When most people think of the Delta Force (and it’s not a fraternity, at least not in the traditional sense), two words pop into their heads:
While monsters do indeed look under their bed for Chuck Norris before going to sleep, they should be more afraid of what may be hiding in the closet with night vision goggles on and a laser sighted bead lined up right between their horns. The real Delta Force can be that scary.
The 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (try saying that three times fast) is one of the United States’ secretive counter terrorism and Special Missions Units. (And if you missed Latin or Calculus class last week, “delta” means “change.”) While ol’ Chuck helped popularize the term “Delta Force,” the members actually refer to themselves simply as “The Unit.” They’re cool that way.
Like most government jobs, being a member of Delta Force isn’t as glamorous as the movies make it out to be. Unless you count not sleeping for days while hiding waist deep in leech infested sewage and eating what may or may not be the local version of cockroaches as glamorous. If you do, we hear Fear Factor is making yet another comeback and will be looking for contestants.
Members of “The Unit” probably take a perverse pride in these conditions, though. They are one of the few groups that can truly call themselves “The Best of the Best” (of the best) as they recruit primarily from other Special Forces Units like the Green (eco friendly) Berets and the Army (hey hey, Boo Boo!) Rangers. In fact, 75% of all Delta Force members were recruited from the 75th Ranger Regiment.
And this is just the line for the bathroom.
Most of what the Delta Force does is highly classified but, luckily for us, some people have big mouths. While it’s difficult to peg any “typical” duties for such a force, much of their time is spent training. This training runs the gamut from typical physical conditioning (like running in a rucksack – the fancy term for “backpack”), to specific skill sets like Marksmanship or Demolitions. Shooting things and blowing stuff up – does it get any better?
A member of the Unit spends much more time training than they do in the field. This time spent training ensures that they remain at the top of their abilities. Some members will go a very long time without being operational as a result. The Delta Force members refer to operational members as “Operators” and, unlike with the phone company, the term Operator is carried with pride. (No unions, by the way, in Delta Land.)
Much of this training takes place at what Operators have affectionately termed “The House of Horrors.” They also affectionately refer to kittens as “Murder Machines.” Okay. We made up the kitten thing. But the House of Horrors is real. The training grounds include buses, trains, and even a passenger airline for staging hostage rescue drills. All of these are laid out at the end of a city street filled with abandoned buildings that could house countless snipers. They leave no stone unturned.
Not everyone can make it to the Unit. It requires a certain breed of person. Not only do you need to be in top physical shape, with great eyesight and no physical defects that may impair long deployments in harsh conditions, but you have to be Tony Stark bright.
Special Forces Units do more than simply shoot the bad guys. They may be required, with little to no prior knowledge, to disarm a bomb, hack into a computer, or triangulate the coordinates of a commercial flight path while calculating the odds of... well, you get the idea.
Their social skills must also be top notch as, once they’re dropped behind enemy lines, they may need to communicate and recruit the locals for various tasks. One infamous story about Delta Force recruitment involves a prospective recruit being given a weird assignment on the spot: to write and act out an original play. Recruits are often given weird tests like this that showcase their ability to think on their feet, their intelligence, and their sheer backbone. After all, being socially timid or having stage fright in the wrong situation may get you and all of your buddies killed. And, in case you’re wondering, the play was supposed to actually be pretty good. Playwright and trained killer? Talk about a double threat.
And then, of course, there’s the mental toughness. Operators don’t just learn how to take abuse. They learn how to love it. James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader) was an Army Ranger before his film career took off and, while he never made it to Delta Force, he famously tells a story about how they were forced to sleep covered in snakes for weeks on end. And then to kill and eat the snakes. Raw. He said they tasted like chicken (on the way down). Vegetarians need not apply.
Darth Vader didn’t make it into Delta Force primarily because they didn’t exist at the time he was a Ranger. Delta Force was born in the 1970’s as a response to the growth of terrorist action in the world. Charles Beckwith, a Special Forces veteran from the Vietnam War, spent some time training with Britain’s Special Air Services. Due to nasty little incidences like dealing with Northern Irish separatists, the SAS were pretty good at Counter-Terrorism. Beckwith reported to Congress how weak the United States Military was in this area and how we needed our own version of the SAS. Delta Force was officially created in 1979.
And just in time, too. On November 4th, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took everyone inside hostage. Delta was brought together for what should have been their first mission but a series of failures with US Army and Marine helicopters that were to drop the team in the desert nearby cancelled the mission. Needless to say, everyone was disappointed. It was kind of like downloading “Angry Birds” and then immediately shooting your bird straight into the ground.
We’d be angry too if we had to spin in circles all day while little kids jumped on our back.
But the Unit made up for the cancelled mission by being involved heavily in Central American conflicts, including Grenada, during the eighties. An unnamed Delta Force sniper is even credited with killing the infamous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. No, not the one who painted the women with crooked eyeballs. Wrong Pablo.
The Unit also conducts several joint training exercises with the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team Six. In case you need to brush up on your current history, these are the guys that went all Call of Duty on Osama bin Laden. The Delta Force and SEAL Team Six are often deployed together on joint missions and are considered peers.
Currently, Delta Force has been seeing quite a bit of action in the Middle East, including freeing hostages at a hotel in Ramadi without a single hostage, terrorist, or Delta Force member losing their life. Take that, Chuck Norris.