This year marks the 60th anniversary of U.S. Army Special Forces, sometimes called the “Green Berets.” In hot spots around the globe, they’re often the first in and the last out. Experts in direct action and masters of unconventional warfare, Special Forces soldiers infiltrate foreign countries, provide humanitarian aid, raise armies, and train them for combat effectiveness. Here are a few things you might not know about them.
1. The ending of Dr. Strangelove wasn’t so strange after all.
During the Cold War, there were contingency plans in case the Soviet Union attempted to roll their tanks across Europe. The goal would be to stop them at all cost, and this would require obliterating key highways, tunnels, airfields, and bridges. While conventional explosives might do the job, it would take hours to achieve, and only slow the Soviet advance by days at best, when weeks were needed. Project GREENLIGHT sought to address this problem.
The fastest, most effective, most surreptitious way to target enemy infrastructure would be to parachute bomb-toting Special Forces soldiers to their objectives. But there was a catch. In his autobiography, Sergeant Major Joe Garner described his work with the project. There was a heavy rucksack attached to him when he test jumped from a military helicopter. The landing was rough, but he walked away from it. It was proof-positive that the plan would work, but it wasn’t until much later that he learned what GREENLIGHT was. “It was a man-carried nuclear device. That’s when the realization hit me. I was probably the first soldier to free-fall strapped to an atomic bomb.”
In addition to destroying infrastructure, carefully placed atomic blasts would make enemy forces “bottleneck,” where they could be destroyed with other nuclear weapons. Three hundred backpack nukes were made. They were called Special Atomic Demolition Munitions, and most were assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Germany. In a worst-case scenario, their job was to strap on one-kiloton nuclear weapons and parachute behind the Iron Curtain. They would commit nuclear suicide in an apocalyptic war to stop the Soviets from conquering Europe.
Thankfully, of course, the weapons were never used.
2. The green beret came from a British commando school.
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During World War II, select U.S. Army Rangers and U.S. Office of Strategic Services personnel volunteered for an intense commando course in Scotland. The pace was relentless and the physical requirements were demanding. Exercises were conducted with live ammunition and real explosives. The soldiers were trained in field survival, mountaineering, snow warfare, small boat operations and river crossings.
British Commandos wearing distinctive green berets conducted the school, and those American soldiers who successfully made it through the course were awarded the same beret. The U.S. Army didn’t authorize it for wear, but the hardened American commandos didn’t worry too much about that. They secretly wore it while out in the field and away from conventional forces.
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