Skip to main content

American necessity for unconventional warfare

As the 1950’s came to a close, President Kennedy saw that the failures of traditional military tactics were taking a heavy toll on American lives and saw a need to encompass unconventional warfare in the American battle plan. Large groups of military personnel were easily tracked, trapped, and neutralized by enemy guerilla fighters, and the President made the executive decision to implement new troops trained in special warfare operations in order to counter the Vietcong offensive.

Green Beret

The Army and Navy can trace their special warfare origins back to World War Two, but during the Vietnam War, President Kennedy was so enthused by their potential success in combating the Vietcong insurgents in Southern Vietnam that he revamped the standing special forces and implemented in new strength in Vietnam. First, in 1961, Kennedy personally met with the Army First Special Forces in Fort Bragg. The president was so impressed that he immediately put them in charge of Special Forces operations in Vietnam, and dubbed this group the “Army Green Berets” because of their distinctive headgear (Kelly 5).

The Army First Special Forces, called the “Army Green Berets,” were named thus because of the distinguishing headwear these elite units wore.  Green Berets painted their faces when going on mission to further conceal themselves and operate with extreme stealth.  The Vietcong referred to these Green Berets (and Navy SEALs) as “monsters with green faces” because of their ability to seemingly appear out of nowhere and accomplish their mission.

Navy SEALs

A year later Kennedy made similar improvements to the Naval Special Warfare community. From the existing Navy underwater demolitions teams - which had made the beach landings at Normandy, Iwo Jima possible and many more amphibious offensives during WW2 possible  - Kennedy pulled the best and brightest operators to create the first members of SEAL Teams One and Two.

Navy SEALs were the most well-trained soldiers in the American military for water patrols.  Frequently in the war, SEAL teams were sent on boats – such as the one pictured above, of a SEAL boat in the Mekong River Delta – to eliminate enemy guerrillas.  SEALs were stealthy, elite fighters, and they were capable of using less manpower and supplies to greater achieve an objective infantry units were incapable of doing (“SEAL History…”).

 

Kennedy’s new groups of special warfare operators were meticulously trained in insurgency, counter-insurgency, surveillance and reconnaissance, ambushing, stealth, prisoner-rescue operations. He had effectively created the world’s most highly trained guerilla fighters to combat America’s Vietnamese opposition. Although the traditional military forces continued to operate as they had before, the newly implemented groups of Special Warfare fighters had astounding success in neutralizing enemy personnel and planning; American special forces conducted most of their operations under the cover of nightfall, stealthily inserting themselves in known enemy locations to make quick attacks or surveil potential enemy spaces in order to gather intelligence about Vietcong movements.

 

The success of special forces in Vietnam was directly a result of their differentiation from the traditional American military in Vietnam. Infantry units moved in large, easily tracked groups, often wandering unknown territory waiting for the possibility of meeting the enemy with a barrage of gunfire. Special forces operations were much less reactionary; traditionally operating in a firing squad composed of only six members, and they would take the fight directly to an unsuspecting enemy. The Navy SEALs alone, who only operated in Vietnam for six years, had no member go missing or get captured, and they suffered a mere forty-two KIAs but completed over 600 confirmed kills and another 300 probable (but unconfirmed) kills (“SEAL History…”).