Green Berets and Rangers: What’s the Difference?

Members of the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Forces–the Green Berets, the Rangers, and Delta Force–appear to have been deployed to the Middle East. Another elite group, the 82nd Airborne Division, also trains for extraordinary missions. How do these four elite units differ, and what specifically do they do?

The Green Berets, Rangers, and Delta Force all report to Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Special Ops are specially trained teams that support conventional Army operations or undertake missions of their own when conventional troops are stymied. (Click here to read the Special Ops’ list of “truths,” including “Humans are more important than Hardware.”) The 82nd Airborne reports to the Army’s Forces Command, and according to a spokesperson, is currently conducting “business-as-usual” operations at Fort Bragg.

The Green Berets practice “unconventional warfare” in its many forms, according to the group’s Web site. The Green Berets are organized into elite commando units, each consisting of 12 members, which conduct stealth raids and ambushes. In addition to direct combat, Green Berets are trained for guerrilla war, sabotage, and subversion. An aspiring Green Beret must serve about three years in the Army before applying. From there, he enters a two-yearlong “pipeline” before being assigned to an operational group. Every Green Beret must learn to speak a foreign language.

Army Rangers are light infantrymen that perform many of the same duties as the Green Berets–raids, ambushes, and airfield seizures “by land, by sea, or by air.” Any 18-year-old male may apply to the Rangers when enlisting. The specialized training takes one and a half to two years. The first Ranger battalion was activated in Carrickfergus, Ireland, in 1942.

The elite and supersecret Delta Force handles counterterrorism assignments. Quartered in a remote section of Fort Bragg, the group culls the majority of its recruits–sometimes fewer than 50 per year–from the Rangers and the Green Berets. (An ex-member estimates their ranks at fewer than 1,200.) Founded during the Carter administration, the group participated in U.S. military exercises in Somalia, Panama, and Iraq. In 1980, the group was involved in the failed attempt to rescue American hostages from Iran. In 1993, Delta Force helped Colombian authorities flush drug kingpin Pablo Escobar out of hiding. The Federal Aviation Administration recently announced plans to deputize Delta Force members for in-flight protection on domestic airliners.

The 82nd Airborne specializes in parachute assaults. All members–“from cook to computer operator”–must pass the airborne training program. After serving as an infantry unit during World War I, the division gained acclaim by participating in the largest airborne assault to date at Normandy in 1944.

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Explainer thanks Sgt. 1st Class Pamela Smith of 82nd Airborne, Maj. Ryan Yantis of the Army Information Office, and Carol Darby of Army Special Operations Command.