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U.S. Army Special Forces
"The Green Berets"

A Detailed History of Special Forces

Special Forces Since Vietnam

The years immediately following Vietnam were lean ones for the Special Forces. The 3rd, 6th and 8th Special Forces Groups (SFG) were deactivated, and there was a general de-emphasis of special operations as the Army concentrated once more on conventional warfare, turning its gaze from the jungles of Asia to the well-worn tank paths of Europe.

To prevent a further emasculation of their capabilities, Special Forces leaders adopted a program called SPARTAN - Special Proficiency at Rugged Training and Nation-building. SPARTAN was designed to demonstrate the multiplicity of talents Special Forces troops possessed, showing that they were not outmoded simply because the war was over.

Under the aegis of SPARTAN, the 5th and 7th groups worked with Indian tribes in Florida, Arizona and Montana to build roads and medical facilities, and provided free medical treatment to impoverished citizens of Hoke and Anson counties in North Carolina.

But however noble SPARTAN was, it was not entirely what Special Forces were designed for. They were designed to train and fight unconventional warfare, and as President Ronald W. Reagan took office in 1981, they got that chance once again. With the advent of the Reagan presidency, defense policy received a renewed emphasis. Special Forces in particular were among the beneficiaries of this new attention. The need for Special Forces capabilities had become apparent with the rise of insurgencies as far away as Africa and Asia, and as close to home as Central America. To meet the challenges of a changing world, the Army injected a revitalized esprit into the Special Forces.

The Special Forces qualification course was made longer and tougher to see that only the highest-caliber soldiers joined ranks with the Green Berets. In June 1983, the Army authorized a uniform tab for wear on the left shoulder solely by Special Forces troops. The Army established on October 1, 1984, a separate career field for Special Forces. The warrant officer career field soon followed and, on April 9, 1987, the Army Chief of Staff established a separate branch of the Army for Special Forces officers.

But despite going through numerous changes after Vietnam, the basic element of Special Forces - the A-Detachment - has remained largely unchanged. The only detachment position to have changed fundamentally is the team executive officer, which is no longer filled by a lieutenant, but by a warrant officer with several years of A-detachment experience.

During the 1980s, Special Forces teams were deployed to dozens of countries around the globe, facing the challenges of foreign internal defense. Missions varied from training U.S.-allied armies to defend themselves to offering humanitarian aid, like medical care and building construction, in remote villages of Third World countries on nearly every continent. Special Forces proved particularly successful in El Salvador and Honduras, preventing civil war in neighboring Nicaragua from spreading beyond its borders.

In December 1989, Special Forces were called upon to serve alongside conventional Army units in the Operation Just Cause invasion of Panama. Designated Task Force Black, soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group, many of whom were already stationed in Panama, supported the entire operation by conducting surveillance and implementing blocking tactics.

Task Force Black at H-hour secured a bridge at the Pacora River, engaged Panama Defense Forces in an intense fire fight and, despite being outnumbered, succeeded in preventing PDF reinforcements from reaching U.S. Rangers. The Green Berets suffered no casualty and set a standard of excellence for Special Forces of the 1990s and beyond.

  - Next: Special Forces in the 21st Century


This page is an unofficial document and does not represent information endorsed by the United States Government, the United States Special Operations Command or the United States Army Special Operations Command. However, most information is derived from those sources and has been checked for accuracy. For comments, questions, and suggestions, please go to the Communications Center.

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