After a series of highly publicized international incidents involving acts of terrorism in the 1970s, creating a full-time, specialized Army unit devoted exclusively to counter terrorism became a priority for the United States government. What was created was Delta Force, the common name for the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D). Delta Force’s maritime counterpart is the US Navy SEAL Team and the unit is under the authority of the Joint Special Operations Command. Delta Force was officially established on November 19, 1977, by Charles Beckwith and Colonel Thomas Henry and is currently headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Charles Beckwith is a former Green Beret and a Veteran of the Vietnam war who was selected by the Pentagon and US Army leaders to organize the unit. The experience Beckwith gained while he served as an exchange officer with the British Army’s Special Air Service, particularly suited him for this role and the Delta Force Combat Applications Group is loosely modeled after the British Army’s SAS. Delta Force is organized into small teams or operational sabre squadrons. Each squadron consist of soldiers who have a broad array of highly specialized skills and who are trained for direct action on counterterrorist missions.
In a recruitment notice posted in the June 11, 2009 edition of the Fort Bragg newspaper, Delta Force is described as “…the U.S. Army’s special operations unit organized for the conduct of missions requiring rapid response with surgical application of a wide variety of unique special operations skills…”. A majority of Delta Force soldiers are selected from the ranks of the United States Army Special Operations Command’s 75th Rangers, an elite military organization. Other members are chosen from other specialized military operations units, including the Marine Corps.
It has been published (by Army staff writer Sean Naylor in Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda ) that Delta Force is comprised of about 1,000 soldiers. Direct action and hostage rescue missions are conducted by approximately 250 to 300 specially trained operators. The rest of the unit is comprised of highly specialized support personnel who have been proven to be the very best in their respective fields.
Delta Force units are frequently trained alongside other foreign units in order to share tactics, improve international relationships and encourage exchange with other special operations communities worldwide. Some of the international military groups Delta Force works in conjunction with are the SAS (UK), the GIGN (France), the GROM (Poland), the Sayeret Matkal (Israel) and the SASR (Australia).
While deployed, Delta operators are granted an enormous amount of flexibility and autonomy. To keep their status as military personnel under cover, for example, soldiers usually wear civilian clothing. Civilian-type hairstyles and facial hair are allowed to enable the members to blend in and avoid recognition as military personnel.
This article provides only the most general summary of commonly known facts about Delta Force. The United States Defense Department keeps most details about unit the classified and rarely comments on the record about details relating to the unit’s activities. Delta Force is not typically mentioned in the media unless it has been part of a major operation or a unit member has been killed, such as in December of 1989, when the unit received the Valorous Unit Award for the capture of Manuel Noriega.