Delta Force: Speed, Surprise and Violence of Action

The most secretive of all the Special Operations forces, Delta Force, like the Air Force Special Ops shown here, often works under cover of darkness. STAFF SGT. EMERSON NUÑEZ/U.S. AIR FORCE. INSET: U.S. ARMY

America's tip of the spear against terrorism is also its most clandestine Special Operations unit. Created in 1977, Delta Force has mostly been a secret unit; but a member of Delta Force is equipped to do anything, even alone, to protect America. This article, and others that present an intimate portrait of America's most elite fighting forces, is included in a Newsweek Special Edition, Special Ops.

Detachment Delta. The CAG—Combat Application Group. ACE—the Army Compartmented Element. Or simply "The Unit." No matter what you call Delta Force, the U.S. Army's first and most effective counterterrorism force has been silently protecting America and its allies since the late 1970s, when an upswing in terrorist activity such as bombings and hijackings led the military to create its own elite task force based on the British Special Air Service (SAS).

Colonel Charles Beckwith was chosen to create Delta Force in October 1977. Recruiting heavily among Vietnam veterans, Beckwith culled the finest soldiers from every branch of the military to become part of his new unit. He then endeavored to make them the most fearsome and best-trained soldiers the U.S. had ever produced.

For much of its history, Delta Force has been an entirely secret unit. Even today, though documents referring to Delta Force exist and its commanders openly receive awards and citations, the Pentagon has never officially acknowledged its existence. Its first documented assignment came in 1990, when members of Delta Force were deployed in Saudi Arabia as bodyguards to high ranking U.S. personnel.

Headquartered at North Carolina's Fort Bragg, the modern Delta Force received its highest profile mission in 2003. Members of the elite unit were dispatched to Iraq, where they were tasked with finding deposed dictator Saddam Hussein. Delta Force troops and Army Rangers surrounded the farm where he was hiding and found Saddam in a small underground bunker.

Delta Force conducts its operations via three squadrons: A, B and C. Each squadron is then broken into troops, which consist of four or five groups of four or five men each. Each troop then specializes in air, land or sea attack in an organizational structure based on the British SAS. Troops are also well-prepared enough to be broken down into smaller units, sometimes made up of only one man. In short, a member of Delta Force is equipped to do anything, even alone, to protect America.

This article is appears in Newsweek's Special Edition, Special Ops, by Issue Editor Johnna Rizzo.

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