Manolith Asks: Is There a Difference Between Delta Force and the Navy SEALs?

Last week U.S. Special Operations teams conducted simultaneous missions in Africa, with Delta Force taking care of business in Libya and Navy SEALs giving it the old college try in Somalia. Delta Force and SEALs? Aren’t they like six of one and half a dozen of another? Thankfully, the Architect – an actively-serving Green Beret – knows the difference.

Delta Force and SEAL Team Six conducted two separate operations in Africa last week. In terms of sending Delta Force on one mission and the SEALs on another, who determines who gets which mission? Is it done by coin toss?

I can’t get into too much detail due to the sensitive nature of these units’ operations, but generally speaking it comes down to what posture a given organization is in at the time, the capabilities of the teams involved and how the mission parameters match with the respective organizations. For instance, the raid in Somalia was on the coast, and thus the maritime nature of the mission made it a natural choice for NAVSOF (Naval Special Operations Forces). It is the feeling of many within the SOF community that NAVSOF has been assigned many of the most prominent missions in the past few years (such as the Bin Laden raid) because Admiral McCraven, the commander of Special Operations Command, is Navy, and has a preference for the SEALs.

Are Delta Force and SEAL Team Six essentially the same thing, just different patches on the uniforms?

They certainly aren’t the same thing, although both organizations are structured roughly along the same lines and made of up the same caliber of operators. “Delta Force” (officially known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment- Delta or “CAG”) is a separate organization within ARSOF (Army Special Operations Forces) that is comprised mainly of operators drawn from Special Forces (Green Berets) and the 75th Ranger Regiment, although anybody in the Army is able to try out for the unit. They have to go through a separate selection and qualification process for entrance to that organization, while “SEAL Team Six” (officially known as DEVGRU), draws directly from regular SEAL teams into their unit. As “Tier 1” units, they both are under JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), which works directly for the National Command authority, so they both conduct the same types of missions that are of strategic importance to the nation’s interests.

However, this is a very general and bland depiction of the disposition of our “Tier 1” units, far more than your readers deserve, quite frankly. People need to just forget whatever they think they know about what goes on at the very tip of the spear, because it sure as hell isn’t what the media or Hollywood puts out. The point is, you’re not supposed to know, you don’t need to know, and thanks to the media you know far too much about what goes on already. Just let us do our job, and go talk trash over the headset to your 14-year-old friends while you play “Call of Duty” on the Xbox.

Do these groups get along or are there rivalries between the different special operations groups? Back at the secret special operations club house, are the Delta Force guys going to make fun of the SEALs because their mission wasn’t a success?

While there is a bit of friendly rivalry on occasion, these individuals are consummate professionals who train hard and conduct life-threatening missions constantly, so they certainly don’t sit around ridiculing one another. An unsuccessful mission often means the demise of friends. They don’t have time for that kind of crap. Like I said, this isn’t a bunch of assholes sitting around playing “Call of Duty” on the Xbox. Although sometimes we like to play “Battlefield 3”, because it is a far more realistic depiction of combat than “Call of Duty”, and doesn’t revolve around the masturbatory fantasies of teenagers who pine to be in Special Operations.

In fact, due to the joint nature of operations after 9/11, SEALs, Army Special Operations, and even Marine Corps Special Operations have worked closely with one another now for years. The Spec Ops world has largely been divided into “black” SOF and “white” SOF, and within each realm the units are fairly interchangeable and all trained to conduct the same missions. While in the past a Special Forces ODA and a SEAL platoon had radically different makeups and focus, nowadays in Afghanistan, you’ll have an Army lead Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) with ODAs, SEAL Platoons, and MARSOC teams all under it working together and conducting the same mission sets. I’ve worked with both SEALs and MARSOC and found them to be great guys, and while it’s never a “kumbayah” kind of thing with alpha males, we all get along and respect one another.

The only tension that exists is between SOF and the conventional forces, where in the Army and Marine Corps there is a great deal of resentment by regular unit commanders when encountering SOF personnel wearing non-standard uniforms and beards, or even doing seemingly such innocuous things as putting their hands in their pockets, which is scandalous in the conventional army for some reason. They feel that not only does SOF undermine the good order and discipline of their men who come into contact with them, but they deprive them of their best and brightest NCOs and officers, who attempt to flee the everyday idiocy of normal military life for the sanctuary of SOF. They are also seen as a drain on money and resources that would otherwise go to the conventional units. The Navy doesn’t view the SEALs with the same jaundiced eye, however, since all of NAVSOF costs about as much as one of the Navy’s ships, and the type of guy who is destined to be a rockstar submarine commander isn’t likely to wind up in the SEALs anyway.

How accurate is the 1986 film “Delta Force” starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin? Is it actually used as a training video?

I actually saw that film when it was released in the theater with my dad when I was a kid. I loved it, especially the rockets that got launched from Chuck’s dirt bike. Unfortunately, in real life, CAG guys don’t run around dressed all in black with a rope slung over their shoulder firing underpowered pistol cartridges from shitty stamp metal submachine guns (the venerable MAC-10).

Here’s a piece of advice for your readers: if you watch movies like this and go “Wow – that looks so cool, I’m going to join Special Forces or SEALs and do all that cool stuff,” just do yourself a favor and punch yourself straight in the balls. You’re not going to make it. You’ll quit after the first night you spend in 40-degree weather laying on the ground being rained on, or after the first time you have to hump an 85-pound pack for 40 miles through the woods and your feet turn to hamburger. And that’s just for starters.

You come do this because you’re as hard as woodpecker lips and can’t imagine doing anything else. And just because you’re harder than your Pabst Blue Ribbon-quaffing Hipster buddies doesn’t count – what passes for “hard” in the wet-milk carton of Williamsburg is orders of magnitude below what I’d even piss on. You have to want it more than anything else in your life, and be prepared to sacrifice it all to get it. But you’re not, so don’t worry about it.

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