Terrorism may often be seen as a 21st-century scourge, but it’s been a problem for far longer than just these past 14 years. In fact, the war on terrorism has stretched back much farther than many realize, and one particular timeframe in our nation’s history resulted in the creation of one of our most respected elite units. The timeframe was the 1970s, and the terror attacks were running rampant. Perhaps they weren’t as prolific in victims as the larger-scale horrors of this century, but they were absolutely greater in frequency. Some of those attacks can be rightly attributed to violent protestations of the Vietnam War while others occurred as the result of good old-fashioned bias and hatred, and then there were terrorists such as the Alphabet Bomber and more airplane hijackers than children today could possibly imagine. Then there were the acts of terrorism taking place overseas. In an era when terror was clearly spiraling out of control – not that terror is ever controlled to begin with – our government decided it was time to do something about it, and their solution was simple: form an elite counter-terrorism unit.
The unit in question is the 1st Special Forces Operation Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), but you probably know them far better as Delta Force. Delta Force is a component of the U.S. Army and part of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and used to be called the Combat Applications Group (CAG). The Naval counterpart to this unit of badass operators is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and between the two of them they make up our nation’s front-line counter-terrorism defense. In addition to counter-terrorism, Delta Force is specifically tasked with direct action and national intervention operations, but that isn’t all they do; they also carry out hostage rescues, raids, and a number of other clandestine ops. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The idea for Delta Force had actually started up far before its actual creation with the original model being presented to the government in the early 1960s. Vietnam veteran Charlie Beckwith, who was himself a special forces operator and served during the Malayan Emergency, returned from combat and turned in a detailed report regarding the reasons our nation was at risk without a unit similar to the British Army’s Special Air Service. You see, Beckwith had spent time as an exchange officer with the SAS, and it had given him a firsthand look into their myriad ass-kicking uses. He returned to the states a true believer, telling our military they needed “not only teachers, but doers” and doing his best to convince certain stubborn politicians to get their act in gear. It didn’t happen right away, though, and in fact it was a decade before the government would call on Charlie Beckwith to set about creating Delta Force. But when the day finally came, he was ready.
We were already halfway through the 1970s when Beckwith was asked to make his dream unit reality; terrorism had escalated, and the Pentagon admitted such a formation would be prudent. Beckwith let them know it would take something like two years to make it happen and wrote a paper he and his team nicknamed the “Robert Redford Paper” to back up their estimate. In the meantime, a smaller unit would need to fill the gap fighting terrorism, so the government turned to Colonel Bob “Black Gloves” Mountel, who spent those years of creation heading what was known as the Blue Light special forces unit. Delta Force became officially active on November 21, 1977, and some of our most ass-kicking-est operators were born.
Recruitment remains something of a mystery today when compared to what we know about other special forces groups, but we do know a few things. Obviously recruits are all men, and many come from other SF groups. In 2006, General Wayne Downing testified that at least seventy percent of current Delta Force operators got their start in the 75th Ranger Regiment. Recruits are ranked between an E-4 and E-8, are 21 years old or older, have a high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and must have at least two and a half years left on their enlistment. In recent years Delta Force has been pulling operators from other branches, including the Marine Corps; a badass is a badass, after all.
Following recruitment comes selection, a process that’s outlined in incredible detail in Eric Haney’s book Inside Delta Force. Selection includes the usual tests such as push-ups, sit-ups, a two-mile run, an inverted crawl, and, of course, a fully-dressed 100-meter swim. If recruits power through those tasks they move on to land navigation, which includes an all-nighter involving 18 miles and a 40-pound ruck. That’s nothing compared to the icing on the physical testing cake: 40 miles carrying a 45-pound ruck, over hideously rough terrain, to be completed within a certain timeframe. Mental testing is fairly exhausting because, after all, we don’t want operators to have a panic attack or nervous breakdown in the middle of a dangerous mission. This portion of testing is carried out by a board of Delta instructors, psychologists, and, of course, the current Commander. Candidates are assailed with a barrage of questions and their responses are picked apart from words to tone to mannerisms, with each aspect designed to bring the candidate to mental exhaustion. If men make it through the mental testing, the unit commander lets them know, and then it’s time for the real fun: the Operator Training Course (OTC).
When Eric Haney wrote Inside Delta Force, OTC was about six months long, and while it’s impossible to get into each and every aspect – not to mention OTC is constantly changing according to necessity – the gist is easy to relay. Training includes marksmanship with a focus on achieving speed while maintaining accuracy and clearing houses, all of which must be learned while working around would-be hostages. There’s more, and the gun-loving side of me would be ecstatic to spend the next five thousand words waxing poetic about long-range skills, sub-MOA, and the joys of ringing steel (followed by the joys of annihilating enemy targets) – you get the idea. Demolition and breaching is also studied including picking locks and making bombs. There’s a skillset needed that involves airplanes, too, so the FBI and FAA teamed up to offer their assistance in this area while major airliner Delta Airlines allows some of their planes to be used for drills (Others may as well but the one we know for sure is Delta, which can’t be a coincidence, right? Delta, Delta…). Tradecraft is also taught, which pertains to espionage, surveillance, and dead drops, among other talents, and then there’s executive protection including advanced driving techniques and mastering skills used by the Secret Service and DSS. The culmination of these training efforts is a final test that requires the operator-hopefuls utilize and apply their newly learned talents actively in order to pass.
Somehow, in this age of mainstream media exposure and high-up government officials running their mouths about our special forces groups, Delta Force has managed to remain fairly secretive. Operators’ uniforms don’t have markings or surnames, and the men are allowed to grow out facial hair and, well, hair in order to blend in with the population. We do, however, know of some of their ops, with perhaps the most widely known operators being Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart.
Gordon and Shughart are known for their roles in the Battle of Mogadishu, which was part of Operation Gothic Serpent. The day was October 3, 1993, and the situation was grim. The op was as simple as ops get, which is to say rife with opportunity for disaster, and disaster had struck. A brief raid involving slipping in and snatching up the bloodthirsty Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid had gone bad; a Black Hawk had been shot down, Rangers and Delta Force operators were trapped behind enemy lines on the ground, and if that wasn’t bad enough a second Black Hawk had just been taken down by RPG fire as well. Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sergeant First Class Randy Shughart were in their own Black Hawk and bore witness as Super Six-Four went down; they didn’t know if the crew was dead or alive, and they weren’t about to leave the area when there was something they could do to help.
Gordon requested insertion repeatedly and was turned down twice by his CO, who felt it was too dangerous. But never let it be said you can tell an operator a task is too dangerous, because their mindset tends to be the more dangerous, the more fun. When he asked for a third time his CO gave in, knowing it was likely a suicide mission, and Gordon and Shughart prepared to enter the fray.
The LZ near the downed Black Hawk was far too hot, so the two operators were forced to jump from their own helicopter 100 meters away – while hovering in mid-air. Right after their boots slammed into the dirt of Mogadishu, an RPG slammed into their helicopter, ripping the leg from their door gunner and injuring others. (As a badass side-note, the helicopter pilot also took a bullet to his shoulder, and his co-pilot was rendered unconscious, yet the pilot still managed to fly the Black Hawk to safety.)
They arrived just as one of the wounded men on the ground, Warrant Officer Durant, was about to run out of ammo. Durant’s leg was broken in multiple places and he’d shattered several vertebrae when his helicopter crashed – and he was still strapped into his seat – but he was fighting with everything he had, and then some. Gordon and Shughart moved Durant to relative and temporary safety along with the other three wounded crew members and proceeded to fight for everyone’s lives.
They didn’t have to be on the ground that day. They could have stayed in their Black Hawk. They could have let rescue become someone else’s problem. But they were Delta Force operators. They were made of sterner stuff, and by God, they were going to fight.
The fight didn’t last as long as one would hope or end as one would wish. The operators and downed crew were rushed by an armed mob and militia; our men had only a few weapons and were battling against far greater numbers. To say they were outnumbered would be an understatement, but never let it be said an American operator is outgunned.
It was then Durant heard Gordon speak: “Damn, I’m hit,” and then, nothing. Shughart had rushed to his brother-in-arms the moment he was hit, and when he came back into Durant’s field of vision, he was carrying Gordon’s prized rifle, his CAR-15. The lone operator approached the painfully injured pilot, handed him the dead soldier’s weapon and remaining mag, and simply said two words: “Good luck.” And then Randy Shughart circled back around to face down the enemy.
He fought with the ferocity of a Spartan, burning through his ammo until his rifle ran dry and he was forced to resort to his pistol. Down to just his pistol, Shughart continued to fight for ten more minutes, showing the kind of tenacity and courage under fire few could possibly hope to achieve. At the end he died a warrior’s death, just as Gordon had, battling to protect his fellow American soldiers, and our Delta Force American Heroes were gone.”
In the end, Durant was the only survivor. The attacking horde murdered the other three men, Bill Cleveland, Ray Frank, and Tommy Field, and the only reason they ceased their beating of Durant was because someone realize he had value as a prisoner. He was held for eleven days before being released and rightly credits Gordon and Shughart with saving his life.
Our Delta Force operators are truly a force to be reckoned with. They have the hearts of warriors, and they run towards the susurrus of gunfire when any sane person would take off in the opposite direction. They are American Heroes to be respected and honored, and we are lucky to have them.
To the operators of Delta Force: thank you. Your many sacrifices may take place behind the veil, but they are valued beyond words. You are truly without equal.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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