With the Pentagon making strides to include women in combat arms roles, you might actually be surprised to hear that the Army's top counterterrorism force has included female operatives for nearly 30 years.
That's right, the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment "D," also known as "Delta Force," has a history of hiring female soldiers to serve alongside male operators, having begun the practice in the 1990s.
More commonly referred to as "the Unit," Delta Force is home to some of the most elite soldiers in the world, famously called "operators." The selection phase for prospective operators is nothing short of grueling. Former Delta operator Eric Haney details in his book, "Inside Delta Force," this process which sees candidates hike and orient over adverse terrain, perform rigorous physical testing and training, and psychological evaluations.
Members of the U.S. Army Cultural Support Team, attached to Special Operations Task Force - South, speak with women of the Shotor Gardan village in northern Khakrez District, Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
Upon completion, a candidate isn't out of the woods yet, and can still be dropped or withdrawn from the course if the instructor cadre feels he's unfit to serve with the unit.
An intensive Operators Training Course follows, which trains each soldier in a variety of skills which they'll eventually use in real world situations. Millions (you read that correctly) of rounds of ammunition are expended on a monthly basis, honing each candidate's proficiency with a variety of firearms. Vehicle instruction, VIP protection, surveillance, and even tradecraft (i.e. the art of spying) are all part of the OTC curriculum.
Also read: The definitive guide to US special ops
Operators are trained to blend into any environment and urban setting, though sometimes, that's very difficult to do with a gaggle of military-aged males hanging around in groups.
In 1982, the Unit attempted to solve this problem by recruiting female operators. After putting a small group of candidates through a modified, yet still highly arduous, selection course, four women were able to graduate and meet the standard set before them. However, this solution turned out to be a bust, due to friction between male operators and the new female selectees to the unit.
Eight years later, Delta made another attempt to bring women into the fold, after SEAL Team 6 the Navy's counterpart to the Unit, had demonstrated some success in pairing a female petty officer with a frogman, posing as a romantic couple, while reconnoitering objectives in Panama prior to Operation Just Cause in 1989.
In 1990, Delta began targeted recruitment initiatives that brought women into what was then referred to as the Operational Support Troop. Female candidates were once again put through a difficult unique selection and training course in order to bring them up to speed on firearms usage, espionage skills and tradecraft, advanced driving techniques and more, so that they could serve on surveillance and reconnaissance missions overseas along with male operators.
U.S. Army Cultural Support Team soldiers, with Special Operations Task Force – South, speak with a young Afghan girl in Darvishan Village, Khakrez District, Afghanistan, June 10, 2011. The CST serve as enablers, supporting U.S. Army special operations forces by engaging the female population. The CST also assist in medical civic action programs, search and seizures, humanitarian assistance and civil-military operations.
Among the first female operators to be recruited to the Unit's OST was, in fact, the same Navy petty officer who served briefly with SEAL Team 6 in Panama, according to Sean Naylor in his book "Relentless Strike." Later on, the OST was re-branded as "G Squadron" — a name which it apparently still has today.
In the mid-to-late '90s, Delta Force was active in the Balkans, along with SEAL Team 6. It's since been understood that female members of G Squadron were critical in helping make Delta missions a success in the region, with male and female operators posing together as lovers or married couples while conducting surveillance.
Today, the recruitment, selection and training process for G Squadron members is wholly unknown and completely classified, as is the modern iteration of OTC for Delta's assault-troop operators. The requirements for OTC still stipulate that candidates sent over for selection be male, so it could be assumed that female operators continue to be brought in and trained through a modified program of their own.
However, what we do know is that women do indeed operate with the most elite special operations force in the world, undercover and sometimes even in plain sight.