The U.S. Army Special Forces have established a long-standing tradition of being the go-to force for irregular warfare, no matter the environment or obstacles, earning the nickname ‘Snake Eaters’ along the way as well as the distinctive green beret.
But what distinguishes them on the battlefield is not just their prowess with weapons or tactics, but their intelligence. It’s no surprise that many Green Berets are avid readers, and many great books have come out of the Special Forces community over the years.
We spoke with both active duty and veteran Green Berets to see what books they would personally recommend about Special Forces.
Surprise, Kill, Vanish: The Secret History of CIA Paramilitary Armies, Operators, and Assassins
Annie Jacobsen authored one of the most highly recommended books from the Special Forces veterans we spoke with. Though the title doesn’t mention Special Forces, it unpacks the difficult and often covert missions Green Berets were tasked with while working alongside their CIA teammates.
“This book had jaw-dropping moments for me, which surprised me. There is history in this book that almost no one knows unless they were specifically read on or they were there personally,” said Tyr Symank, a Special Forces soldier with over two decades of service.
Symank describes this book as a “must-read” for anyone seeking a career in Special Forces.
Hunting the Jackal – Special Forces & CIA Soldier’s Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against Terrorism
William “Billy” Waugh is legendary in all things related to special operations. He’s often called the “godfather” of Special Forces and went above and beyond to serve his country, including fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan at 71 years old.
Waugh’s book tells his story, covering 50 years of service in some of the most secretive areas of America’s national security apparatus.
“It is the autobiography of an imperfect yet legendary soldier,” Symank said. “Sometimes, amid evaluations and career progression and disciplining the ranks, we forget that there are personality traits that we look for in SOF that are more important than a PT score.”
Pucker Factor: Stories of MACV-SOG Vol.1, ISSUE 2
Jason Collins put together a dynamic compilation of stories based on the first-hand accounts of MACV-SOG Green Berets. Never before seen photos accompany the declassified operations after 20 years of secrecy.
The book dives into impossible missions Green Berets were tasked with during the Vietnam War. Their legendary feats in some of the most hostile terrain inspired every generation of snake eaters that followed.
“The GWOT kicked off while I was earning my beret, and because of that, my SF heroes were Vietnam vets,” Symank said. “Vietnam belonged to the Green Berets the way the 90s belonged to SEALs and fingerless gloves.”
Five Years to Freedom: The True Story of a Vietnam POW
Symank described this story as “heartbreaking and inspiring.” Col. James “Nick” Rowe tells his story, breaking down five years of captivity as a POW during the Vietnam War, everything from torture to disease to the murder of his friends.
During the Special Forces Q-course, Symank said Rowe’s story drove him through the difficult parts of training and put any “little ruck march into perspective.”
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“The SOF community has suffered more losses per capita in the last 20 years than the rest of the forces. Because that’s so personal and connected to so many of us, we’ve lost a little connection to the POW situation from the previous generations,” Symank said. “Five Years to Freedom is a solid reminder that we still have brothers unrecovered.”
As many in the special operations community believe, always saying their names and remembering they are still out there is how they continue the fight to recover their missing comrades.
Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior
This is the book for those seeking the legendary long tab. If you want to eat snakes and free the oppressed, this story will show you the first steps. Former Navy SEAL Dick Couch unpacks the year he spent embedded with Special Forces in this ultimate guide on how soldiers are molded in training to become masters of unconventional warfare.
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