Service members sit in vehicle

A Look Into Joining the Military’s Elite Forces in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force

U.S. service members already serve their country as part of one of the finest fighting forces the world has ever seen. Some special operations units have even higher standards than the general force. Learn what it takes to pursue a career in the elite forces – whether you’re a prospective recruit or a currently enlisted service member.

Army special forces: Rangers, Night Stalkers and Green Berets

Do you have what it takes to join the elite Army Rangers of the 75th Ranger Regiment? Maybe you’d rather be a Night Stalker in the Special Operations Aviation Regiment, SOAR, or possibly a Green Beret.

Generally, soldiers in any of these units:

  • Are U.S. citizens
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Qualify for secret security clearances
  • Hold General Technical Scores of about 110 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB
  • Meet or exceed fitness requirements. Expect pull-ups, push-ups, timed runs and 10-mile marches carrying a 45-pound rucksack. And, lots of swimming.
Army Ranger participates in a training exercise.

You can request assignment to an Army special forces unit when you first enlist. A recommendation to attend the Special Operations Preparation Course depends on your ASVAB results and how you perform during basic and advanced individual training.

You can also join after you enlist or become an officer. You’ll generally need three years of honorable service before qualifying.

Marine Corps and Navy special forces: Raiders, Force RECON and SEAL teams

First, the Marine Corps has two primary special operations forces: The Marine Raiders and the Force RECON units. As part of the Special Operations Command, the Raiders run small lethal teams to eliminate targets. Force RECON units are run by the Marine Expeditionary Force Commander, and their primary goal is information gathering in dangerous territory.

To join either the Raiders or the Force RECON units, Marines usually need to:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Have a high school diploma or GED
  • Swim very well – with and without fins – as well as run, jump and climb. The Raiders have a free fitness app for both iPhones and Android phones you can use to prepare.
  • Be able to get a secret security clearance
  • Graduate both boot camp and the School of Infantry
  • Have three years of honorable service, if transferring after enlistment

Then, there’s the Navy’s elite force, the SEAL teams, which accomplish missions from air, land and sea.

Navy Seal jumps out of a helicopter for a training exercise.

You can apply to become a Navy SEAL as a civilian, a Navy sailor or even as a service member from another military branch. Both new recruits and active-duty military candidates must pass a battery of physical, technical and psychological exams. Once they qualify, future SEAL team members spend years in training before they deploy on missions.

Air Force Special Tactics teams: Pararescuemen, combat controllers and weathermen

Enlisted Air Force airmen can serve on Special Tactics teams, some of the most elite forces offered by the Air Force.

You can become a FAA-certified air traffic controller as a combat controller, coordinating air traffic in remote and hostile environments. Special operations weathermen serve with both Air Force and Army Special Operations units to make weather reports and predictions. Finally, pararescuemen, or “PJs” for para-jumpers, rescue stranded aircrews from the most extreme conditions.

Airmen in each of these jobs generally:

  • Are U.S. citizens
  • Have at least a high school diploma or GED
  • Complete years’ worth of specialized training after basic training. Special ops weathermen spend 61 weeks in training before they deploy, while combat controllers train for 35 weeks.
  • Be extremely comfortable with heights. All members of Air Force Special Tactics teams must be able to parachute.

There are additional requirements for each of these specialties. PJs must also be SCUBA divers, for example, and special ops weathermen must have high Electronics ASVAB scores.

Air Force pararescue men jump from an aircraft.

If you’re interested in pursuing a military career in the elite forces, ask your commanding officer about next steps – and start preparing yourself now for one of the toughest challenges you’ll ever encounter.


Learn more about all the ways Military OneSource is your connection to information, answers and support to help you overcome challenges, reach your goals and thrive.