Articles

Here's the difference between special ops and special forces


USAF special ops training. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Possibly one of the most pervasive yet irritating missteps that the media and public in general makes about the military is the use of the terms 'Special Operations Forces' (SOF) and Special Forces (SF) interchangeably. In a day and age where special operations units have a growing presence in the media due to the increase of their importance in the asymmetric, non-conventional combat environment that our country has found ourselves in, the mistake has become all too common in headlines on news channels as well as newspapers and magazines. Consider this article a primer for anyone in the media that even remotely cares about their journalistic accuracy, as well as the curious citizen.

Special Operations, or sometimes referred more accurately to as Special Operations Forces, include any unit that falls under the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Naval Special Warfare, Air Force Special Operations Command, Army Special Operations Command, and Marine Special Operations Command are all included under this umbrella. I won't go further down the ladder and list every unit under those commands, but they cover everything from the 528th Sustainment Brigade and Civil Affairs to the SEAL Teams and Ranger Regiment.

The shadowy Joint Special Operations Command also falls under SOCOM as a sub-unified command but often reports directly to higher authorities due to their unique and often sensitive missions. Who is not covered by the term Special Operations? Anyone who does not fall under the SOCOM umbrella. For example, although Force Recon companies in the Marine Corps are highly trained and undergo a selection process similar to many SOF units, they are not considered Special Operations as they belong to the Marine Corps, not SOCOM.

Now, what about the term "Special Forces"? Special Forces is not a generic term in the U.S. military and refers to a very specific unit. The 1st Special Forces Regiment falls under the command of the Army Special Operations Command (mentioned above) and includes the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 19th, and 20th Special Forces Groups.

They are most often referred to by their distinctive headgear, the Green Beret, or simply as "SF." The Army's Special Forces are capable of a wide variety of missions but were designed to be the premiere experts on unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense.

As an example of a classic unconventional warfare mission that happened in recent history, after the terror attacks of 9/11 small elements of the 5th Special Forces Group embedded with indigenous fighters from Afghanistan's Northern Alliance and lead them into battle. Within a matter of weeks, they had effectively neutralized the Taliban threat – accomplished not with brigades and divisions of soldiers, but with only a couple dozen Special Forces soldiers. This is the capability that the 1st Special Forces Regiment brings to the table, and makes them very unique in the larger SOCOM picture.

To summarize, Special Operations Forces is a generic term that you can use to refer to any and all special operations units. Special Forces is the title of a very specific unit and is not a generic term for other units. If you don't know what unit did something, refer to them as SOF or Special Operations. If you know for a fact that it was a unit from one of the seven Special Forces Groups, then refer to them as Special Forces.

Simple enough … right?

This article originally appeared at The Havok Journal.

History

That time US troops found 200 tons of stolen Nazi gold

In the closing months of World War II, the defeated Nazi Army scrambled to hide the hundreds of tons of gold they had despicably stripped from various nations during their occupation. As they hurriedly stashed their ill-gotten gains, they were unaware that the Allies were drawing near.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Lists

10 military spouses you should unfriend on Facebook immediately

Often, there comes a point when people decide to give their Facebook friends list an overhaul.

They completely change their social landscape online by avoiding accepting friend requests from certain types of people, and they give their current friends list a good, hard scrub.

Everyone has their reasons. Maybe they're doing it for security purposes, or because a handful of people's posts drive them crazy or they want to keep a more professional profile. Military spouses in particular might do so because they want to focus on positive, stress-free relationships – that is, the ones that bring wine, wear sweat pants, and check judgment at the door.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

This JASSM variant could replace the Harpoon

For a long time, the AGM-84/RGM-84 Harpoon missile has been the primary anti-ship weapon of the United States military. Over the years, with improvements, it's successfully held the line. But, as is perpetually the case, time and technological advances have forced the U.S. Military to look for a missile with even more reach and punch.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

7 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to watch before 'Infinity War'

Not planning a two-day Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon right before seeing "Avengers: Infinity War?"

Nobody has time for that.

To accommodate fans who want to freshen up their knowledge, we collected a list of the most essential MCU movies to watch right before you see "Infinity War," which is scheduled for release April 27, 2018.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

7 drill sergeant sayings that really mean, "you're screwed"

Every recruit needs to make it through Basic Training before they earn the right to be called Soldiers. Drill sergeants have just two goals: to break the civilian out of their platoon and to give recruits a crash course in military lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Strange reports in Saudi Arabia spark rumors of a coup attempt

Twitter and news outlets came alive with spotty, unconfirmed news reports of an incident in Saudi Arabia that some sources were describing as a possible "coup attempt." There has been no official verification of significant or organized action in the region and no reports have surfaced as of 00:30 Riyadh time on the BBC World News, but the volume of Twitter reports and private messages received by this reporter seem to indicate an incident of some significance.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

The F-35 has a fatal flaw that makes it vulnerable to F-22 tech

Lockheed Martin, the leading manufacturer of stealth aircraft in the world, proposed a new hybrid between the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning on April 22, 2018, for Japan to purchase, and it could easily outclass the US Air Force.

Japan has, for decades, wanted in on the US Air Force's F-22, a long-range, high-capacity stealth fighter that perfectly suits its defense needs, except for one problem — the US won't sell it.

Keep reading... Show less