NAVY SEALS, Army Green Berets, Delta Force operators. You know them for night raids and assassinations and drone strikes. They’re the tip of the spear, the elite of the elite, shadow warriors fighting shadow wars from Somalia to Syria, Iraq to the Philippines.
U.S. Special Operations forces use special weapons and employ special tactics, of course. What you probably didn’t know is that they also employ a special version of the $25,000 Pyramid game show. And a special version of the game show Jeopardy. And before their actual secret missions, they may well have played a video game called “Secret Mission.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start at the start. U.S. Special Operations Command operates a school to teach courses that are germane to special operators. The self-professed mission of Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) at MacDill Air Force base in Florida is “to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to shape the future strategic environment by providing specialized joint professional military education.”
To that end, JSOU offers courses like “Strategic Utility of Special Operations” and “Covert Action and SOF Sensitive Activities.” It also offers a course that is called “Introduction to Special Operations Forces.” Think of it as Special Ops 101. Its goal, Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw told me, “is to educate the student about the core activities, primary functions, organizations, capabilities, and doctrinal employment of U.S. Special Operations forces along with key concepts and terms.” An online course, it runs continuously and, says McGraw, is geared toward those “who have been identified to serve on a joint special operations staff, staff members at U.S. Special Operations Command, its subordinate commands and theater special operations commands.”
“Introduction to Special Operations Forces” offers five interactive lessons that guide the student through the basics of special ops. Not, that is, the artful application of camo face paint or how to use an M-32 grenade launcher, but what sets commandos apart from conventional forces, the difference between “low visibility” and “clandestine” missions, and a discussion of the increased strategic, physical, and political risk of special ops missions. The course then moves to a more advanced curriculum with lessons on everything from the composition of SOF to the concept of “Special Operations Forces Peculiar” (their unusual gear). This curriculum includes a recycled interview of former SOCOM commander Admiral William McRaven by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, as well as a mind-paralyzing explanation of the funding mechanism that pays for all the command’s rifles, night vision goggles, and floppy emerald headgear.