Delta Force Gets a Name Change

You know them as the "Delta Force," the elite team of military commandos who bust in places, kill the bad guys, and do the nation's necessary dirty work. More accurately, they've been busting their hump as lawnmowers against Al Qaeda and Iranian proxies for nine years on relentless three-month rotations.

For years, the military has delicately referred to this special missions unit (SMU) as "CAG," which stands for "Combat Applications Group (Airborne)."

That's because, although its existence is widely known, although dozens of books have been published by former Delta Force operators about their experiences, the SMUs are not acknowledged. If you want to impress your military friends, dropping a "CAG" here and there wasn't a bad way to go.

But CAG ... is no more. For at least the past several months, and maybe even longer, the unclassified designation for the Delta Force squadrons has been something different: they're now called "Army Compartmented Elements," or "ACE." 

Why? Well, the Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the special missions units, likes to change the unit designation from time to time, in order to provide the unit with an extra bit of cover for its sensitive operations. Collectively, the SMUs of JSOC (sounds like a Klingon soap opera) form what's known as the "National Missions Force," distinguished thusly because they are not allocated to regional combatant commands.

However, since "ACE" is unclassified -- just Google it, and you can easily find people who openly identified as "Delta Force" commanders calling themselves commanders of the compartmented elements -- it is a secret that serves little purpose. ACE is listed on a public phone directory published on Ft. Bragg's web site. (ACE is described as belonging to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Also, think about it. "Army Compartmented Element." Compartmented? It's set off from others; e.g, secret. Element? A fancy word for group, or unit. So it literally means "Army Secret Unit."

Every so often, the Defense Security Service, which is in charge of counter-intelligence for the Pentagon, will send investigators into the innermost realms of JSOC offices in Washington State, Virginia, Colorado, and North Carolina, and tell employees to stop what they're doing, move away from their desks, and leave the room. DSS will then audit the paper lying about to see what sorts of information isn't stored properly. Then they'll Google various acronyms to see if unit designations have been published. And then, based on their recommendations, JSOC will change them.

Another storied unit, the Navy's SEAL Team Six, has also had its cover name changed. No longer is it called the "Naval Special Warfare Development Group," or DevGru.

But a senior defense official asked that its new cover name not be made public because there is currently no open source reference to the designation.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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