11 Most Elite US Special Forces and Their Roles


11 Most Elite US Special Forces and Their Roles

From the Navy SEALs’ unparalleled maritime operations to the Green Berets’ expertise in unconventional warfare, these units exemplify the pinnacle of military precision and readiness.

US Special Forces, also recognized as Special Operations Forces (SOF), embody the pinnacle of military precision and expertise in the United States. Trained to execute specialized and challenging missions, these units employ unique techniques and modes of employment.

Their involvement spans a vast spectrum of operations, from counter-terrorism and unconventional warfare to special reconnaissance and foreign internal defense, marking them integral to national security.

Elite US Special Forces

This article unveils the 11 most elite US Special Forces units, such as the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and the Green Berets, among others. Each segment will dive into their history, key missions, and the rigorous training that sets them apart within the SOCOM and beyond.

As we explore units like MARSOC and the Air Force Special Operations Squadron, readers will gain insight into the specialized capabilities that render the US Special Forces an indispensable component of America’s defense strategy.

1. Navy SEALs

Navy SEALs are recognized as one of the most formidable components of the US Special Forces. Their primary roles involve unconventional warfare and special operations, executed from sea, air, or land. This elite group is tasked with some of the most critical missions that include direct-action warfare, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, and foreign internal defense.

Navy SEALs
One and only, SEALs

Key Missions and Operations

  1. Direct Action: Small-unit military operations to engage enemy forces, conduct raids, or sabotage enemy installations.
  2. Special Reconnaissance: Gathering critical intelligence from hostile settings to inform military strategy and operations.
  3. Counter-Terrorism: Engaging and neutralizing terrorist networks through precise and targeted operations.
  4. Unconventional Warfare: Operating covertly to support resistance movements or insurgencies against hostile governments or groups.

Training and Preparation

Navy SEALs undergo rigorous training designed to physically and mentally prepare them for the demands of special operations. The initial phase includes over 12 months of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, Parachute Jump School, and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). This is followed by an intensive 18-month period of pre-deployment training which covers a wide range of tactical, technical, and environmental training.

Navy SEALs
Buds Training – SEALs

Operational Environments

  • Desert, Urban, and Mountain: SEALs are trained to operate in diverse terrains from arid deserts to urban landscapes and rugged mountains.
  • Woodland, Jungle, and Arctic: Their training also includes operations in dense forests, humid jungles, and freezing arctic conditions.

Significant Achievements

One of the most notable operations involving Navy SEALs was the mission that led to the elimination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. This operation underscored the SEALs’ capacity for high-stakes and high-impact missions that attract global attention.

Special Units

  • SEAL Team Six – (DEVGRU): Specialized in counter-terrorism, close protection, and special reconnaissance operations.
  • Joint Special Operations Command: Many SEAL missions are directed under this command which oversees joint operational units and tasks.
Navy SEALs
SEAL Team Six – (DEVGRU)

Entry Requirements

To become a Navy SEAL, candidates must meet specific physical and educational criteria:

  • Physical Requirements: Rigorous physical fitness standards and specialized training in diving and parachuting.
  • Educational Requirements: No college degree is required, but a high school diploma or equivalent is necessary. Candidates must also meet specific eyesight and ASVAB score requirements.
Navy SEALs
SEAL Team Six – (DEVGRU)

Navy SEALs continue to represent a pinnacle of US military capability, adapting to new challenges and technologies to maintain their edge in global special operations.

2. US Army Rangers

Overview and Key Missions

The US Army Rangers, officially known as the 75th Ranger Regiment, are an elite large-scale special operations force renowned for their versatility and readiness. They are tasked with a range of critical missions including direct action raids, airfield seizures, and special reconnaissance.

US Army Rangers
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class James Lovett, from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
  1. Direct Action Raids: Conducting precise operations to capture or kill designated targets.
  2. Airfield Seizures: Securing airports and airfields to enable air operations.
  3. Special Reconnaissance: Gathering intelligence in hostile environments to shape operational strategies.

Training and Selection

The 75th Ranger Regiment boasts an all-volunteer force where candidates undergo an intensive selection process. The Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP) is pivotal in this process, with RASP 1 targeting Soldiers from private through sergeant, and RASP 2 focusing on officers and senior non-commissioned officers.

US Army Rangers
A Ranger instructor explains to company of Rangers the technical instructions of repelling from the 50 ft rock to his left in Dahlonega, Georgia.
  • Ranger School: Known as one of the toughest training courses in the military, Ranger School prepares soldiers for a broad range of combat scenarios.
  • Big Five Philosophy: This training philosophy emphasizes marksmanship, physical training, medical training, small-unit tactics, and mobility.

Operational Capabilities and Environments

Rangers are trained to operate in diverse environments including arctic, jungle, desert, and mountain terrains. Their operations are characterized by:

  • Mobility: Utilizing a variety of platforms from Ground Mobility Vehicles to All-terrain Vehicles and Strykers.
  • Firepower: Equipped with high-caliber weapons like the M-4 Carbine, 84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle, and Javelin Portable Missile System.
  • Integration: Working seamlessly with other Special Operations Forces and supporting agencies.
US Army Rangers
A Ranger Assessment Course student practices land navigation during the RAC, May 23, 2023, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Regiment Structure and Deployment

The 75th Ranger Regiment is composed of four battalions located strategically across the United States:

  • 1st Battalion: Based at Hunter Army Airfield, GA.
  • 2nd Battalion: Located at Fort Lewis, WA.
  • 3rd Battalion and Regimental Special Troops Battalion: Both stationed at Fort Benning, GA.

Each battalion maintains readiness to deploy worldwide within 18 hours, emphasizing the regiment’s capability for rapid response.

Distinctive Elements and Achievements

  • Tan Beret: A symbol of excellence, worn by those who have proven themselves as capable warriors.
  • Continuous Deployment: Since October 2001, the Rangers have been actively involved in every major conflict, showcasing their enduring commitment to global security.

The 75th Ranger Regiment continues to stand as a cornerstone of the US Special Operations Forces, demonstrating unmatched skill and dedication in supporting the nation’s military objectives.

3. Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJ)

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers, commonly known as PJs, are elite special operations forces tasked with the recovery and medical treatment of personnel in humanitarian and combat environments. These highly trained specialists are experts in both advanced medical care and survival skills, enabling them to perform daring rescues under the most extreme conditions. PJs undergo one of the most rigorous training regimens in the US military, which includes parachuting, scuba diving, rock climbing, and combat tactics.

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJ)

Their motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live” underscores their dedication to saving lives, reflecting their commitment to their missions of rescue and recovery, no matter the stakes. PJs are often deployed in response to natural disasters, combat search-and-rescue missions, and behind enemy lines recoveries, making them a crucial component of both military operations and humanitarian efforts.

Role and Training

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJs) are elite combat forces specializing in Personnel Recovery (PR). They possess proficiency in:

  • Advanced Weapons
  • Small Unit Tactics
  • Airborne and Military Free Fall
  • Combat Diving
  • High Angle/Confined Space Rescue
  • Small Boat/Vehicle Craft Utilization
  • Rescue Swimmers
  • Battlefield Trauma/Paramedics


PJs demonstrate exceptional versatility, capable of deploying from any vertical lift aircraft through methods such as fast roping, rappelling, and hoisting. Their operational capabilities include:

  • Conducting static line and HALO jump operations with various equipment from fixed-wing aircraft
  • Utilizing subsurface technology for recovery missions in underwater environments
Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJ)

Recent History and Decorations

Since the events of 9/11, PJs have been instrumental in over 12,000 life-saving combat rescue missions. Their efforts have not only combated enemy forces but have also aided over 5000 civilians during global natural disasters. Recognized as the most highly decorated Air Force enlisted force, their accolades include:

  • 1 Medal of Honor
  • 12 Air Force Crosses
  • 105 Silver Stars

Mission Ethos

Their mission is encapsulated by the motto, “These Things We Do, That Others May Live,” highlighting their commitment to rescue, recover, and return American or Allied forces in perilous situations.

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers (PJ)

Exhaustive Training Pipeline

The journey to becoming a PJ is rigorous and comprehensive, involving multiple stages of specialized training:

  1. Basic Military Training
  2. Special Warfare Candidate Course
  3. Special Warfare Assessment and Selection Course
  4. Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course
  5. Combat Dive Course
  6. Airborne School
  7. Military Free-Fall Course
  8. SERE Training
  9. Modernized Pararescue Provider Program
  10. Pararescue Apprentice Course

Initial Fitness Test (IFT) Requirements

Prospective PJs must pass the IFT, which includes:

  • 8 pull-ups in under 2 minutes
  • 50 sit-ups in under 2 minutes
  • 40 push-ups in under 2 minutes
  • 1.5 miles run under 10 minutes 20 seconds
  • 2×25 meter Underwater Swim (pass/fail)
  • 500 meter Surface Swim under 12 minutes 30 seconds

Training Duration and Stages

The path to becoming a fully operational PJ takes approximately 18 months, marked by a series of progressively challenging training stages designed to equip candidates with the necessary skills to perform under the most extreme conditions. These stages include:

  • Special Warfare Preparatory Course
  • Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course
  • Special Warfare Combat Dive Course
  • Airborne School
  • Military Free-Fall Course
  • SERE Training
  • Pararescue EMT-B Course
  • Pararescue EMT-P Course
  • Pararescue Apprentice Course

Air Force Pararescue Jumpers are trained to execute rescue operations across a variety of challenging environments, from deep seas to high altitudes, embodying their readiness to face any challenge to save lives.

4. Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance, commonly known as Force Recon, operates as a principal component of the United States Marine Corps’ deep reconnaissance and direct action operations. These elite units provide vital intelligence to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), enhancing the command’s decision-making process.

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Historical Background and Key Operations

Force Recon’s origins trace back to the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion of World War II, showcasing a long-standing tradition of excellence in reconnaissance. Over the decades, these units have been pivotal in numerous significant military engagements, including their notable involvement in the Vietnam War. One of their recent high-profile operations was the successful recapture of the MV Magellan Star from Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2010, demonstrating their strategic importance in modern conflicts.

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Training and Expertise

Reconnaissance Marines undergo exhaustive training that makes them proficient in a variety of specialized skills. Their training regimen includes:

  1. Advanced combat life support
  2. Parachuting and combatant diving
  3. Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE)
  4. Advanced communications and special weapons handling

This extensive training prepares them to operate effectively across tactical, operational, and strategic levels of warfare, often under extremely challenging conditions.

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Mission Scope and Capabilities

The scope of Force Recon missions is broad, encompassing amphibious reconnaissance, deep ground reconnaissance, surveillance, and battle space shaping. They are also tasked with conducting limited objective attacks and raids. These Marines are capable of entering operational theatres by parachute, helicopter, or water, adapting to the demands of the mission swiftly and efficiently.

Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Organizational Structure and Roles

Force Recon Marines are divided into two primary elements:

  • Division Recon: Supports the missions of their respective Marine divisions.
  • Force Recon: Specializes in deeper reconnaissance missions beyond the forward edge of the battle area.

Their operations can be classified into two types:

  • Green Operations: Focus strictly on reconnaissance.
  • Black Operations: Involve direct action, including raids and ambushes.
Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance

Selection and Qualifications

Aspiring Force Recon Marines face a rigorous selection process, which includes passing two demanding fitness tests. Candidates must also score at least 105 on the General Technical (GT) section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) among other qualifications. This stringent selection ensures that only the most capable Marines join the ranks of Force Recon.

Through their advanced training, diverse capabilities, and critical role in shaping the battlefield, Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance continues to be an indispensable asset in the United States’ military strategy, capable of executing highly sensitive and challenging special operations.

5. Army Green Berets

Overview and Capabilities

The Army Green Berets, officially known as US Army Special Forces, are elite troops trained for a variety of special operations. They are renowned for their unconventional warfare capabilities and expertise in foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counter-terrorism. Each Green Beret is trained in a new language and receives specialized pay for their skills, including parachute and language pay.

Army Green Berets

Training and Qualifications

The path to becoming a Green Beret is arduous, involving:

  1. Special Forces Preparation Course: A six-week course focusing on physical fitness and land navigation.
  2. Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS): A rigorous selection phase that tests physical endurance and psychological resilience.
  3. Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC): An intensive 53-week program that includes language training, advanced combat skills, and survival training.
Army Green Berets

Candidates must also achieve a minimum score of 100 on the General Technical section of the ASVAB to qualify.

Specialized Skills and Equipment

Green Berets are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and gear to enhance their operational effectiveness. This includes:

  • Ground Mobility Vehicles (GMVs) for enhanced transportation.
  • MK17 SCAR select fire modular weapon systems for combat versatility.
  • Advanced ram air parachutes for airborne operations.
  • Comprehensive SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training.
Army Green Berets

Operational Structure and Missions

Green Berets operate in 12-man teams known as Operational Detachment Alphas (ODAs), each with specialized roles such as weapons, engineering, medical, and communications. Their primary mission involves training and leading unconventional warfare forces in occupied nations. They also engage in peace operations, counter-proliferation, and advisory roles in counter-drug operations.

Historical Contributions and Modern Engagements

Tracing their origins to units like the Alamo Scouts and the OSS Operational Groups during WWII, Green Berets have a rich history of strategic impact. They played a pivotal role during the Vietnam War, training South Vietnamese forces in counterinsurgency. More recently, they were among the first U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan in 2001, supporting Northern Alliance forces against the Taliban.

Army Green Berets

Education and Advancement Opportunities

Green Berets have access to extensive educational benefits, including the GI Bill and ROTC scholarships, which support their professional growth. They also receive promotions and pay increases at a faster rate than regular army personnel, with additional bonuses for re-enlistment and special skills.

Green Berets continue to be a critical asset in US military operations worldwide, demonstrating exceptional skill and dedication in high-risk environments. Their training, capabilities, and strategic importance equip them to handle complex challenges in today’s dynamic global landscape.

6. Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC)

Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, or SWCCs, are an integral part of the US Special Forces, known for their ability to conduct high-risk maritime operations. They play a crucial role in coastal patrol, interdiction, and support for special operations missions, often working closely with Navy SEALs and other special operations forces.

Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC)

Role and Operations

SWCCs specialize in operating high-performance combatant craft in littoral (shallow-water) environments. Their primary missions include direct action, special reconnaissance, and coastal patrol and interdiction. They are also involved in counterterrorism operations, riverine warfare, deception operations, search and rescue operations, and foreign internal defense.

Training and Expertise

The training to become a SWCC is rigorous and spans 22 weeks, encompassing three main phases:

  1. Indoctrination
  2. Basic Crewman Training
  3. Crewman Qualification Training

During their training, SWCC candidates develop specialized skills in navigation, radio communications, engineering, weapons, parachuting, first aid, and tactics. This extensive training prepares them to operate across the spectrum of conflict and in operations other than war, providing real-time intelligence and eyes on target.

Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC)

Capabilities and Equipment

SWCCs are equipped to operate and maintain a range of specialized equipment, including weapon systems, communications gear, and various small boats. They deliver combat craft via parachute drop using the Maritime Combatant Craft Aerial Delivery System, enhancing their stealth and readiness.

Mission Critical Skills

  • Collecting Intelligence: SWCCs gather information about enemy military installations and shipping traffic in coastal or riverine areas.
  • Direct-Action Raids: They conduct targeted raids against enemy shipping and waterborne traffic.
  • Independent Operations: SWCC teams operate independently in small units to accomplish operational tasks.

Qualifications and Requirements

Candidates aspiring to become SWCCs must meet stringent requirements, including:

  • Age and Citizenship: Must be a U.S. citizen, aged 18-30 years.
  • Education and Language Proficiency: Must be a high school graduate and proficient in English.
  • Physical and Medical Standards: Must pass the SWCC Physical Screening Test, which includes swimming, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a timed run. Vision must be correctable to 20/20, with no color blindness.
Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC)

Special Pay and Benefits

SWCC operators are eligible for various forms of special pay, including Enlistment Bonus, Special Duty Assignment Pay, Selective Reenlistment Bonuses, Parachute Pay, and Language Pay, reflecting the demanding nature of their roles.

SWCCs continue to be a vital asset within the Navy’s special operations community, embodying a blend of tactical prowess and technical expertise necessary for modern maritime warfare. Their ability to adapt and perform in diverse environments makes them an indispensable force in achieving strategic military objectives.

7. Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

Marine Raiders, under the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), consist of the Marine Raider Regiment, Marine Raider Support Group, and Marine Raider Training Center. These units are crucial to US Special Forces, offering specialized capabilities in a variety of operations.

Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

Assessment and Selection Program

The pathway to becoming a Marine Raider begins with the rigorous Assessment and Selection (A&S) Program, divided into two distinct phases:

  1. Phase I: Conducted over three weeks at Camp Lejeune, NC, this phase focuses on physical fitness and includes the MARSOC Performance and Resiliency Program (PERRES). Candidates must score at least 225 on the initial physical fitness test and swim 300 meters in uniform.
  2. Phase II: This phase is held three times a year at an undisclosed location, following successful completion of Phase I.

Prospective Raiders are advised to follow a 10-week preparatory training guide before attempting the A&S Program, aiming to achieve a Physical Fitness Test score of 250 or higher and maintain a 4 mph pace with a 45-pound rucksack.

Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

MARSOC Assignments and Training

Marine Raiders are trained for various specialized roles within MARSOC:

  • Critical Skills Operator (CSO)
  • Special Operations Officer (SOO)
  • Special Operations Capability Specialists (SOCS)
  • Combat Service Support (CSS) Marines

Their training encompasses the Assessment & Selection (A&S) and the Individual Training Course (ITC), designed to prepare them for diverse and challenging missions.

Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

Mission Scope and Capabilities

Marine Raiders are tasked with supporting the full spectrum of special operations globally. Their roles include:

  • Intelligence gathering
  • Fire support
  • Communications
  • Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
  • Canine operations

These operators are trained to be highly adaptable, forming small, versatile teams capable of executing complex missions.

Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

Organizational Structure and Contact Information

The Marine Raider Training Center (MRTC) plays a pivotal role in the preparation and education of personnel for MARSOC. Its tasks include:

  • Individual basic Special Operations Forces (SOF) skills training
  • Advanced SOF skills training
  • Language and cultural training
  • Development of Special Operations Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures
Marine Raiders (MARSOC)

Support and Community Engagement

The Marine Raider Foundation is a key organization supporting MARSOC Marines and their families. Donations to the Foundation can be made by mail or through direct contact.

Despite their distinct command structure, which remains a point of contention among Marines, the Marine Raiders are an integral part of the US Special Forces, embodying the Corps’ ethos, warfighting philosophy, and values. Newly graduated MARSOF CSOs are assigned to one of the three Marine Special Operations Battalions, ready to tackle challenges on a global scale.

8. Air Force Combat Controllers

Air Force Combat Controllers (CCTs) are elite Airmen who specialize in coordinating air traffic control and fire support during critical missions. Embedded often with joint special operations teams, they play a pivotal role in ensuring the seamless integration of air and ground operations.

Air Force Combat Controllers

Training and Expertise

CCTs undergo a rigorous training pipeline that spans approximately two years, equipping them with diverse skills necessary for their high-stakes roles. Their training includes:

  1. Basic Military Training
  2. Special Warfare Candidate Course
  3. Special Warfare Assessment and Selection Course
  4. Special Warfare Pre-Dive Course
  5. U.S. Army Airborne School
  6. U.S. Air Force Basic Survival School
  7. Combat Control School
  8. Special Tactics Advanced Skills Training
  9. U.S. Army Military Free Fall Parachutist School
  10. U.S. Air Force Combat Divers School

These courses prepare the CCTs in various disciplines such as scuba diving, parachuting, and snowmobiling, alongside their certification as FAA-certified air traffic controllers.

Air Force Combat Controllers

Capabilities and Roles

CCTs are trained to perform a wide array of tasks that support and enable air and ground operations. Their key capabilities include:

  • Air Traffic Control: Managing aircraft movements during missions.
  • Close Air Support: Coordinating air strikes and providing precise locations for air attacks.
  • Insertion and Extraction Techniques: Performing static line and military freefall insertions, and conducting underwater and helicopter insertions and extractions.
  • Survey and Setup of Landing Zones: Assessing and establishing temporary landing zones in austere environments.
  • Demolitions: Handling explosives for demolition tasks during operations.
Air Force Combat Controllers

Operational Integration

CCTs often operate alongside other elite units such as Navy SEALs, providing essential air support and coordination. They assist in mission planning and execution by:

  • Offering navigation and communication support.
  • Facilitating air strikes and aerial resupply.
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of joint operational strategies.
Air Force Combat Controllers

Recognition and Valor

Reflecting their bravery and crucial role in modern warfare, CCTs have been awarded three of the five Air Force Crosses since the September 11 attacks. This decoration is a testament to their valor and commitment in the face of extreme danger.

CCTs are an essential component of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the Air Force element of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and they also play a significant role in Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operations. Their unique blend of combat and technical skills makes them indispensable in achieving strategic military objectives across various theaters of operation.

9. Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)

The Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT) stands as a crucial element of the United States Coast Guard’s Deployable Specialized Forces (DSF). Tasked with high-stakes operations, MSRT addresses maritime threats and security challenges on a global scale.

Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)

Role and Operations

MSRT is uniquely trained to counter and neutralize threats posed by terrorists and hostile entities in maritime environments. This unit is adept at denying preemptive terrorist actions, executing security actions against armed hostiles, and participating in high-level counter-terrorism exercises. Their capabilities extend to executing tactical facility entries and conducting advanced interdictions, making them a versatile force in maintaining maritime security.

Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)

Training and Expertise

MSRT personnel undergo rigorous training, often collaborating with other elite units such as Navy SEALs, Army Special Operations Forces, and federal agencies like the FBI and Secret Service. This extensive cross-training enhances their tactical skills and preparedness for a variety of scenarios, ranging from hostage situations to biochemical threats.

Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)

Special Capabilities

The team’s special capabilities are broad and include:

  • Counter-terrorism and Direct Action: Engaging in offensive operations to neutralize terrorist threats.
  • Advanced Interdiction: Intercepting and seizing vessels and vehicles involved in criminal or terrorist activities.
  • Hostage Rescue and Personnel Recovery: Executing operations to rescue hostages and recover personnel.
  • Small Unit Tactics and Counter Assault: Employing specialized tactics in small teams to secure areas and neutralize threats.
  • Tactical Maritime Law Enforcement: Enforcing law in maritime environments with tactical precision.
  • Medium to High Risk Boarding (VBSS Levels III & IV): Conducting boarding operations on non-compliant or hostile vessels.
  • Airborne Use of Force (AUF): Utilizing precision force from air assets.
  • K9 Explosive Detection: Deploying canine teams for explosive detection.
  • CBRNE and Underwater Port Security: Handling chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats, particularly in underwater settings.
Coast Guard Maritime Security Response Team (MSRT)

Organizational Structure

MSRT is divided into several specialized elements, each with distinct roles:

  • Direct Action Section (DAS): The primary assault force handling most direct engagement operations.
  • Precision Marksmen Observer Team (PMOT): Provides overwatch and sniper support for DAS operations.
  • Tactical Delivery Team (TDT): Manages the insertion and extraction of DAS teams using rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs).
  • CBRNE Section: Specialists who manage and mitigate chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats.

Global Deployment and Readiness

MSRT’s capability for rapid deployment worldwide underscores its role as a ready-response force capable of addressing international maritime threats. The team routinely prepares for operations in diverse environments, from the tropics to the Arctic, ensuring their readiness for any scenario.

Community and Engagement

Beyond tactical operations, MSRT actively engages with the community and shares insights through various platforms, including a dedicated section on their website for videos and photos. This outreach helps in demystifying their operations and educating the public and other stakeholders about their critical role in national security.

MSRT remains an integral asset within the Coast Guard and broader US Special Forces community, equipped to tackle the most challenging maritime threats and security operations around the globe.

10. Special Activities Division (CIA)

Operating in the shadows of the most covert special operations, the Special Activities Division (SAD) of the Central Intelligence Agency represents the pinnacle of deniable operations. Comprised of only a few hundred highly skilled individuals, the SAD recruits from within the military, drawing on the expertise of former special operations personnel to execute sensitive missions that fall outside the purview of traditional military operations.

Special Activities Division (CIA)

The Special Activities Division (SAD) is a division of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) responsible for covert and clandestine missions. The division is made up of two separate groups: Special Operations Group (SOG) and Political Action Group (PAG).

Special Activities Division (CIA)
  1. Special Operations Group (SOG): SOG is responsible for conducting paramilitary operations. These operations may include direct action missions, long-range reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering in hostile environments. SOG operatives are often military veterans from elite units such as the U.S. Special Forces, SEALs, or Delta Force. Their missions are typically aimed at countering terrorist threats, overthrowing unfriendly governments, rescuing hostages, or similar high-stakes tasks.
  2. Political Action Group (PAG): PAG is focused on covert political influence and psychological operations. This might involve manipulating political situations, influencing foreign elections, or destabilizing governments without direct military intervention. Activities often include disinformation campaigns, funding opposition groups, or other actions intended to achieve political outcomes favorable to U.S. policy.
Special Activities Division (CIA)

The operations conducted by the Special Activities Division are among the most secretive and sensitive in American intelligence. Many of their missions are classified, and details of their operations are often not disclosed publicly. This secrecy is necessary to protect operational integrity and the safety of personnel involved.

Special Activities Division (CIA)

The division operates under the principle of plausible deniability, whereby its actions can be denied by the U.S. government if exposed. The SAD plays a critical role in national security by executing covert operations that cannot be traced directly back to the United States, helping to shape global events in ways that are discreet yet impactful.

11. Delta Force

Delta Force, officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), is one of the United States’ elite counter-terrorism and special missions units. It operates under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army but its activities are integrated across multiple branches of the U.S. military and intelligence community.

Delta Force
President Donald Trump gives the Medal of Honor to Army Sgt. Maj. Thomas P. Payne in the East Room of the White House on Sept. 11, 2020, in Washington.


Delta Force was formed in 1977 by Colonel Charles Beckwith, who recognized the need for a U.S. military unit dedicated to counter-terrorism after observing the capabilities of the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) during his exchange service. The unit was designed to perform highly complex, diversified missions which go beyond the capabilities of conventional forces.

Delta Force


The primary missions of Delta Force include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, and reconnaissance against high-value targets. They are also called upon for personal security details and other defensive operations. The unit is designed to be highly adaptable to various threats and often operates alongside the CIA, FBI, and other governmental agencies.

Selection and Training

The selection process for Delta Force is notoriously rigorous and secretive, attracting candidates from all branches of the U.S. military, though primarily from the Army. This selection includes both physical and mental challenges designed to identify candidates who can perform under extreme stress. Training is comprehensive and includes a wide range of combat and tactical skills, advanced reconnaissance, and language training, emphasizing adaptability and problem-solving under pressure.

Delta Force


Delta Force has been involved in numerous operations since its inception, including:

  • Operation Eagle Claw (1980): The failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran, which fundamentally shaped the unit’s training and development afterward.
  • Operation Urgent Fury (1983): The invasion of Grenada, where Delta Force played a key role in rescuing U.S. students and securing sensitive areas.
  • Operation Gothic Serpent (1993): The operation in Somalia to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which resulted in the intense Battle of Mogadishu, famously depicted in the film “Black Hawk Down.”
  • War on Terror: Delta Force has been deeply involved in the global war on terror, operating in Afghanistan and Iraq to capture or kill high-value targets, among other classified missions.

Notoriety and Legacy

Delta Force operates with a high level of secrecy and is rarely acknowledged in the public domain. Their operations and tactics have become a model for other special operations units around the world. Despite the secrecy surrounding its operations, Delta Force is widely respected as one of the premier units in the global special operations community, known for its professionalism, capabilities, and results.


Throughout this exploration of the 11 most elite US Special Forces units, we’ve delved into the unique capabilities, rigorous training, and significant contributions each force brings to the table in ensuring the nation’s security. From the Navy SEALs’ unparalleled maritime operations to the Green Berets’ expertise in unconventional warfare, these units exemplify the pinnacle of military precision and readiness. Their dedication is not just a testament to their individual skills but highlights a collective commitment to excellence and the unwavering spirit of defending the United States against complex global threats.

As we reflect on the roles and missions of these elite groups, it’s clear that their impact extends beyond the battlefield. The broader implications of their work in enhancing America’s defense strategy are profound, serving as a deterrent against adversaries while also ensuring the country’s strategic interests are safeguarded around the globe. These Special Forces units, with their specialized training and fearless dedication, remain not just the backbone of the nation’s military capabilities but also underscore America’s resolve to maintain peace and security on the international stage. Their ongoing developments and the potential for future missions underscore the critical importance of special operations forces in today’s complex security environment.


1. Which US special forces group is considered the most elite?

The Army Green Berets, also known as the “Special Forces,” are recognized as one of the most elite military groups globally. They often lead to even higher units, such as the Army’s “Delta” CAG and the CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD).

2. How do Green Berets compare to Navy SEALs?

Both Green Berets and Navy SEALs are highly elite and effective, but they serve different purposes. Green Berets are experts in building relationships and training guerrilla forces within foreign communities. In contrast, Navy SEALs are known for their precise and decisive operations from sea to land, especially in critical situations.

3. Which US Special Forces unit is the most difficult to join?

The Green Berets are considered one of the toughest US special forces to qualify for. The selection process involves rigorous mental and physical challenges, including the notoriously difficult Combat Diving School.

4. What is the most elite unit within the Navy SEALs?

SEAL Team Six is the top-tier unit within the Navy SEALs, specializing in hostage rescue and counter-terrorism. This unit is often seen as the naval counterpart to the Army’s elite Delta Force.


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