Infantry: August 20, 2002


Delta Force -As the Vietnam war ended, international terrorism became a lot more common. The United States noted that Britains SAS was a useful tool in dealing with terrorism, and perhaps a similar American unit would be useful. So in 1977, Delta Force came into existence. Like the SAS, Delta was a small, very selective unit. Delta was initially put together by Special Forces troops that had trained, or worked, with SAS. The initial size of Delta, after two years preparation, was about a hundred operators. By 1980, Delta had grown to its present size; about 300 men and a few women,

Delta is officially known as 1st SFOD-Delta. It is located in an isolated part of Ft Bragg, North Carolina. While there are only some 300 Delta troops, there are another 2,000 or support personnel. Delta is divided into six squadrons and a smaller unit composed of female Delta troopers, Three of the squadrons are actual fighters, plus support, signal and aviation squadrons. The basic unit is the 16 man platoon, although Delta operations use only as many men as are needed. This number is usually small, often eight, four or just two men. 

Like all commandos, Delta trains constantly. Their base has mock ups of typical fighting environments (rooms, hallways, bunkers.) Specific structures can be built or reconfigured for training if enough information about the target area is known. The training consists of getting into the target area on cue and making sure the people who are supposed to be shot are, and not someone like, say, the hostages you are rescuing.

Like the SAS, Delta is very selective, with about 90 percent of applicants washing out. Those that are accepted undergo a two year training course to learn the basics. After that, as long as you are in Delta, you are always learning something new. This is one of the things that draws people to Delta, there is always something new. In addition, you don't have to wear a uniform and bother with most of the usual military bureaucracy hassles. There's lots of travel and, let's face it, this is a close as a human can get to being a real live comic book hero. 

Since most of the Delta operators are recruited from Special Forces and Rangers, they have little problem working with those organizations. They know how the other guys operate, and know a lot of them personally. This is important, especially with the Special Forces, which are often the first U.S. commandos to be sent to a potential hot spot (usually to train local troops to deal with the local problem.) When the situation gets hot enough to warrant Delta's services, there are rarely any problems with Delta and Special Forces working closely together. 

One problem is that Delta doesn't get a lot of real work. Lots of practice, but little of the real thing. This was bad enough, but Delta's first combat mission ended in embarrassing failure. Delta was the ground force for the failed 1979 attempt to rescue the American diplomats held prisoner in Iran. The failure was not Delta's doing, but they caught some of the backlash. Throughout the 1980s, they were called out many times in anticipation of some action, but only saw real action a few times (Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989.) Same situation in the 1990s, with a lot of false alarms, and two bouts of action (Iraq in 1991 and Somalia in 1993, where two Delta operators won the Medal of Honor.)

Delta Force was seen as something of an insurance policy against those situations where terrorists threatened Americans and nothing else seemed capable of fixing the situation. But Delta itself has been frustrated by the reluctance of the president, or military leaders, to use commandos. Delta was all wound up, but no one was willing to pull the trigger. A lot of this had to do with the 1979 Iran debacle. The conventional political wisdom has it that president Carter lost his re-election bid because of the failed Delta mission. Actually, that's not really true at all. Carter was a pretty lame president, and the only way he might have won re-election was if the Iran rescue mission had succeeded. But even as a former naval officer, Carter was unable to untangle the interservice squabbling that caused the 1979 mission to fail. The real problem is that American presidents tend to be risk averse when it comes to using commandos in peacetime. Other nations, like Britain and France, are much more willing to let the commandos have a go at it. It's not for nothing that the British SAS motto is, "Who Dares, Wins."

Throughout the 1980s, Delta operators were upset that they were not given a chance to rescue some of the American hostages held in Lebanon. Likewise in the 1990s, Delta was considered for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the risk of failure and American casualties prevented any action. Since September 11, 2001, this attitude may have changed. At the moment, Delta has all it can handle in Afghanistan. 

Delta was not just training throughout the 80s and 90s. They developed working relationships with the CIA. This should not be surprising, as most Delta operators come from Special Forces, and are familiar with the CIA connection. Delta made itself useful by providing bodyguards in potentially dangerous overseas situations. They guarded key American commanders in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and are often there when the president or senior American officials travel to risky areas. 


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