Personnel Count of US Special Operations Forces

Quote of the Day

If you check the party affiliation of someone who commits assaults before deciding how you feel about it, you're what's wrong with America.

Frank Luntz, conservative political consultant.


Figure 1: Special Operations Forces By Service.

Figure 1: Special Operations Forces By Service.

I have a son who lives in Butte, Montana – the home town of Robert O'Neill, a famous US Navy SEAL. We were discussing Mr. O'Neill's exploits one night and started to wonder about the size of the different US special operations forces. I quickly looked up some 2014 data from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and put the data into a pivot table (Figure 1). I was a bit surprised at the numbers involved – it does not surprise me that the Army has the largest contingent, but the size of the Air Force's contingent was a surprise.

Let' s break down the numbers in Figure 1 by service and unit. Also, I remind you that the data is from 2014. I am assuming the numbers have not changed significantly.

Personnel Count By Service and Unit

All of these units have civilian and military personnel. I only show the military personnel here.

US Army

Figure 2 shows the staffing for the different US Army special operations units. The only surprise to me here was that the Rangers are fewer in number than the SEALs. I found this web page that confirms these numbers.

Figure M: US Army Special Forces Staffing.

Figure 2: US Army Special Operations Forces Staffing.

US Air Force

Figure 3 shows the size of the different Air Force special operations groups. For a discussion of their general functions, see this link.

Figure M: US Air Force Special Operations Forces Staffing.

Figure 3: US Air Force Special Operations Forces Staffing.

US Navy

Figure 4 shows the unit breakdown of the the US Navy's SEALs, which are the most well known of the US special operations forces. Of the SEAL teams, the Development Group (also known as Team Six) is the most well known.

Figure M: US Navy Special Forces.

Figure 4: US Navy Special Operations Forces Staffing.

US Marine Corps

Figure 5 shows the unit breakdown of the US Marine Corps special operations units. For a discussion of their functions, see this link.

Figure 5: US Marine Corps Special Operations Forces.

Figure 5: US Marine Corps Special Operations Forces.

A Youthful Recollection

When I was in grade school, a relative who was a Ranger was killed in action during the Vietnam War. I remember seeing his picture (Figure 6) and thinking how very young he looked. I still remember how sad my father looked when he heard the news. We are fortunate to have people like Ron among us.

Figure 1: Ronald Biegert, Killed In Action During the Vietnam War.

Figure 6: Ronald Biegert, Killed In Action During the Vietnam War. (Source)










This entry was posted in Military History. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Personnel Count of US Special Operations Forces

  1. Malcolm Frame says:

    An interesting study would be to relate the total military strength of the USA , measured either in personnel numbers, hardware or expenditure as a percentage of GDP, as it expanded during wartime and then shrunk back again after the conflict, to verify the contention of the historian Bruce Cummings that, certainly until the 1950s the premise of a standing army was antithetical to the Enlightenment spirit of the US constitution. In his book "The Korean War" Cummings states that even after mobilisation of the citizenry into the armies that fought the Civil War, by the end of the 19th. century the army "withered.... to a 25,000-soldier constabulary" at a time when the nations of old Europe had standing armies of 100000's of soldiers. This trend continued through the first half of the 20th century, so that after Pearl Harbour 11 million people were were mobilized in uniform and this shrunk to about to about a half million by 1948. It seems the Korean war was the catalyst for the subsequent development of "... the enormous foreign military base structure and the domestic military -industrial complex to service it..", in effect a world-wide standing army that persists and expands even after the demise of the so-called Cold War.

    • mathscinotes says:

      There is much to discuss in your comment. When I travel to China or Europe, most people I meet with do not understand the strong isolationist attitude that many Americans still hold. To quote Louis Le Bailly, "If after five decades the now single super-power across the Atlantic divests itself of its world role (for isolationism is only just below the surface) where shall we all end up?"

      Our isolationism has deep roots. Many of our ancestors came to the US to escape the oppression of a king and his army. My own family tells the story of the Biegert brothers who came to the US from Germany to escape the draft for the Franco-Prussian War. The brothers talked about how the king did not care how many poor farm boys he killed as he made war. This tale has passed from generation to generation.

      Thus, Americans have been suspicious of a large, standing military – the suspicion centers on an army's ability to destroy our democracy and the likelihood that politicians will want to use it ("foreign entanglements"). You can see this suspicion reflected in our constitution, which authorizes Congress to "... raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years." Thus, Congress could raise an Army, but the idea of a standing army was not addressed. The framers of our constitution agreed with James Burge that a "standing army in times of peace, one of the most hurtful, and most dangerous of abuses." Even Eisenhower, both a general and president, warned the country about the rise of the military industrial complex.

      We now have the conundrum of being an isolationist nation with a large standing military and many foreign entanglements. I was recently in Portugal, and I was asked about the why the US spends so much on defense. My answer was complicated:

      • Pearl Harbor was a trauma that is still strong within us.
      • 9/11 reinforced that trauma.
      • Politicians constantly reinforce a fear narrative because it motivates people to send them money for campaigns.
      • The dirty little secret is that many defense projects are really jobs programs. Look at the F35 and how its contracts were spread among every congressional district.

      I will think about how to visualize how US defense spending has varied over time as a function of GDP.


Comments are closed.