How the Green Berets Work

Green Berets Detachment Structure

Green Berets in training at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Green Berets in training at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Photo courtesy USASOC

Green Berets are trained to fill a specific role within the smallest detachment structure, the Alpha Team (A-Team). Within this 12-man detachment, there are two leadership positions: the Commanding Officer and the second-in-command, the Warrant Officer.

The other 10 positions are made up of pairs of five specialist positions, including Intelligence and Operations Sergeant, Communications Sergeant, Medical Officer, Weapons Sergeant and Engineer Sergeant.

Each position has a redundancy so that an A-Team can split into two sustainable groups if necessary.

Positions in an A-Team

  • The Commanding Officer and the Warrant Officer determine the best course of action to take throughout the mission, and must be able to adapt and change plans as necessary. In addition to serving as the commanding officers of guerrilla and insurgent armies assembled by the A-team they may also advise foregin leaders and officials.
  • Intelligence and Operations Sergeants gather and analyze intelligence on conditions in foreign territories the A-Team occupies and on the enemy. They are also charged with outfitting the detachment with the supplies and equipment they need.
  • Communications Sergeants are in charge of the sophisticated communications equipment the team carries. They are also the soldiers who relay any information gathered by the Intelligence Sergeants back to Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The Communications Sergeant may also be responsible for carrying out any Psychological Operations (PSYOP) related to broadcasting.
  • Medical Officers are equipped to perform field surgery, set up hospitals, offer healthcare to local peoples, and care for the health needs of the detachment. In addition to the regular training each receives as a Green Beret, the Medical Officers receive an additional 10 months of medical training.
  • Weapons Sergeants are trained not only in weapons used by the American military, but are also experts in the weapons in use in their AO. They have the ability to train others, including armies assembled by the team, in weapon use.
  • Engineer Sergeants plan the logistics of the mission. They serve as navigators and design needed structures in the field such as impromptu bridges. They are also trained in demolitions and sabotage.

Within the six A-Teams that form a single Special Forces company, one team receives special training in airborne insertion, and another team is trained in underwater insertion. Both of these tactics, along with ground infiltration, are used to get Green Berets quickly and quietly behind enemy lines.

All special forces groups, including the Green Berets, fall under the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). In 1986, the Department of Defense Reorganization Act gave the Special Forces more room to operate. This Act created the civilian position of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, a position that oversees special operations. By creating a position directly responsible for government oversight and approval of special operations, the United States government not only gave the Special Forces more agility at carrying out its missions, but also created more accountability as well.

The operations these highly skilled soldiers undertake can be lumped into three general groups: wartime operations, post-hostility/peacetime operations and humanitarian missions. The goals and parameters of an operation depend largely on the context in which the mission takes place. Operations may overlap and be similar: Direct action in wartime may have the goal of ending the war, while direct action in peacetime may aim to prevent a war from starting. In the next sections, we'll examine each type of Green Beret operation.