Delta Force laid groundwork for special operations

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Delta Force laid groundwork for special operations

By Henry Cuningham
Military editor

An aerial view shows the Delta Force compound on Butner Road on Fort Bragg in the late 1970s. The building previously was a post stockade. Delta has since moved away and the building now is a headquarters for military police.

File photo by Ken CookeAn aerial view shows the Delta Force compound on Butner Road on Fort Bragg in the late 1970s. The building previously was a post stockade. Delta has since moved away and the building now is a headquarters for military police.Capt. Jerry Boykin had no idea what he was getting into in 1978 when he responded to an invitation to volunteer for a mysterious unit being formed at Fort Bragg.
He had ligament and cartilage tears in both knees after playing guard on the Virginia Tech football team, but he made it through the selection process to become one of the first members of Delta Force.
“I was blessed,” Boykin said. “I had some divine intervention to get through the course.”
The North Carolina native would spend most of his Army career in special operations and eventually command the counterterrorist unit, whose current activities are cloaked in secrecy but have inspired books, films, TV shows and video games.
He retired from the Army in June as a three-star general after serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence at the Pentagon.
Several members of the original Delta Force, including retired Col. Charlie Beckwith, have written books about the early days.
Boykin, whose pseudonym was “Maj. Snuffy” in Beckwith’s book, discussed the experience in an interview after his retirement.
He credits those early days with laying the foundation for special operations people, equipment and procedures that are being used in the war on terrorism.
“We were full of excitement and expectation,” he said. “We had no playbook. There was no curriculum for what we were going to do to train this new Delta Force.”
The original home was the former stockade on Butner Road, now a military police headquarters.
Beckwith, the commander, had promised an “initial capability” within six months and a “full capability” within two years. The first objective was to get ready for the six-month evaluation.
The days were long and the work extended to weekends.
On Thursdays and Fridays, leaders would plan training for the following week — how to ambush a vehicle, climb a building, breech with explosives.
“By Monday, we were ready to start doing our thing,” he said. “We were training ourselves and developing our own concept for what we needed to be able to do.”
Training eventually became more structured, but initially, “We were doing it on the fly,” he said.
‘Charging Charlie’
The militaries of other countries had specialized units to rescue hostages and fight terrorists. The United States did not. Beckwith, who was known as “Charging Charlie,” had pressed the idea on a reluctant Army hierarchy.
“Beckwith was the most complex man I’ve ever seen,” Boykin said. “Leadership by example was not Beckwith’s strong suit. He didn’t set a good example, but Beckwith was a brilliant man.”
Beckwith would not let his soldiers write anything down.
“He would not let us capture in writing doctrine, tactics, techniques and procedures,” Boykin said. “The reason was, he said, ‘Once you start doing that, other people will lay their hands on it. They will start duplicating that, and then they will make a case they can do anything you can do. They will go buy the same equipment.’”
But one-on-one contacts with Beckwith brought out the commander’s intelligence and integrity, Boykin said.
“The guy really was a very deep thinker,” Boykin said. “The guy had tremendous moral courage.”
Boykin recalls Beckwith telling Gen. Bernard Rogers, the Army chief of staff, that Lt. Gen. Volney Warner, the commander of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, was not supporting him.

Staff photo by Stephanie Bruce
Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin was one of the first members of Delta Force.​

“Now, that took a lot of courage,” Boykin said. “It caused a lot of friction, too. Beckwith was a bull in a china closet. At the same time he was a creative genius.”
Iran hostages
Delta was part of an effort to rescue hostages taken from the U.S. embassy in Iran in April 1980.
Boykin was the leader of the team that was going to clear a stadium and set up a helicopter landing zone.
“We were going in there and kill anybody that was trying to stop us in the stadium and get out on the soccer field,” he said.
The would-be rescuers never even reached Teheran, the Iranian capital. Eight men died in the collision of a C-130 cargo airplane and a helicopter at a desert refueling site.
“At that time, I thought we would be successful because we wanted it so much, worked so hard for it,” Boykin said. “I was concerned that we were going to have more casualties than were anticipated. I was concerned there would be casualties among the hostages as well as the assault force.”
The early Delta Force was called into action for the Grenada invasion in October 1983. It was the first time Delta had participated in a large-scale operation involving Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The operation went off without time for rehearsal with the other forces.
“We assaulted our targets in daylight, which we would not have done had we been able to have chosen the timing of the operation,” he said.
Boykin remembers sitting in the door of a helicopter as he flew out of Barbados across the beautiful aqua water of the Caribbean.
“All of a sudden, there was jungle,” he said. “There were villagers waving and cheering as we flew across.”
Suddenly, .50-caliber bullets were being fired at the helicopter.
“I got hit so early that I don’t remember a whole lot about the overall fight,” he said.
He was hit in the side of his chest. A round went up through his armpit and came out the top of his shoulder. The bone in his arm was shattered.
“I didn’t have the use of my arm for a very long time,” he said. Boykin, a self-described evangelical, believes divine intervention saved his life twice.
The first decade of Delta laid the groundwork for special operations during the Panama invasion and the conflicts in the Middle East.
“That is something that has now come into its own with the things that the special operations are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “But we are also doing that on a global scale. We started out with relatively simple tactics and techniques and technology.”
In the following years, special operations forces would help chase Saddam Hussein and his family, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
“Those successes really are the next level of what we started many years ago in terms of chasing bad guys,” he said. “It has progressively gotten better and better and better until today we have a tremendous capability.”
Military editor Henry Cuningham can be reached at or 486-3585.
Having been stationed at Bragg in the '70's the location of Delta was never a big secret.
Give me a break!!

Special Forces laid the ground work for special operations. Any Group given a quarter the budget and resources Delta gets and the results would have been achieved. That whole Joint business keeps the spectators happy but, lets call a spade a spade. Back in the 80's and 90's if a Team wanted to do some training in CT, it was Generals like Boykin that put a stop to it in Group. We had to be more creative and call it something else. Delta, give me a break and take JSOC with it.
You could even extrapolate much further back than more recent history and start looking at Francis Drake or Cortez and Pizzaro. Those guys did things militarily that had never been thought of previously, with great success. You might even call what they did 'special', in the sense that it went against the grain of existing military strategy and tactics.

ODA CDR makes a good point, as many of the original members of that unit were drawn from existing SOF units. I wouldn't be surprised if there were many who could have qualified, but decided SF was the way to go.
So nothing against Delta, fuck that!

Don't get me wrong. Some operators in Delta are world class. Guess what, so are many members of ODAs. It's the mentality of the commanders that come out of that unit and take charge of other special operations units at higher commands. They will always have their hearts and minds there and Special Forces get the short end of the stick. Boykin is a perfect example.