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How the Green Berets Work

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Green Berets Psychological Operations
A soldier posts flyers over graffiti on a wall in Iraq as part of a Psychological Operations mission.
A soldier posts flyers over graffiti on a wall in Iraq as part of a Psychological Operations mission.
Photo Courtesy USASOC

Winning a war requires more than an ample armory, supplies and troops. It also helps tremendously to have the support (or at least compliance) of the local population. When Brigadier General Robert McClure helped found the Green Berets in 1952, he was aware that conventional tactics required psychological help. Propaganda had been used extensively in World War II, and in varying degrees in every war in which America fought before that. But McClure helped bring the psychology of winning the "hearts and minds" of an invaded people into the realm of military science.

Since their inception, the Green Berets have always received training in Psychological Operations (PSYOPs) at the Psychological Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, N.C. This training is interconnected and supported by the Green Berets' training in language, cultural sensitivity and intense study of the group's Areas of Operation (AOs). By understanding the values held by the people of an area, Green Berets can help tailor the messages contained in psychological operations for maximum effect. Large-scale psychological operations are created by the psychological operations command, the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC). But actual missions on the ground are often carried out by the Green Berets.

Convincing an invaded people that occupation of their country by the U.S. is ultimately beneficial to them can be a monumental task. Even assuring an occupied population that the military means them no harm can have far-reaching effects on the outcome of a war. PSYOPs also figure largely into a Green Beret's duties following war -- advising a leader how to gain the support of a disaffected group within the larger population, for example.

Psychological Ops Techniques

PSYOPs can take many forms, but are often composed of a wide array of propaganda techniques. Some are extremely obvious, like encouraging locals to turn in militants through pamphlets and leaflets dropped from airplanes. Other techniques include broadcasting messages via local television and radio.

Personal contact is also important, such as patrols aimed at greeting the local population and including acts of benevolence and humanitarian aid (more on that later). The sight of a soldier giving a little girl a teddy bear or a platoon handing out water can have a positive effect on the way the United States military is perceived. It's the role of the Green Berets to determine the most effective ways for PSYOPs to be carried out, and Green Berets may also take a direct role in their execution as well.

This may not always take place in the context of a war. Sometimes PSYOPs can be used to prevent war. In Haiti in early 1994, the United States was poised to invade the Caribbean Island to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power and topple the military regime governing the country. In the operation designated Uphold Democracy Green Berets carried out PSYOPs, featuring leaflet drops and radio broadcasts from Aristide, and were able to convince Haitian citizens that "democratization" would be beneficial for their nation. These propaganda operations were considered extremely successful, and conventional United States forces entering Haiti met little armed resistance -- saving casualties on both sides.

In the next section, we'll learn about the humanitarian role that Green Berets play.