Delta Force is the United States Army’s premier counterterrorism and direct-action unit. Along with the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU, or SEAL Team 6), Delta represents the top-tier of America’s special operations capabilities.
Originally known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D), Delta units have undergone several name changes since their inception, most recently in 2010, when the units designations were changed from Combat Applications Group (CAG), to Army Compartmented Elements (ACE).
[Photo: Beckwith] Delta Force was created in 1977 by U.S. Army Colonel Charles Alvin Beckwith, a Special Forces Operator who had served with British SAS soldiers during the Vietnam war.
Beckwith had long recognized the need for an elite, semi-autonomous special operations unit. Throughout the 1960s, he submitted reports and proposals for the creation of such a group, but his superiors shelved the idea until the emerging threat of international terrorism surfaced in the 1970s. Beckwith modeled his new unit after the British Special Air Service (SAS), with focus on counterterrorism and covert operations.
One of Delta’s first operations, a 1980 mission to rescue American hostages being held in Iran (Operation Eagle Claw), was aborted after encountering a string of problems that led to the deaths of 8 servicemen. The lessons learned from the failed mission in Iran led to the creation of the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR, or Night Stalkers), a helicopter air wing focused on assault, and reconnaissance operations at night.
Disappointed with the failures of the Iranian rescue mission, Beckwith retired from the Army in 1981. He went on to manage a private security firm in Austin, Texas, and eventually co-authored a book about the creation of his elite unit, “Delta Force: The Army’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit”. He died of natural causes at home in Austin, Texas in 1994.
Since that first failed mission, Delta Force has evolved into a top-tier fighting group, and has been involved in a number of international diplomacy scenarios. Throughout the 1980s, Delta saw action in a number of south and central-American nations, including the Invasion of Grenada, and in Panama, where operators took place in the rescue of Kurt Muse, and the apprehension of Manuel Noriega.
Delta soldiers were also reported to be involved in the tracking and killing of renowned Columbian drug lord, Pablo Escobar.
Many of Delta’s missions, for which details are known, are outlined in our Delta Force Operations section.
Assessment & Selection
[Photo: Operators Training] Delta Force is comprised primarily of soldiers from other U.S. Army special operations units, such as Rangers or Special Forces (Green Berets). Members of other U.S. military branches and U.S. Navy SEAL teams have been vetted for joining the unit.
Delta’s month-long selection process is held twice a year near Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The tryout often attracts over 100 seasoned soldiers with combat experience who are in top physical shape, yet the failure rate is still around 90%.
Upon completion of the selection course, a candidate must also face a review board and interview before being accepted into the unit. If accepted, the candidate will begin a six-month Operator Training Course (OTC) in which they will study counterterrorism and intelligence gathering techniques. The candidate maintains little contact with friends or family during this period.
For a comprehensive outline of Delta Force qualifications and requirements, see our Delta Force Selection page.