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What Is a Military Operator?

The military includes a wide range of units with various titles and specializations, from the Navy SEALs to the Army Rangers. “Military operator” is one title that you may come across occasionally without knowing what it means. What is a military operator and what do they do?

The term military operator typically refers to members of the Special Operations Force (SOF). The SOF are elite military units trained to complete special operations. However, some individuals use the term military operator interchangeably with a military contractor, which is a person or company contracted to work for the military.

What Are Military Operators?

Military operators are members of the US Special Operations Force (SOF). The term was first used in the late 1950s when qualified officers and enlisted soldiers signed the Code of the Special Forces Operator.

The US military has expanded since the late 1950s and now includes a wide range of units with service members who may qualify as military operators. US Special Operations Forces consist of:

  • Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)
  • Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC)
  • Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
  • Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC)
  • Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)

Within these commands are additional groups with specialized training. However, the term “military operator” is often used for a select few Special Operations Forces:

  • Army Green Berets
  • Army Night Stalkers
  • Army Rangers
  • Navy SEALs
  • Marine MARSOC
  • Marine RECON
  • Air Force Special Tactics

These SOF units include elite soldiers. The units are deployed to execute specialized missions, including unconventional warfare and special reconnaissance. SOF units are involved in discreet military actions around the globe. 

Close to 70% of special operations personnel are overseen by the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). The USASOC is the largest service component of the US Special Operations Command.

While military operator is the name for members of the SOF, the term is also used interchangeably with military contractors. A military contractor is a civilian or company that provides services to the military through a contract with the Department of Defense (DoD). 

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Commandos training in Jordan
CC0 U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Commandos training in Jordan

How Do You Become a Military Operator?

Becoming a military operator requires specialized training. The path to becoming a military operator also depends on the branch of the military and unit that a service member wishes to join. Three of the most widely recognizable special forces units include:

  • The Green Berets
  • The Navy SEALs
  • The Delta Force

The Green Berets are members of the US Army Special Forces Groups, which include seven groups dedicated to different parts of the world. 

Individuals can apply to join the Green Berets after serving for at least 36 months after graduating from basic training. Enlisted soldiers need to be at least Rank E-3 (Private First Class) and pass the requirements for secret clearance. Airborne training is also required.

Training for Green Berets includes six stages completed over 63 weeks. Candidates must first pass a two-week trial.

The Navy SEALs are an elite unit under the US Naval Special Warfare Command. Navy SEALs are trained to eliminate high-level targets and carry out risky special operations in almost any setting.

Members of the Navy who want to join the SEALs need to meet specific requirements related to eyesight, age, and physical aptitude. Candidates need to be 28 years of age or younger, a US citizen, and achieve a high score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

As with the Green Berets, Navy SEALs must complete extensive training. They must first pass a 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition course followed by a 28-week qualification training program.

The Delta Force is part of the Joint Special Operations Command. It was founded in 1997 to help fight terrorism. 

A rank of E4 (Petty Officer Third Class) to E8 (Master Sergeant) is needed to join Delta Force. Candidates also need to have at least 2.5 years of service left on enlistment. 

How Do You Become a Military Contractor?

Becoming a military contractor involves different steps compared to becoming a military operator, as not all contractors need military experience. Most contractors work for private military companies (PMCs). PMCs often recruit veterans but also hire individuals with law enforcement experience. 

PMCs also require skilled individuals in non-combat roles, such as IT experts, medics, and mechanics. However, most PMC positions require clean criminal backgrounds, as applicants may need to pass various security checks.

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