By: Charles M Simpson III (830.2/36116)
The symbol of the green beret has become synonymous with Special Forces, the Army’s elite group of specially selected and trained units. Their reputation as fearless fighters is worldwide, But knowledge of their actual operations is less well known, and less accurate.
So much of their activities has fallen into the classified category, that the truth about them has not always been easy to obtain. Compared to the Regular Army, SF is unconventional, informal, and has engaged in more effective missions in peace and war than the American public has ever been made aware of.
In this history of their first thirty years, Colonel Simpson relates the entire available story starting with the training of the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, and later at Bad Tolz in Bavaria.
The ability of these men to operate as advisors in foreign countries, helping to train other armies, is dependent on their very special knowledge of the people, their customs, language, and the terrain. Guerrilla warfare, insurgency, counterinsurgency, all come within the circle of their operations. President John F. Kennedy gave a powerful impetus to the growth of SF, but they really came into prominence during the Vietnam War.
The Civic Action programs (“winning the hearts and minds of the people”) and ‘Psy Ops” became well known. They maintained camps in the far-flung Vietnamese provinces among the Katu and Bru, in Cambodia, with the Montagnards, the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai religious groups.
Colonel Simpson was personally responsible for increasing the strength of the Mobile Strike Forces composed of Vietnamese nationals from 1,000 to 10,000 men. The main function of these Mike Forces was to come to the aid of besieged fighting units, and this they did more quickly and effectively than any Regular Army unit. Simpson contends, in fact, that more effective use of Mike Forces might have made the use of U.S. combat troops unnecessary.
Among the less publicised missions of Special Forces have been: an airborne demonstration in Saudi Arabia; a rescue operation of a party of refugees in the Congo during the Leopoldville disturbances in 1960; a basic training program for Ethiopian recruits in 1965; training and assistance missions in nineteen Latin American countries from 1963 to 1970.
Colonel Simpson knows the Army, Of his thirty years of service he spent nine with Special Forces. He records vividly the successful cooperation between the forces (such as in the Battle of Plei Trap, Vietnam), and also the friction between Regular Army and SF and the effect this had on the relay of critical intelligence.
Inside the Green Berets is an exciting and occasionally controversial history and above all a tribute to the courageous, memorable, and hard-fighting members of USASF. The story is no finished. Secretary of Defence Weinberger has called for increased emphasis on U.S. unconventional warfare capability, and a knowledge of Special Forces to date is indispensable to an understanding of what it may become in the future.
PO Box A778, SYDNEY SOUTH NSW 1235; Level 20, 270 Pitt Street, SYDNEY NSW 2000; Telephone: +61 (0)2 9393 2325; Facsimile: +61 (0)2 9393 3543; Email:
Open Monday to Thursday 1100 to 1500 hours.
© The Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies New South Wales Incorporated - ABN 80 724 654 162