Delta Force: Missions and History

A U.S. special operations forces member conducts combat operations in support of Operation Resolute Support (RS) in East Afghanistan, April 2019. (Spc. Jonathan Bryson/U.S. Army)
Military.com | By Stew Smith, CSCS®

"Delta Force," officially known as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), is one of the U.S. special missions units primarily focused on the counterterrorism mission. SFOD-Delta has been through a few name changes over the years, and even though it likely always will be known as SFOD-Delta, it recently was renamed the Combat Applications Group (CAG) and is now known officially as Army Compartmented Elements (ACE).

Though Delta Force is primarily a tier-one counterterrorism unit, specifically directed to kill or capture high-value units or dismantle terrorist cells, Delta Force remains extremely flexible and can engage in direct-action missions, hostage rescues and covert missions working directly with the CIA, as well as high-ranking protective services of our senior leaders during visits in war-torn countries.

Delta is under operational control of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) though administratively supported by the Army Special Operations Command (USASOC).

Delta Force History

Compared to our nation's military history, Delta is relatively young, having been formed in 1977 by its first commander, Col. Charles Beckwith. With the growing threat of terrorism around the world, Beckwith saw a need for a precision strike force within the Army after working with the British Special Air Service (SAS) in the early 1970s.

Related: This Is the Military Working Dog That Helped Take Out the Leader of ISIS

Beckwith was tasked to form the new unit and pulled largely from the Special Forces Groups. The types of missions with which the SFOD-Delta has been involved over the past few decades are classified, but some have been declassified and noted publicly in media reports and books written by Delta operators. Here is a list of several of the declassified engagements:

Operation Eagle Claw: During the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, a rescue attempt failed because of an aviation equipment/operator error and led to the deaths of eight Americans. As a result, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was created.

Operation Urgent Fury: Grenada prisoner rescue from the Richmond Hill prison.

Operation Just Cause: Panama invasion to capture Gen. Manuel Noriega and protect some 35,000 Americans living in Panama.

Gulf War: Iraq invades Kuwait, and the US-led alliance defeats Saddam Hussein and his Army, pushing them back into Iraq.

Operation Gothic Serpent: Part of the Battle of Mogadishu (1993), where U.S. helicopters were shot down and two Delta operators, Sgt. 1st Class Randall Shughart and Master Sgt. Gary Gordon, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their efforts that day.

Related: 5 Key Differences Between Delta Force and SEAL Team 6

War in Afghanistan: Within a month of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Special Forces operators aided in defeating and dismantling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Battle of Tora Bora: A massive joint engagement to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.

Operation Red Dawn: Locating and capturing Saddam Hussein.

Operation Juniper Shield: During the 2012 Benghazi attack, Delta Force assisted with evacuating the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, Libya.

Operation Black Swan: The capture of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Operation Kayla Mueller: The raid in Syria that resulted in the death of terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Countless hostage rescues worldwide.

How to Join Delta Force

The SFOD-D currently receives its recruits from all over the Army, still pulling mainly from the Ranger Regiments and Special Forces Groups. Recruits must be in the Army, have at least 2.5 years of service left on enlistment and be within the E4-E8 ranks.

The best way to learn more about getting into Delta is to join the Army and serve in the Army Ranger or Special Forces. There are no civilian-to-Delta enlistment programs, because they are looking for experienced, mature operators to join this top counterterrorist unit.

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