The Special Forces cloth tab was authorized for wear in June 1983, with approval of the metal replica version following nearly a year-and-a-half later in November 1984. But for roughly 30 years, Special Forces Soldiers could be readily identified even without the tab: they had adopted the Green Beret as identifying headgear unofficially in the mid-1950s, and in 1961 President John F. Kennedy made the Green Beret the exclusive cover for Special Forces personnel.

And Kennedy’s support of the Army’s Special Forces went far beyond advocating for distinctive apparel. Thanks to his support, four new groups of active-duty Special Soldiers were created, along with an equal number in the Army Reserve and Army National Guard. To honor his efforts, the Army renamed the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in 1982 and then changed it to its current designation, the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, in 1985.

The vast majority of Soldiers authorized to wear the Special Forces tab today have earned the privilege by completing an approved Special Forces training course for active-duty and Reserve Component personnel at the USAJFKSWCS (or an equivalent authorized Special Forces qualification program administered by an individual unit). But the Army has also authorized the retroactive awarding of the tab for Soldiers who took part in the types of operations that would today be carried out by Special Forces units.

For example, Soldiers who served with a unit now classified as Special Forces during wartime between 1942 and 1973 and who also earned a Skill Qualification Identifier of “S” or “3” or the Additional Skill Identifier of “5G” are awarded the Special Forces Tab. The tab is also awarded to Soldiers who served at least 120 days in a row in specific organizations such as the 1st Special Service Force (arguably the first true Special Forces unit in the Army), Office of Strategic Services Detachment 101, and the 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit (“Alamo Scouts”), to name just a few. You can find a complete list of the organizations and units in Section 8-49 of the 2015 edition of AR 600-8-22, Military Awards.

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