The troops that make up U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) include some of the most elite fighters in the U.S. military across all branches, including the Army Green Berets and Navy SEALS.
They’re perhaps best known for going after high-value targets like Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Sayyef, and for conducting high-profile hostage rescue missions.
But that’s not all they do. Specials Ops forces are also involved in reconnaissance, counterinsurgency, humanitarian assistance and a host of other highly specialized activities.
SOCOM also places a high value on less tangible characteristics in its recruits, such as courage, integrity, humility, creativity and resiliency.
When candidates first apply to join Special Ops, they are evaluated on their ability to lead and work with others. This plays a big part in whether or not they make the cut.
Here are 10 other facts that shed some light into who they are:
1. On average, Special Operations forces are married with two kids
Special Ops troops aren’t fresh-faced, straight-out-of-high-school recruits. Despite the pressures of such a high-octane job, they are, on average, married with kids. The average age for an enlisted member is 29 and for officers, 34.
2. They generally have eight years of experience in the conventional forces
Chances are, Special Ops troops probably didn’t start their military career in special forces. They most likely had training in another sector of the military before being recruited into special forces.
3. They can carry up to 100 pounds of gear in their rucksacks
Special Operations forces are strong — strong enough to be able to carry 100 pounds of gear in their rucksacks. Additionally, all of their survival gear is kept in their pockets — including a pen and notepad, maps, GPS device, knives, grenades and a flashlight — so that they are ready for whatever situation is thrown at them.
4. They have their own university — and are likely to have a college degree
The Special Operations university, called the Joint Special Operations University, is located at the MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. The university serves active duty, reserve and civilian faculty members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The university is offered at no cost to the student.
5. They know how to speak a language beside English
Special Operations isn’t just about brawn — troops are also valued for their superior intelligence. They score better than average at the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and many have college degrees.
Once they join, they receive cultural and language training to give them a deep understanding of the regions in which they’ll eventually operate. All Special Operations forces know how to speak a language other than English. They also have the opportunity to learn any of 35 different languages taught at the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School.
6. They were created by Congress
The forces were created through congressional action in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Nuhn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987.
The creation of a Special Operations force was sparked after the command and structure of the U.S. military special led to the failure of Operation Eagle Claw in 1980.
Operation Eagle Claw was a mission orderd by then-President Jimmy Carter to try to end the Iran hostage crisis by rescuing U.S. diplomats that were being held at the embassy in Iran.
7. Everyone has a certain level of medical training
Special Operations forces often deploy to remote areas where there is little medical care. As a result, they receive some medical training to help each other if wounded until they reach more advanced care.
They also have access to new technologies that help them when they, or a comrade, are injured in the field. They include a SharkBite Kit and Freeze Dried Plasma, which were developed with SOCOM support.
8. They provide aid in humanitarian crises when other units are not available
Special Operations forces have unique skills and capabilities and are often positioned in areas where they can help in the case of a humanitarian crisis. They’ve provided humanitarian assistance after the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, tsunamis in Japan and avalanches in Afghanistan.
9. They often play team sports such as water polo, wrestling or football
Special Operators are also trained in hand-to-hand combat and advanced marksmanship. They’re incredibly physically fit and are trained by some of the same people who train professional, collegiate and Olympic-level athletes. They also learn skill sets such as scuba diving, land navigation and insertion methods into hostile areas.
Oh, and they train constantly under every condition imaginable.
10. They can grow beards
Operators have special grooming standards, separate from the rest of the military. They’re allowed to have beards and long hair if they choose to when other service members may not. It’s allowed so that they have the opportunity to blend in with the communities they work in, such as in Afghanistan, where beards are common.