October 22, 2013:
U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has found competition is an excellent way to keep their personnel in top shape. SOCOM has a force of 12,000 carefully selected and highly trained “operatives” to carry out difficult commando, intelligence gathering, or training missions. These include U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, and Rangers, as well as special operations specialists from the air force and marines. All these personnel must constantly be tested to verify that they have adequately maintained their skills.
The Special Forces have developed several competitions to allow operatives to demonstrate their skills and determine which of them is the best, at the moment. This involves having each of the 4 Special Forces battalions on a Special Forces group select which of its 18 "A Teams" (officially known as ODAs or Operational Detachment Alpha) is best and have these 4 best ODAs compete in 2 days of events, testing the wide range of skills Special Forces operators have and must maintain. The winning ODA is then, until the next annual competition, the best in the group. Each ODA has 12 men and they often work together for years and develop a high degree of teamwork. For these competitions each ODA must use its regular members and no substitutions are allowed. If someone is out sick or for any other reason the ODA must carry on with the operators on hand, just as it must do in combat.
There are 5 active duty Special Forces Groups. Each Special Forces group has a small headquarters unit and 4 Special Forces battalions. Each Special Forces battalion has a small headquarters (known as a C detachment), 3 operational companies, and 1 support company. Each operational company has 6 ODAs. Total strength of a Special Forces company is 83 men. The company headquarters is called a B Team. Total strength of a Special Forces Group is about 1,500 troops, when at full strength.
The use of competition capitalizes on the urge of all these highly skilled operatives to obtain and retain a wide array of skills. The competitions not only rank the different A Teams but also demonstrate the overall training and skill level of the entire Special Forces Group.