beret members received the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government.
Not every soldier will qualify to wear the coveted green beret. This special award is reserved for the elite of the United States Army. Certain qualifications must be met in the beginning to even have the opportunity to try and gain access to training. Applicants for Special Forces training must be male, between the ages of 18-30 and a high school graduate. He must also be a U. S.citizen. (This particular qualification has 48 exceptions to it, however; when 48 annual slots are made available for foreign military students.) The soldier’s General Technical score must be a minimum of 110 and combat operation score 98 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam. He must volunteer and qualify for Airborne training and also qualify for secret security clearance. Defense Language Aptitude Battery or Defense Language Proficiency Tests must be passed and during the Army Physical Fitness Test, the soldier must score a minimum of 70 points in each event, with an overall minimum score of 229 points. And that’s just to qualify to start Special Forces training!
The rubber begins to meet the road during Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), the first phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course. Held at Camp MacKall in North Carolina, SFAS is 24 days of demanding training, both mentally and physically. Over the course of these 24 days, the soldier is tested to see if the required 12 ‘Whole Man’ attributes are a part of his make up. These 12 attributes consist of: judgment, teamwork, intelligence, decisiveness, physical fitness, motivation, trustworthiness, accountability, maturity, stability, influence and communications. During the testing, a number of the group will begin to weed themselves out, through Voluntary Withdrawal (VW) or those who suffer injuries during the training will be dropped medically. The records of those who voluntarily withdraw will be designated Not-to-Return (NTR) and their opportunity to try for Special Forces admission comes to a permanent end. For those who are medically dropped, if the injury he sustains does not require a medical discharge from the service, he is allowed to ‘recycle’ and attempt the course again as soon as he is physically able to do so.
When the grueling 24 day testing is completed, the soldier faces his next test, the Final Selection Board. Even though the candidate completes the testing, he will not be selected to continue the training if the selection board feels he lacks any of the 12 required attributes.
Four more levels of training follow the test. Phase II is the Group, Specialty and Language assignment. Upon completion of this phase, the candidates indicate their preferences regarding the SF Groups they will later be assigned to and the language training they will receive.
Phase III takes place over a period of 13 weeks where the candidate receives small unit tactics instruction. Incorporated in this time frame is a three week Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) instruction.
Phase IV completes this part of the program with Robin Sage and graduation. Robin Sage takes place in the ‘People’s Republic of Pineland’, 50,000 square miles of North Carolina real estate located in the middle of the state and encompassing 16 counties. The guerrilla training the soldiers receive during Phase IV is the last portion of the Special Forces Qualification Course they must complete prior to becoming a Green Beret.