Explore some important differences between the two most highly trained, elite counterterrorism units in the U.S. military.
Though Delta Force generally chooses its candidates from within the Army—most Delta operators come from the 75th Ranger Regiment or the Special Forces—the group also selects individuals from other branches of the military, including the Coast Guard, National Guard and even Navy SEALs. By contrast, SEAL Team Six selects its candidates only from within the existing SEAL team units. Even if a candidate doesn’t pass the daunting selection process to become a DEVGRU operator, he will still remain a SEAL.
Delta Force is thought to hold its selection twice every year, in the spring and fall, at a one-month course somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. More than 100 candidates undergo a grueling regimen of exercises that test physical fitness, endurance and mental strength. Between the course itself and the commander’s review board/interview at the end, more than 90 percent of candidates are not selected. Those who do pass these hurdles enter an arduous six-month Operator Training Course (OTC), which some 30-40 percent can fail to complete; the others are transformed from raw recruits to trained Delta operators.
Known as Green Team, the SEAL Team Six selection process is a six-month course similar to Delta’s OTC, but held only once a year. Some 50 percent of candidates don’t complete the course, but remain part of the SEAL organization. Because DEVGRU operators are all selected from within the SEALs, they will often know the “Green Teamers” from past assignments or training, which will influence how new operators get “drafted” into their eventual squadrons.
Training & Operational Capabilities
Delta Force and SEAL Team Six are Special Missions Units (SMU) under the umbrella of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Both specialize in counterterrorism and can be trained in techniques of Close Quarters Combat (CQB), hostage rescue, high-value target extraction, espionage, explosives, marksmanship and other specialized operations. In addition, however, Team Six operators receive training for specialized maritime operations, in accordance with their naval heritage. Because of this reason, the group may be more likely to be tasked with sea-based missions, such as the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, who was kidnapped by Somali pirates on the Indian Ocean in 2009.
Given that operators in Delta Force come from different military branches (even, in some cases, from DEVGRU), they bring different missions and cultures to the unit. Even the two main Army groups that join Delta, the Rangers and Special Forces, bring different cultures, missions and training backgrounds—and they retain these after joining Delta Force. Operators can even be awarded medals from their respective branches of the military while serving with Delta. So while SEAL Team Six operators share a common culture with other SEALs, the diverse background of Delta’s operators means the unit is really its own distinct entity, with a culture all its own. In addition, the vast majority of Delta Force operators are infantrymen (foot soldiers) or have been at some point in their military career. By contrast, SEALs have never been infantrymen, and are not trained as such; they are specifically a maritime special operations force.
Both Delta Force and SEAL Team Six are known for being highly secretive, even within the military, and the public will never know details about the vast majority of what both units do. But in recent years, high-profile successes have thrust SEAL Team Six in particular into the media spotlight. In the wake of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, a list of names of the SEALs involved was even leaked to the press (but never published). This largely unwanted exposure has even extended to Hollywood blockbusters like “Captain Phillips” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” (In the case of Delta Force, the successful—but costly—mission to capture Somali strongman Mohamed Farrah Aidid in Mogadishu in 1993 was dramatized in the movie “Blackhawk Down.”) What seems clear is that in the current media-saturated climate of 24-hour news networks, social media and government leaks, both units are finding it harder to stay under the radar.
Rivalry over high-profile missions
When it comes to the two most admired, most intimidating special ops forces in the game, it’s natural that some rivalry would exist between them. Both Delta Force and SEAL Team Six have successfully pursued high-value targets in the ongoing war on terror, but when it came to the most high-value of them all—Al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden—it was operators from Team Six that stormed his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. Some on the Delta side complained that Team Six got the go-ahead on Operation Neptune Spear because Navy admirals commanded both JSOC and the U.S. Special Operations Command, and some even blamed the SEALs themselves for courting the spotlight after the raid. But despite any rivalry, and despite the differences between the two units, they’re ultimately both on the same side in the fight against terrorism, and even work together (unofficially, of course) on many missions.