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Who are the Green Berets?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Special Forces of the United States Army, or Green Berets, as they are known, are an elite military force that supports various American goals overseas. They are active on every continent in a wide range of capacities and are widely regarded as one of the finest military organizations in the world, with only the best of the Army serving in the unit.

Officially, the Special Forces were founded in 1952, but in fact, some form of the group had existed since the Civil War, when soldiers from the North helped to train Southern resistors who wanted to participate in the war effort. Operations similar to those carried out by modern forces also occurred during the first and second World Wars, when Army soldiers helped to train and outfit insurgents who supported the Allies.

The mission of the Special Forces is quite complex and very wide in scope. Essentially, the Green Berets specialize in unconventional warfare, also known as asymmetrical warfare, and they bring their expertise around the world to help train native police and military forces. They support movements that the United States believes will be beneficial to its goals, and they also offers advice and diplomatic support during American missions overseas. Most members are bilingual and college-educated, and they receive additional diplomatic and cultural training once they are accepted into training.

The Green Berets also work on informational operations, which range from reconnaissance to disinformation campaigns, and they participate in psychological operations and counter terrorism. They also provide humanitarian aid, putting their cultural training and language abilities to good use in communities all over the world.

Becoming a member of the Special Forces is challenging. Historically, candidates needed at least three years of military service with an excellent record, although the Army offers a special program today that allows soldiers to enter training immediately after boot camp, if they show potential. Potential members must complete the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course, which includes a grueling training program, before moving through the Special Forces Qualification Course, known as the Q Course. Soldiers who make it through the Q Course are officially accepted as Green Berets.

The slang term “Green Beret” for a member of the Special Forces is a reference to the special headgear that members of the Special Forces are entitled to wear. Since 1961, Special Forces soldiers have been explicitly authorized to wear their distinctive berets, which set them apart visually from other members of the Army.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By parmnparsley — On May 17, 2011

@Alchemy- Ah, the old "Green Beret vs Navy Seals" debate. I always find those debates so ridiculous, but at the same time amusing. The special forces are definitely a fierce force, but they specialize in areas that other special operations forces do not. The Special Forces is probably the best reconnaissance and non-conventional warfare force on the planet, but when it comes to maritime and underwater warfare, they are not the force for the job.

The point I am getting at is that special forces and special operations forces are exactly that, specialists in some type of warfare. Even within the Special Forces, there are five different groups, each responsible for a different region of the world.

By Alchemy — On May 16, 2011

@anon57501- I have heard that before. I recently had a discussion with one of my buddies about special forces and special operations forces, and I told him that green beret is only used for layman discussing special forces.

I have family members with history in the Army dating back to World War II, so I know a little bit about the SF and what it is they do. It was a pointless discussion with someone trying to make a case for the best special operations force (he said it was the seals, but I tried telling him it was like comparing apples to oranges). You are tight though...this was a good, informative article.

By anon57501 — On Dec 23, 2009

Agree with most of the article, but among us, the SF community, a "green beret" is an article of clothing, not a soldier. I have never heard, in 23 years in SF, one of us call himself a "green beret". If any self-identification is needed, it usually is just "SF", with "Special Forces" a distant second.

To the best of my experience, only civilians and members of other services or parts of the Army call us "green berets". No big deal, as we know who we are in any case.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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