Delta Force Patch -  photo courtesy of the U.S. ArmyCredit: photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Delta Force is one of the elite units operationally under the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  It also goes by the names of 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), Army Compartmented Elements (ACE), Combat Applications Group (CAG), and Delta.  Members of Delta refer to the organization as “the Unit.”  Along with the Navy SEAL Team Six or DEVGRU, this unit is responsible for counter-terrorist activities. As with DEVGRU, this organization is highly classified and few details are known.  

History of Delta Force 

Due to a number of terrorist incidents in the early 1970s, the U.S. government realized the need for a full-time counter-terrorist unit.  Charles Beckwith, a Special Forces officer and Vietnam veteran, had served as an exchange officer with the British Army's Special Air Service (22 SAS Regiment).  He was tasked with developing a counter-terrorist unit and he used the 22 SAS Regiment as a model.  

Though the Delta Force Unit was not fully operational until the early 1980s, when hostages were taken in Iran in November of 1979, the newly created Delta Force was deployed.  However, the mission was aborted due to aviation failures. This led the U.S. government to make more changes. The Night Stalkers (160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)), was created specifically for special operations requiring aviation support. DEVGRU, was created for maritime counter-terrorism operations. The Joint Special Operations Command was created for command and control of the various counter-terrorism units of the U.S. military. 

Because the Unit is so highly classified, little is known about the make-up of the organization. It is reportedly made up of A, B, and C squadrons with each consisting of three troops: one Recon/Sniper Troop and two Direct Action/Assault Troops.  

Selection, Requirements and Training 

Delta Force recruits candidates primarily from the Special Forces and the 75th Ranger Regiment.  It is believed the Unit carries out selection and training twice a year; probably in the spring and fall.  To be considered for Delta Force, candidates must be male, at least 21 years old, a U.S. citizen and enlisted in active Army duty, Reserve or National Guard.  In addition, candidates must have:

  • no limiting physical abilities
  • pass a HALO/SCUBA physical and eye exam
  • either have Airborne qualifications or volunteer for Airborne training
  • pass initial background security checks
  • no history of recurring disciplinary action
  • pass the 5-event physical-fitness qualification test
    • run, dodge and jump  and inverted crawl
    • pushups
    • sit ups
    • 2-mile run
    • 100-meter swim 

Officers must also have:

  • rank of captain or major
  • 12 months of successful command
  • advanced course graduate
  • college graduate (B.A. or B.S.) 

Non-commissioned Officers must have:

  • rank of sergeant (E5 - E8)
  • 4 years minimum service
  • 2 years active service remaining
  • passing SQT score in primary Military Specialty (MOS)
  • minimum General Technical score 110 

In his book Inside Delta Force, Command Sergeant Major Eric L. Haney (ret.), detailed the selection process.  According to Haney, the course began with standard tests which included push-ups, sit-upsDelta Force Operator in Uniform – photo courtesy of the U.S. ArmyCredit: photo courtesy of the U.S. Army, a 2-mile (3.2 km) run, an inverted crawl and a 100 meter swim fully dressed. Candidates were next put through a series of land navigation courses which included an 18-mile (29 km), all-night land navigation course while carrying a 40-pound (18 kg) rucksack. Every subsequent march entailed an increase in the weight of the rucksack and distance of the route. Standards to complete the task were shortened with each march.  

The physical testing ended with a 40-mile (64 km) march with a 45-pound (20 kg) rucksack over very rough terrain which had to be completed in an unknown amount of time. According to Haney, only the senior officer and NCO in charge of selection were allowed to see the set time limits, but all assessment and selection tasks and conditions were set by Delta training cadre.  

The mental portion of the testing began with numerous psychological exams, after which candidates went in front of a board of Delta instructors, unit psychologists and the Delta commander, who each asked the candidate a barrage of questions and then dissected every response and mannerism of the candidate with the purpose to mentally exhaust the candidate. At this point, the unit commander approached the candidate and told him if he had been selected.

Individuals selected for Delta undergo an intense 6-month Operator Training Course (OTC), to learn counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence techniques. During the training individuals maintain very little contact with family and friends.  Training includes marksmanship, demolitions, executive protection, and espionage-related skills.  A final test requires the candidates to apply and dynamically adapt all they have learned.  

Once a candidate graduates the training and is accepted into the Unit, he is officially an operator. This term used by Delta members, was initially to distinguish between operational and non-operational personnel. Other Special Forces members are specific for their jobs, for example Army Rangers, Navy SEALS; operator is the specific term for Delta’s operational personnel.  However, in the early 2000s, other special operations forces adopted the term.  SEAL members unofficially started using the term during the Vietnam War. 

Delta Force operators do not have a known official uniform. The majority of the timSpecial Forces Operator from the Unit - photo courtesy of the U.S. Army photographer: "Dalton Fury" -- the pen-name of a Major in the Delta ForceCredit: photo courtesy of the U.S. Army photographer: "Dalton Fury" -- the pen-name of a Major in the Delta Forcee they wear civilian clothes on and off duty.  When they do wear military uniforms, there are no markings, branch names or surnames on them.  Operators are also not required to maintain military hair styles and facial hair is allowed to enable them to blend in and avoid recognition as military personnel.  

There is much speculation regarding missions of the Delta Force; however, the Pentagon keeps their activities closely guarded.  As with DEVGRU, the Unit uses stealth and secrecy to maintain their advantage in the battle against terrorists and others who threatened the United States and its allies.



Haney, Eric L. Inside the Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit. New York: Random House, Inc., 2002.



The copyright of the article “Special Forces: Delta Force” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.