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Green Berets celebrate 50th anniversary

The Green Berets are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their famous name and namesake attire: The U.S. Army Special Forces were created in 1952, but it wasn't until 1961 that President Kennedy officially instituted the colorful cap that gave them their name.

But initially, it wasn't necessarily a place of distinction to be part of the special forces. Before Kennedy showered them with his glamour, special forces were the black sheep of the American military, as CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

Col. Mark Mitchell told Martin that, even today, that belief may remain. He said, "To a certain extent, after ten years of conflict, there is a perception, I think, that we are outsiders -- more as outlaws sometimes."

Martin offered, "Prima donnas?"

Mitchell said, "More as outlaws."

"Outlaws because you're scruffy?" Martin asked.

"Yeah," Mitchell said. "The beards in Afghanistan and the non-standard uniforms and our sometimes unconventional methods of getting things done."

However, Mitchell told Martin after Kennedy traveled to Fort Bragg and awarded them their distinctive green berets, things changed. "It makes a big difference having that, the support from the commander in chief," Mitchell said.

Martin said, "I doubt President Kennedy could have imagined the use to which special forces were put in Afghanistan."

Mitchell replied, "Riding on horseback, calling in air strikes probably would not have been it, it would have been tough for him to envision."

As one of the first Green Berets into Afghanistan after 9/11, Mitchell rode with local Afghan fighters, calling in air strikes on Taliban positions. They almost made it look too easy.

Mitchell recalled, "I think that we were all surprised, especially, I mean by December we were installing a new Afghan government and it may have created a false sense of security. I don't want to second-guess our national leadership, but I think it did, did appear almost too easy at some point."

We all know now it wasn't easy, either in Afghanistan or Iraq, where special forces were also first in -- hunting for Scud missiles in the western desert -- and will almost certainly be last out.

Currently, there are 14,000 Green Berets, about a 30 percent increase since 9/11. When you add the Army Rangers, the Navy Seals and the Delta Force, there are 60,000 Special Operations Forces in all -- the equivalent of four or five divisions of unconventional soldiers.

On "The Early Show," co-anchor Erica Hill asked if the special forces are being relied on more heavily these days as purse strings are tightened at the Pentagon.

Martin said, "They can score spectacular successes like the bin Laden raid, but they can't win wars single-handedly. Col. Mitchell will tell you special forces could not have overthrown the Taliban without the 15,000 Afghan troops fighting along with them. At the end of the day, you still need troops to seize and hold enemy territory."