Unsung Heroes: America’s Special Operations Forces [Opinion]

Green Berets saluting.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

On October 4, a force consisting of U.S. Army Special Forces personnel and local soldiers was ambushed by a reputed ISIS affiliate while on patrol in the remote reaches of Niger. After the gunfire and concussion of explosive detonations subsided, four members of the Army’s 3rd Special Forces Group had succumbed to their wounds, the Washington Post reported.

Following the attack, Department of Defense and Army authorities identified the troops lost, with the Army Times publishing the names of America’s fallen heroes. Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, and Sgt. La David Johnson. All four men were assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group, one component of the Army’s unquestionably elite 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), whose members are colloquially known as the fabled “Green Berets.”

Following the horrific news of the coordinated attack on American soldiers, and the logistically problem-laden emergency extraction, many stunned observers were immediately left battling internal questions of how such a grotesque tragedy befell some of our nation’s finest warriors. Yet within moments, Americans began loudly, and understandably, searching for explanations as to why our troops were in a foreign land seemingly far removed from the American sphere of interest, and what were they’re actually doing.

Special Forces soldiers prepare for night training.
United States Army Special Forces soldiers prepare for night training in Afghanistan. [Image by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images] Andrew Renneisen / Getty Images

In the age of terrorism, the widespread dispersion of an almost incalculable number of hostile non-state actors has necessitated a shift away from the relatively straightforward employment of massed conventional forces aimed at pacification, and toward precise international stability-enhancement activities. In this new era, one marked by new strategic paradigms, the reality is that a superpower’s modern security operations require the global allocation of exceptionally well-trained military personnel tasked with undertaking a bevy of highly-specialized missions.

Ultimately, the grittiest and by far most complex elements of America’s peace-building efforts are charged to those within the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a nearly 70,000-member strong amalgam of the U.S. military’s most sophisticated troops. Broadly categorized as “special operations forces,” this collection of preeminent operators includes units from all branches, including Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, Marine Raiders, Air Force Special Tactics squadrons, the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, and Army Special Forces, among others.

Special Operators in Afghanistan.
American Special Operations Forces speak with Northern Alliance fighters in Afghanistan. [Image by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images] Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images

Together, special operations forces conduct a vast array of highly-technical and incomprehensibly demanding operations, often of a clandestine nature. These operations, with each unit commonly possessing a distinct area of specialization, range from high-value target raids and hostage rescue, to security assistance and counter-terrorism.

In the case of the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, among their foundational missions are unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense. To accomplish the former, they train, advise, and assist international resistance groups engaged in conducting irregular or guerrilla warfare against oppressive regimes. The latter mission, foreign internal defense, is effectively the reverse, assisting host nations with combating insurgencies.

With the continuous proliferation of organic extremist groups, and the weed-like sprouting of al-Qaeda and ISIS splinter cells and affiliates, the demands and strain placed upon America’s special operators are unrelenting. To that end, many of us within the civilian population are innocently unaware that it takes months and years of intensive training, unparalleled in its difficulty, to earn one’s place within the wider special operations community.

Many of us don’t know that the average Green Beret, for example, spends approximately six-months out of every year deployed abroad, an operational commitment not uncommon for special operations forces. Few of us in the general public can relate to the expansiveness of special operators’ commitment to service and their unflinching fidelity to duty. Even fewer of us understand the significance of their world-changing visions, many behind enemy lines. However, we’re all humbled by their selflessness, and inspired by their bravery.

[Featured Image by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]