Editor’s Note: The following piece on the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, also known as Delta Force, was penned by legendary Delta operator, Master Sergeant George E. Hand IV (retired).
The Delta Force, like so many other organizations, is the answer to a problem. If you can consider that our country’s civic police force is the answer to a very general problem — the domestic physical safety of the population — then you could view the Delta Force as an answer to some very specific and complex problems.
Domestic protection in our country comes in the form of our police departments, our National Guard forces, Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, and others. Our Armed Forces — Army, Navy, Air Force, etc. — protect our nation and its interests abroad, a feat that can only be accomplished by relatively powerful nations like our own.
There came a time when our country realized we did not boast an adequate capability to cope with one of the developing scourges of international terrorism of the time; that is, an aviation hijack situation. To clarify, there are basically two ways to respond to a hijacked airliner — wait it out and negotiate with the terrorist(s) hoping you can win the semblance of a decent outcome, or you can seize the initiative and carry the fight to the terrorist. Being Americans, we prefer the latter of the choices.
Imagine a large jet airliner with hundreds of people on board. Next time you are traveling by air look around and try to imagine the complexity of breaking into and storming aboard and airliner filled with people and blaze through the aircraft trying to only shoot the terrorist(s) — somehow.
To accomplish the arguably monumental task we need a breed of person with hard-to-find balance of specific traits. Perhaps those traits should include a person who is in good physical form. Not some guy who follows a yoga workout on YouTube, or the guy who goes to the gym to discuss working out for an hour then hits the showers. Not the guy who joined a weekend jogging club or owns several bicycle riding costumes but never actually rides a lot.
Maybe we need huge guys who can bench press Volkswagens. Sounds legit, aw… but big guys typically can’t run fast and long and can’t climb to well or fit though holes that are almost too small for them. Ok then perhaps we want those guys that run olympic marathons and can actually compete with the Kenyans. Sounds good, but those guys don’t boast much upper body strength or look like they can carry other than tiny nylon shorts, a tank top T-shirt, and $2,000.00 running shoes that weight as much as a handful of raisins.
So far we have have an Arnold Schwarzenegger who can out-run Kung Bushmen in the Kalahari desert. We’re almost done… what else do we need. We need someone who will routinely perform actions that he believes he might die performing. And if we give that person a pistol and a photo of a person who he is to find and kill in a public setting, he can’t pause at the moment of pulling that trigger and think: “Aw man, he doesn’t look like such a bad guy up close.”
So our guy has to be able to kill without hesitation, but can’t be free-lancing with that skill on weekends away from the job. Our candidate has to be a highly moral person with extraordinary self-discipline who will FOLLOW ORDERS. Following orders isn’t cool; nobody wants to do it because everyone is too cool.
As for self discipline and following orders, I think I demonstrated those concepts accidentally when I was five years old. My mother decided she was going to teach me the dangers of fire from a technique she read in “Readers Digest.” She handed me a book of matches and told me to light one and hold it.
With her smug face she waited for the flame to burn close enough to my fingers that I would certainly drop it and learn my valuable lesson. To her horror I held the match until the flame burned all the way down and snuffed itself out on my severely blistered fingers. I cried out but stayed firm. My terrified mother:
(both palms on her forehead) “Why didn’t you drop that match???”
(geo) “Because you told me to hold it.”
The debate here is whether or not I was too stupid to drop the match or was I so disciplined as to follow instructions. I can assure you that while I was indeed pretty stupid at five years old, I understood as well as the Frankenstein monster that FIRE BURN…FIRE HOT!! So we have our man now: speed, endurance, strength, morals, discipline, bravery. My God… we have a Boy Scout! —just kidding.
The airliners we used were in-service aircraft typically between flights. Delta purchased the flights to include the flight crew. Passengers were role players gathered and recruited by our operations and logistic crews. They were high school students, families of first responders — policemen, firemen, and the like. So we had a real airliner with all the typical passengers you would see on any flight. Then Delta men specially selected to perform the role of the terrorist work out their scenario play and assimilate in with the passengers.
The assault could begin in another state with the assault force being flown in to the airport where the “hijacked” aircraft was located. In one scenario we descended from the passenger compartment down into the luggage hold. We threw ropes outside and slid down the ropes as our aircraft taxied behind the hijacked aircraft. Scattered behind the target we assembled and began our clandestine approach to the target. Our men aboard the target were watching for us, and if we were to do something sloppy or wrong we would be compromised.
The Delta Force was implemented to solve a problem. Today they solve problems still, any problem on Earth that arises that is too complicated or daring for any other facet of our armed forces. Delta is phenomenally resourced and generously funded. It is because I understood what it means to be richly funded that I recognize the monumental value of our United States Marines, a force that is asked to perform incredible tasks with an absolute insult of a budget.
I often think of the Delta Force as the one unit that National Command Authority holds with no pretense toward capability and expectations, therefore resourcing it thusly and removing all semblance of bullshit. There is almost no Army there, yet many of the best men who have ever traversed the Army have been there.
By Almighty God and with honor,