Mirror Mirror on the wall… Who’s the Baddest of them all?
Gideon D. Asche
Probably the most entertaining event I have ever witnessed was a multinational group of Special Operations Soldiers discussing who was the “Baddest of them all” over beer and Brats at Grafenwöhr training area circa 1983.
I’ve never seen a more civilized episode of dick measuring in my life – Each trying to prove his group was the Baddest while maintaining respect for his brother units.
Besides the occasional extremely biased op-ed article, I do a lot of Military History articles that focus on American Warriors and their exploits. They are purely educational and void of politics – just a fun way for me, as a Historian, to honor the ones who went before us.
Lately, much of the reader feedback is asking my opinion regarding just who has bragging rights as the “Baddest of the Bad” among our Special Operations troops.
They want me to answer that unanswerable question – Who is the Baddest of the Baddest when it comes to U.S. Special Operations troops?
Oddly enough, I know the answer…
I am uniquely qualified to give you a definitive answer to that question, and I’m going to do it before we’re done here.
First things first, though – You can’t make a quality assessment of whom the “Baddest of them all” is until you understand just who “them all” is, and what they do.
I did an impromptu survey amongst my Special Operations associates, with the consensus that “Baddest of them all” refers to the one guy you want next to you regardless of the mission template. The guy you want on the roster, regardless of, if it’s direct action, hostage rescue, humanitarian medical outreach to the locals, or clandestine run to Fayetteville for pizza and cold beer.
In the sixties, there was little public information about Special Operations available. Most of what I thought I knew, came from John Wayne and “The Green Berets.” I knew I wanted to earn Jump Wings, but only because my dad and brother had them, and I figured chicks would think they were Kool. I earned mine when I was seventeen.
I enlisted right out of high school and committed my first court-martial worthy offense at 17. I was processing into Ft. Eustis for advanced individual training and my First Sergeant noticed Sports Parachute equipment in my car. He gave me a direct order to NOT go skydiving.
About a week later, Top reminded me that I better not get caught out at “Suffolk Airport jumping with those Squids.” I didn’t even know there was a Parachute Club at Suffolk and I somehow took him telling me about it as tacit approval.
A scary little guy named Dany Day, a SEAL Officer ran the club. For reasons, known only to them, Day and the other operators decided I was OK, and let me hang out and jump with them on the weekends. I spent the next 14 weekends sleeping in their clubhouse/storage shed.
A few years later I had my first professional encounter with SEALs. I didn’t expect them to be good because they were SEALs. I expected SEALs to be good because I equated them to Dany Day and his men – they didn’t disappoint me.
Over the years, I’ve had occasion to work with several Special Ops Units in one capacity or another. I was around back when 1st SOCOM was the high-speed, low-drag command. JSOC was still just an idea.
Uniformed personnel and TF-160 wore “Electric Ed” as a Unit patch, but there were five or six unofficial Unit patches and emblems in use.
I got to know Rangers up close and personal when I went through the Hollywood version of Swamp Phase at Rudder as a civilian contractor. We processed in, and the Sergeant Major told one of his NCOs to take the “Cling-Ons” to their quarters.
My German counterparts spoke excellent English but didn’t make the “Charmin” connection and took it as the Star Trek – “KLINGON.” They thought it was a compliment. I guess 6th Battalion Seargent Major was right, you could call me a highly trained “Cling-On.”
A quick perusal of U.S. Special Operations assets makes it clear there is enough “Badass” to go around. It is the differences in their fundamental purpose that makes each group uniquely suited to a particular mission.
Let me point out that this article is an opinion piece, so if your views on this differ from mine, that’s OK – This is by no means a comprehensive list of everything these warriors do. It’s just a superficial comparison to give the layman some idea of who does what.
JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) is like a toolbox. Imagine a free shopping spree in the Snap-on van, only the tools are specialized and deadly.
The Republic can reach in a grab whichever tool will get the job done best, be it a hammer to drive nails or a crowbar to rip them back out – Everything a President might need to make a global point or eliminate a threat is in that toolbox.
For this discussion, we aren’t going to bother with Hollywood or groups for which the information is sketchy and unverifiable. Disinformation is a legitimate tool in the game of clandestine warfare – don’t believe everything you know to be true or automatically discount what you know to be false – you are probably wrong.
Special Operations was a dark hole of disinformation in the 70’s and 80’s. Terms like Delta Force, Foreign Operating Group, Southern Air Transport, and the “Frisbee Fighter” were tossed freely around in conversation. Few people had a clue what was real and what was disinformation.
The U.S. did have several ongoing clandestine operations and units to support them during the 70’s and 80’s. The cold war required it. Of these semi-mythical groups, only Delta Force, officially designated CAG, (Combat Applications Group) is readily acknowledged.
The hyper-secret Foreign Operating Group is rumored to have been out of control by the mid-eighties. References to FOG are rare today. If FOG ever existed, they were likely the early version of the HUMINT side of the Special Activities Division.
Two often neglected Special Operations units are the Aviation Assets that took over the operations Air America performed during viet Nam. The 160th SOAR, (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), and Air Force Special Operations. On the civilian side was Southern Air Transport, a CIA aviation group. There was also an Agency Aviation unit that mirrored today’s 160th SOAR, just with unmarked birds. I can’t imagine Langley giving up an asset like that to rely on anyone else, they are likely still around today.
How important are aviation assets? – No one else can get to work without a ride.
My experience is limited to the 160th and their predecessor, but I can assure you I have never met a more professional group of aviators. Some were a little out there. I knew a Chinook guy who would go out and “Hug” his bird every morning.
He’d just wrap his arms around the Chin-Bubble, hug her and grin. He said, “if you Love something enough it will tell you its secrets.” His Bird was immaculate and never in a Red-X status for long. The fact he quoted Carver should have said his education was better than most.
The average TF-160 Pilot or Crew Chief might not be in the running for Baddest of them all, but consider this: If he is shot down, he becomes the lowest ranking member of the team and moves forward with the mission. – Never underestimate a Night Stalker – NSDQ
Back to our question… Who are these Special Operations Warriors? And what can they do?
US ARMY Rangers: Rangers are the most elite if you count numbers, so I’ll start with them.
Swift, Flexible, Agile, and Lethal – Especially Lethal, are good adjectives to use to describe any sized group of Rangers. Performing the gamut of independent operations, from fire team to Regimental size with equal effectiveness.
The Ranger Unit’s basic capabilities include: airborne and air assault operations, water assault operations, seizing and destroying or holding strategic facilities, airfields, installations, and any other hard target. – Just another day in the life of a Ranger Company. If you need to secure a heavily defended facility without destroying it… these are the guys to do it.
MARSOC – Marine Special Operations Command is another Direct Action Raid Force. Their Capabilities overlap the Ranger Regiment with more emphasis on the seaborne assault. If you need to take an island full of enemy forces, MARSOC will get it done and be back in time to get steaks on the grill before the last formation.
US NAVY SEALs – The Navy describes NSW including SEALs as being “expertly trained to deliver highly specialized, intensely challenging warfare capabilities that are beyond the means of standard military forces.”
SEAL Teams are capable of all the same direct action, clandestine recon, and counterterrorism operations missions you find in the other specialized units with an added underwater operations component.
There is, however, also an added element of the absurd that gives the SEAL team the ability to react effectively in almost any situation. Hesitation is not a SEAL personality trait. If the mission is technically impossible, and likely to turn to crap, but there is no choice but to pull it off anyway – Send SEALs, They’ll get it done.
US ARMY SPECIAL FORCES – The Green Berets. Special Forces teams have a specific function in the big picture. As well as the Direct Action and antiterrorist operations that overlap SEALs and MARSOC the Special Forces Group is a force multiplier. They are not just Soldiers – they’re teachers and trainers.
Organized into small, versatile groups, called Operational Detachments the Special Forces unit is ideal for raising up and training an indigenous army to facilitate local resistance.
“A” detachments, officially referred to as ODAs (Operational Detachment Alpha), typically include two officers and possibly a Warrant officer or two, with the remainder of the team NCOs, each with their own specialty: Weapons, Communications, Medical, Engineering and, Intelligence, all with language skills.
If you want to facilitate a coup or raise up a Gorilla Army, these are the ones you would send to do it. In cahoots with Psyops units, along with the Standard direct-action mission, the SF detachment wins the hearts and minds of the locals by providing needed medical, economic and advisory support.
DELTA FORCE – There are those who believe the U.S. has a Jason Bourne style superman force ready to eliminate any threat to the Republic. Chuck Norris and his guys are impressive on the silver screen, but I have yet to see any official reference to any “Delta Force” as an active component of Special Operations, but Like any mythical hero, there is usually a kernel of truth in the story.
There is a group within Special Forces sometimes referred to as Delta or one of several other acronyms. One website states that Delta Force was at somepoint redeisnated CAG (Combat Applications Group). I remember CAG as a Super-Secret sub-unit of 1st SOCOM back in the eighties. I’ll leave the “Delta Force” moniker in Hollywood where it belongs and just touch on what I know about the unit known as CAG, SFOD-D or whatever name they might be using this week.
Alternately acknowledged and disavowed over the years, CAG has an almost fantasy quality to it – right up until the moment they kick in the door and ruin the bad guy’s day.
Direct action, hostage rescue and covert elimination of threats are rumored to be CAG specialties. CAG has a level versatility, skill and clandestine nature that makes them the right choice or overkill in most situations.
Now that we have a general idea of who is who, and who does what; you expect me to answer the question. – Who is the Baddest of the bad?
Don’t get me to lying to you… if you mean between, SEALs, SF, MARSOC and the others, I’m not even sure there is an answer to that question. It depends on the mission. That’s why we have a choice of tools.
There is, however, one class of Operator who deserves the title “Baddest sombitch in the whole friggin valley.”
You can find him frolicking among the rest, a fixture in every Special Operations unit in the inventory.
I’m talking about that wild-eyed creature moving forward when everyone else is looking for cover. That quiet guy, you know the one. He transforms from, mere mortal Medic, passing out “Cold Paks” after formation, into a superman warrior and protector, as soon as the first cry of “Medic” or “Corpsman” rings out over the cacophony of battle.
You probably know him as “Doc” – The Combat Medic. He’s the guy equally comfortable checking you for hemorrhoids or treating a sick baby as kicking doors and popping bad guys.
All medics are worthy of respect. What lifts the Special Operations Medic a step above the rest is the fact he is an acknowledged combatant. Standard Medics and Corpsmen carry a Non-Combatant ID card and are to be treated as non-combatants if captured.
The Special Operations Medic is a combatant. He does NOT fall under Geneva accord protection as a medic.
Who is the Baddest of them all – my vote is for Doc.
What do you think?