Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA): Main operational element of Army Special Forces

3rd Special Forces Group. 2nd Batallion Charlie company. ODA 3236
3rd Special Forces Group. 2nd Batallion Charlie company. ODA 3236 (Photo: IMGUR)

The Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA, A-Team, SFOD-A) is the operational element of Special Forces. It is designed to conduct operations completely independently, unlike the rest of the army, which has a hierarchy of tactical and strategic operations. Operational Detachment Alpha is the primary fighting force of the U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets).

Special Forces Group Organizational Chart

A-Team is taken from Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha, or SFOD-A, usually shortened to ODA, and then to A-Team.  Its higher command is a B-Team, Operational Detachment Bravo, or ODB. This is the equivalent of a company. There are five A-teams per B-team. Above that is the C-Team, Operational Detachment Charlie, or ODC. This is the equivalent of a battalion. There are three B-teams, thus fifteen A-teams, in each Special Forces Battalion. Then there are three SF Battalions in a Special Forces Group. Got it? Right.

U.S. Army Special Forces Organizational Chart
U.S. Army Special Forces Organizational Chart (Photo: American Special Ops)

Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) structure

In fact, an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) is a Green Beret tactical team (in laymen’s terms). Also called an “A-Team,” it consists of two weapons sergeants(18B), two comms sergeants (18E), two medics (18D), two engineers (18C) (demo experts), one intel specialist (18F), one operations sergeant(18Z), a warrant officer (180A), and a team leader (a captain, 18A).

U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) structure
U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) structure (Photo: XY)

An ODA consists of twelve men as follows:

Team Leader

A captain who exercises command of the detachment can command/advise an indigenous combat force up to battalion level. Note that this fits in alignment with Special Forces’ primary mission of being a force multiplier. A battalion of fifteen A-Team can recruit, organize, train, and fielding fifteen battalions of indigenous troops.

Team Sergeant

Officially known as the Operations Sergeant and the senior enlisted member of the detachment. He advises the team leader on operations and training matters. He provides tactical and technical guidance and professional support to detachment members. He prepares the operations and training portions of area studies, brief backs, and OPLANs, all of which we will discuss later. He can recruit, organize, train, and supervise indigenous forces up to battalion size.

Executive Officer

Officially known as the detachment technician. Serves as second in command and ensures that the detachment commander’s decisions and concepts are implemented. He prepares the administrative and logistical portions of area studies, brief backs, and plans. A warrant officer fills this position. When I joined Special Forces, this was filled by a First Lieutenant, but it changed shortly afterward. I was one of the last of the First Lieutenants in Special Forces.

The Assistant Operations and Intelligence Sergeant

Plans coordinates, and directs the detachment’s intelligence collections, analysis, production, and dissemination. He also assists the Operations Sergeant and replaces him when needed.

Two Weapons Sergeants

Employ conventional and Unconventional Warfare (UW) tactics as tactical mission leaders. They train detachment members and indigenous personnel to use individual small arms, light crew-served weapons, and anti-air and anti-armor weapons. They recruit, organize, train, and advise or command indigenous combat forces up to company size.

U.S. Army Special Forces Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha in Afghanistan
The operator of the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha firing his gun (Photo: Pinterest/Green Berets)

Two Engineer Sergeants

Supervise, lead, plan, perform, and instruct all aspects of combat engineering and light construction engineering. They construct and employ improvised munitions. They plan and perform sabotage operations. They recruit, organize, train, and advise or command indigenous combat forces up to company size.

Two Medical Sergeants

Provide emergency, routine, and long-term medical care for detachment members and associated allied or indigenous personnel. They establish medical facilities to support detachment operations. They recruit, organize, train, and advise or command indigenous combat forces up to company size.

Two Communications Sergeants

Install, operate, and maintain FM, AM, HF, VHF, UHF, and SHF radio communications in voice, CW, and burst radio nets. They recruit, organize, train, and advise or command indigenous combat forces up to company size.

Green Beret sniper during annual competition
The U.S. Army Special Operations Command International Sniper Competition challenged participants’ skill level, training, and knowledge. (Photo: Army/Spc. Alleea Oliver)

The Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (A-team) is designed to be even more of a force multiplier when operating in split team mode. Each specialty is on the two six-man teams.

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