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

The Origin of Special Forces

A Detailed History of Special Forces

The Origin of Special Forces

Special operations are nothing new to the American soldier. Before Green Berets were teaching counterinsurgency to foreign armies, there were grim-faced men stalking the enemy in woods and swamps during the French and Indian War. Known as Rogers' Rangers after their commander Major Robert Rogers, they were the first of America's unconventional forces.

Though the era they lived in was simpler than the present age, the skills necessary to become an elite soldier were the same. Rogers' Rangers fought in terrain that normal men shunned. They crept up on an enemy with the stealth of a slithering snake, and delivered blows with the lethality of a Cobra bite. "Move fast and hit hard," Rogers told his men, and they obeyed, thereby setting the standard for generations to follow. The tradition continued during the American Revolution with Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox who led daring guerrilla raids on British forces in South Carolina and Georgia. His troops harassed the enemy with a success out of all proportion to their small numbers because Marion used the element of surprise to its greatest potential.

In the Civil War, Colonel John Singleton Mosby of Virginia formed a band of Confederate raiders that became the terror of Union generals. Operating from the outskirts of his enemy's capital, Mosby and 300 select volunteers cut off communications and supplies, wrecked railroads and raided headquarters behind enemy lines. Because of his stealth and uncanny ability to avoid capture, Mosby came to be known as the Gray Ghost.

Well-trained and well-disciplined, Mosby and his men set a model for guerrilla warfare: weaken the enemy's front line, weaken the enemy's infrastructure and win the support of the people. Mosby accomplished the latter by protecting the local population from plundering Union soldiers and by sharing their captured wealth with those in need.

However, it was not until World War II that special operations troops finally left their unstoried peripheries and came into their own. In quick succession the public soon would come to know the names of such units as the Devil's Brigade, Darby's Rangers, Merrill's Marauders and the Alamo Scouts.

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On to Elite Units of World War II



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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