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  • Writer's pictureTodd Handler

A Brief History of Special Forces: From the OSS to Today's Elite Units

You're about to enter the world of the ultimate badasses on the battlefield - the special forces.

These guys are the cream of the crop, trained to handle the most ball-busting missions and operate in the gnarliest environments.

They're the kind of dudes who can extract hostages from a sh*tstorm or conduct a high-risk reconnaissance mission without breaking a sweat.

But why are these dudes so damn important, you ask? Well, listen up and listen good, because I'm about to school you on some military history.

Special forces have played a vital role in modern warfare, and they're not just any ordinary grunts.

These boys are highly trained in everything from weapons and tactics to survival skills.

They go through some intense physical and mental training to prepare for the most demanding missions.

And let me tell you, the history of special forces is one hell of a ride.

From the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II

to today's elite units like the Green Berets and Navy SEALs,

these dudes have evolved and adapted to changing battlefield

conditions like no other.

They've carried out some of the most challenging missions in military history, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So, lock and load, troops!

We're about to embark on a wild journey through the history of special forces and see how these badass mofos have shaped military conflicts over the years.

You better strap in and hold on tight, 'cause it's gonna be one bumpy ride!

Origins of Special Forces

Sit tight, troops! We're about to dive deeper into the origins of special forces.

Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

During World War II, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was a top-secret intelligence agency created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines.

The OSS employed a wide variety of individuals with diverse backgrounds, including soldiers, diplomats, and intellectuals. Their missions included everything from sabotage and espionage to psychological warfare and propaganda.

The OSS operated in all theaters of the war, gathering intelligence that was critical to the success of the Allies. In one famous operation, the OSS provided crucial intelligence that helped the Allied forces prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. In another, they conducted sabotage missions behind enemy lines, destroying infrastructure and supply lines.

Green Berets

Following the success of the OSS, the US military recognized the need for specialized units capable of conducting unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense operations. In 1952, the US Army created the Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets. The Green Berets were highly trained soldiers who could operate in the most hostile environments, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Afghanistan.

Navy SEALs

The Green Berets were followed by the US Navy SEALs, created in 1962, and the US Air Force Special Operations Command, established in 1990. The Navy SEALs were initially created to conduct maritime operations, but quickly expanded their capabilities to include everything from direct action missions to reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. The Air Force Special Operations Command, on the other hand, was created to provide specialized support to Air Force operations, including everything from aerial refueling to combat search and rescue.

Today, special forces units from all branches of the US military, as well as other countries, continue to operate around the world in support of national security objectives. These units are highly trained and equipped with the latest technology and tactics, allowing them to carry out missions that few others can. From counterterrorism to hostage rescue to unconventional warfare, special forces continue to play a vital role in modern military operations.

Cold War and Vietnam Era

Moving on to the Cold War and Vietnam era, we see the emergence of some of the most iconic special forces units in history, including the Green Berets and Navy SEALs. These elite units were created to conduct unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency operations, which became increasingly important during the Vietnam War.

The Green Berets, established in 1952, were specifically designed to train and lead indigenous forces in unconventional warfare. They were tasked with working with local populations to gather intelligence, conduct sabotage operations, and carry out guerrilla warfare against enemy forces. The Green Berets played a crucial role in Vietnam, where they trained and advised local forces, conducted reconnaissance missions, and carried out raids against enemy targets.

Similarly, the Navy SEALs, established in 1962, were designed to conduct maritime special operations and unconventional warfare. During the Vietnam War, the SEALs conducted raids against enemy positions along the coast, carried out reconnaissance missions in enemy-held territory, and trained and advised local forces. They also conducted unconventional warfare operations, such as the famous Phoenix Program, which aimed to neutralize the Viet Cong infrastructure in South Vietnam.

Other special forces units also played important roles during the Cold War and Vietnam era. The US Army's Delta Force, established in 1977, was tasked with conducting counterterrorism operations and hostage rescue missions. The US Air Force's Combat Controllers, established in 1953, were responsible for providing air traffic control and tactical air support in special operations missions.

Overall, the Cold War and Vietnam era saw the expansion of special forces units and their increasing importance in unconventional warfare and counterinsurgency operations. These units proved their worth time and time again, carrying out missions that required extreme skill, courage, and dedication to the mission. The lessons learned during this era would shape the future of special forces and their role in modern warfare.

Post-Cold War Era

As the world entered the post-Cold War era, special forces continued to evolve and adapt to new challenges.

During the 1990s and early 2000s, special forces were involved in a number of conflicts, including the Gulf War, Bosnia, and Somalia.

During the Gulf War, special forces played a vital role in providing intelligence and conducting reconnaissance missions. They also conducted direct action raids, such as the famous raid on the Iraqi Air Force headquarters in Baghdad, which took out key enemy targets and disrupted their command and control.

In Bosnia, special forces were involved in peacekeeping and stabilization operations, as well as providing support to local forces. They also played a role in capturing war criminals, such as Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader.

In Somalia, special forces were involved in Operation Gothic Serpent, which aimed to capture key warlords and disrupt their ability to carry out attacks against UN peacekeepers. The mission famously led to the Battle of Mogadishu, which became the basis for the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."

During this era, special forces continued to develop new tactics and techniques to meet the challenges of modern warfare. They also began to work more closely with other military units and government agencies, such as the CIA, to achieve their objectives.

Overall, the post-Cold War era saw special forces continue to evolve and adapt to new challenges. Their importance in modern warfare was recognized, and they played a crucial role in a number of conflicts around the world. The lessons learned during this era would shape the future of special forces and their role in the War on Terror.

War on Terror

The War on Terror marked a new era for special forces, as they were called upon to play a central role in the Global War on Terrorism. Their unique skills and capabilities made them the go-to option for the US military in a variety of missions and operations.

One of the most high-profile missions during this era was the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. In May 2011, a team of Navy SEALs conducted a daring raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader and bringing justice to the victims of 9/11.

But the fight against terrorism was not limited to a single operation. Special forces were involved in a wide range of missions and operations, from direct action raids against high-value targets to advising and training local forces in counterinsurgency operations.

In Afghanistan, special forces played a crucial role in supporting the Northern Alliance in their fight against the Taliban. They also conducted numerous raids against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets, disrupting their ability to carry out attacks.

In Iraq, special forces were involved in the initial invasion and subsequent counterinsurgency operations. They worked closely with local forces to build their capacity and conduct joint operations, while also conducting direct action raids against key enemy targets.

Overall, the War on Terror saw special forces play a vital role in the fight against terrorism. Their unique skills and capabilities allowed them to carry out a wide range of missions and operations, from direct action raids to advising and training local forces. Their success in this era cemented their position as one of the most elite and capable military units in the world.

Elite Units Today

Today, the US military boasts a variety of elite units across different branches, each with its own unique capabilities and missions. Here are some of the most prominent:

Army Special Forces (Green Berets)

Known for their expertise in unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, and direct action, Green Berets are trained to operate in a variety of environments and cultures around the world.


The premier maritime special operations force, SEALs are highly trained in direct action raids, reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare. They are often deployed in support of both military and intelligence agency operations.

Marine Raiders

The newest addition to the special forces community, Marine Raiders are highly trained in direct action raids, special reconnaissance, and unconventional warfare. They work closely with the Marine Corps and other special operations forces.

Air Force Special Tactics

This highly specialized unit is trained in combat control, pararescue, and special operations weather. They often work in austere environments and play a critical role in airfield seizure and control.

These elite units have been involved in numerous operations and missions in recent years. For example, in 2015, Army Rangers conducted a daring raid in Syria to kill a senior leader of ISIS. In 2016, Navy SEALs played a critical role in the rescue of an American hostage in Afghanistan. And in 2019, Marine Raiders were deployed to support counterterrorism efforts in Africa.

In addition to their direct action and special operations missions, elite units also play a key role in training and advising partner forces around the world. They work closely with foreign militaries to build their capacity and improve their ability to conduct their own operations.

Overall, elite units today are more capable and sophisticated than ever before, with a range of specialized skills and expertise that allow them to carry out missions in some of the most challenging environments around the world.

So What Sir

Well, folks, we've come to the end of our journey through the world of special forces. It's been a wild ride, and we've seen some serious badasses in action.

Let's recap what we've learned:

  • Special forces are the superheroes of the military world, taking on the toughest missions and coming out on top.

  • From the OSS to the Green Berets and Navy SEALs, these elite units have been kicking butt and taking names for decades.

  • They've been involved in everything from World War II to the War on Terror, and they've got the scars to prove it.

But what does the future hold for our special forces?

Well, if there's one thing we know for sure, it's that they'll be ready for whatever comes their way.

These guys and gals are always training, always improving, and always ready to answer the call of duty.

As for me, I'll be here, cheering them on from the sidelines.

And I know that as long as we have these brave men and women on our side, we'll be in good hands.

So, here's to the special forces, the tip of the spear, the cream of the crop, and the ultimate badasses. Salute!

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