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Elites Are More Glamorous

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"The Imperial Guard. It's a thankless job, but if you're willing to stand your ground and give it your all... you just might be able to buy enough time for the Space Marines to take all the credit."
A common sardonic joke, Warhammer 40,000

Military fiction will generally focus on units considered elite in some fashion, even if it is obvious that the regular units found in the same battle are just as much in the thick of it. Even in non-military fiction, if a film follows a character who is ex-military, 9 times out of 10 he'll have been "a marine" rather than army infantry or anything else.

This is particularly common in fiction set in World War II: If it is a US unit that is in focus, it is more likely to be Airborne, Marine Corps or Rangers than standard Army. British units are more likely to be SAS or Paras (though curiously enough, the similarly exclusive — and more relatable to US audiences — Royal Marines don't get much love). German foes, even late in the war when their quality units were mostly destroyed, are more likely to be SS Panzer divisions rather than poorly-trained and equipped Volkssturm.

Presumably happens because of the Rule of Cool: famous units and battles are simply more "special". Also, since special forces units consists of better trained soldiers with high qualifications and (usually) superior equipment, it's generally more believable for them to succeed. For works based on Real Life, this focus can simply reflect historical Truth in Television, as is the case with Black Hawk Down and Band of Brothers. Insofar as elite forces have a smaller average unit size and this is a desirable situation in a fictional work, that's another reason for this trope.

Interestingly, the writers often have no idea what the unit designations actually refer to. "Army Ranger," "Navy SEALs," "Special Forces," and "Green Berets" are all conflated into generic commandos (most often referred to as 'operators' or 'shooters') with overlapping roles. Of course there is a certain amount of overlap, but in general terms these kinds of units are divided into two camps: Elite regular formations (Rangers and Royal Marines for example) who are highly trained regular soldiers; and Special Forces (SEALs, Green Berets, SAS etc) who operate in small teams and are brought in for specific missions.

The same is applicable to entire branches of the armed forces: in past, chariots were more glamorous than everyone else, then cavalry, especially heavy knights, hussars and cuirassiers. With the introduction of aerial warfare, the saddle of glory promptly turned into the fighter pilot's seat.

For when the elites of society are more glamorous, see The Beautiful Elite. If the whole army is more glamorous than their assumed adversaries, see Elite Army. See The Modern-Day Rambo for modern-day Special Forces units who are likely to be this trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • All the named and important characters that are shown fighting in Code Geass are elite soldiers of some kind. The Black Knights consists of the Zero Squad, led by Ace Pilot Kallen, the Four Holy Swords, led by Todoh, and former resistance members who've been promoted due to seniority. Britannia, meanwhile, has the bulk of its military power seemingly consisting of Suzaku and the Lancelot, Cornelia and her Glaston Knights, Schneizel's faction and his cool toys, and the Knights of Rounds. Regular soldiers are usually just cannon-fodder, unless they're used for an important strategic plot. Even the China arc focuses mainly on Li Xingke and those loyal to him.
  • Averted in Deadman Wonderland. A JGSDF commando unit ends up getting massacred by Toto when they were securing DW Wonderland after the premises were abandoned.
  • The main character of Full Metal Panic! is part of the Special Response Team, a special forces branch of Mithril, itself an elite worldwide military anti-terrorist PMC organization armed with advanced technologies and weapon systems superior to that of any national armed forces.
  • Section 9 in Ghost in the Shell could be seen as an elite counter-terror police unit (the name itself is speculated to be a homage to the GSG-9). When top-ranking government officials involved in the conspiracy wants them neutralized, they have to send the JMSDF's Umibozu commandos to covertly kill them. It still fails because they're just that good at their job.
  • Invoked in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS by Lt. Colonel Hayate who initiated the Riot Force Six at the beginning of the season. They're not just a branch in the Time-Space Administration Bureau, they're a highly trained special force filled with prodigies and living legends from top to bottom, created specifically to prevent the Bureau's destruction which was ominously predicted by Carim's annual prophecies.
  • Macross Frontier is an odd case. The main protagonist is a pilot of SMS, a Private Military Contractors, which is outside of the regular NUNS. However, the SMS is equipped with the some of the best weapons, vehicles and equipment available in the Macross Frontier Fleet and their pilots are regarded as better due to the high standard. Also, they mostly do missions considered to difficult for the NUNS. So, is it played straight or subverted?
  • Most of the principal ZAFT pilots in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny are "Reds", top military academy graduates.
    • Referenced in universe with the OZ Organization in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Originally a subset of the Alliance military, OZ was the object of scorn and envy for their custom uniforms, elite equipment and assignments, aristocratic sponsorship and lavish funding... by those very same aristocrats of the Romefeller Foundation, who have plans of their own for their very own private army.
  • In The Rose of Versailles, the military units that receive the most screentime are literally the elite of the elite: the Garde du Corps du Roi is the elite regiment of the French cavalry and Oscar serves in their first company (that is considered even more elite than the rest of the regiment), and in the French Guards (the elite regiment of the French Army: they may be infantry, but they're considered more prestigious than any cavalry due being a Badass Army) she commanded a grenadier company (grenadiers being infantry), identified as such by the uniforms. Even the named units that received screentime are elite: the La Fere (manga only, thanks to Napoléon Bonaparte showing up to provide a Sequel Hook) had earned the fame as elite artillery (and taught recruits how to fire cannons), the Royal-Suédois (thanks to Fersen being their commander) was elite Swedish infantry, and the Royal Allemand (that got Worfed by the rebelling French Guards even when supported by an unidentified grenadier regiment) was elite German cavalry.
    • Justified by Oscar's father using his political clout to get her into the Garde du Corps, Marie Antoinette, upon receiving Oscar's request for a demotion, choosing specifically the French Guards due them being part of the Royal Household, Napoleon being just that good to be assigned to that regiment, and the foreign regiments being raised specifically to be elite troops and more loyal than non-Household French-raised regiments.
  • The Strikers from World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman are this. They've collectively killed more metaphysical monsters than the regular military.

    Comic Books 
  • Hilariously Averted in the character of Kev Hawkins from The Authority, another Ennis creation. A veteran of the British Army and the Special Air Service, Kev has seen combat on every continent and is a truly formidable soldier... who is also narrow-minded, slovenly, foul-mouthed, often manipulated, somewhat bigoted and perpetually broke. He's by no means an exception: throughout his own miniseries, most of his SAS friends are shown to be similarly low-class and cash-strapped, doing what they do because that life is all they're good at. So, yes, they may be horrifyingly lethal, but they're certainly not glamorous.
    "Look, you know as well as I do: being in special forces doesn't make you bulletproof, and it doesn't mean you're some kind of fucking superman. Half the time somebody fucks up and it all goes to ratshit, anyway. That's what's true. Everything else is just a load of shit some cunt made up for a film — but you try telling people that... All they want is fucking Rambo, mate."
  • Deconstructed heavily in many works by Garth Ennis, notably Fury: My War Gone By, The Boys, and Fury (MAX). Elite formations such as the SAS, Green Berets, Delta Force and Spetsnaz are more glamorous to civilians and rank-and-file soldiers, and they're certainly trained and equipped to make spectacular splashes... but ultimately, they're too few in number to actually win wars. That's the job of the great masses of the regular armies, navies and air forces, who endure horror, boredom and vastly more casualties (and for much longer) to assure a lasting victory. So, they may be glamorous, but they're not as effective as many would believe.
    • Taken even further in his characterization of Nick Fury, where long-term Special Operations officers really do believe they can do anything, and as a result keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Worse than that, they get so addicted to the action — fighting a war how they want to, without the restraint of too much army discipline — that winning wars is no longer their goal; they just want to keep fighting them.
    "Too many of us had started out in Special Operations. The way we told the story, it was guys like us that had beat the Krauts and the Japs by stealth alone... When, really, the war was won by the grunt in his foxhole, sitting in a foot of water for a month. The navy gunner who keeps on firing, even when the fucking kamikaze crashes down his throat. The kid who climbs into his B-17 for one more mission, pissing his pants to Berlin and back, coming home with the co-pilot's intestines slopping in his lap. Again and again and again. For what seems like forever. But we saw it differently. So we found the evidence we needed and ignored the rest, just to sell the notion that the special forces — the little units that could do so much — were the future. And somewhere along the way, we got the idea there was nothing we couldn't do."
    "...the mystique surrounding covert military operatives has bewitched some surprising people down the years. Men who should have known better - Churchill, Kennedy... The truth is that they denude regular formations of their best, most motivated individuals. They cost a lot to train and maintain for often limited returns. And they can find it hard to justify the expense. Sometimes, to do so, they create their own missions, becoming in effect private armies."
    • And Crossed, where both British and American Special Forces, just like the rest of the rapidly crumbling world militaries, can do nothing at all to halt the Crossed virus which is spreading across the world but try to mitigate the damage while they still have the resources to do so, and try to make the post-apocalyptic hell that the world becomes a little bit easier to live with for the survivors.
  • ARC Troopers are depicted this way in Star Wars Legends, but most notably in Star Wars: Republic. Elite super soldiers that were engineered to be one man armies and trained by Jango Fett himself. Their first appearance in the comics has them deployed for the first time during the Separatist invasion of the clone homeworld, Kamino, because the Kaminoans believed them to be too dangerous to be deployed to Geonosis with the rest of the GAR. One hundred ARC troopers promptly bail out the Jedi and turn the tide of the entire battle. There's a reason they're depicted entirely differently in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and that is because if they were half as good as they were in Legends, normal clone characters like Cody and Rex would be completely irrelevant.

    Fan Works 
  • The Halo fan fiction The Life is practically built around this trope.
  • Extensively played with in The Universiad; while the main plotline has Applejack being inducted into the elite of the elite that is OSR, some Originals are members of elite groups and others are not. In fact, at least one group, the Close Air/Orbital Support Task Force, explicitly takes pride in being the regular joe schmoes who unglamorously play A-10 INSPACE.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Apocalypse Now follows the journey of Captain Willard (505th of 173rd Airborne Brigade and assigned to MACV-SOG, a classified United States Special Operations Forces unit which conducted ops in Vietnam) on a military-sanctioned assassination mission (and not his first). He does depend on a group of enlisted Navy sailors to get the job done however, and is escorted up the Nung River by Colonel Kilgore of the 1st Squadron of the 9th Air Cavalry.
  • Battle of the Bulge: The German tanks are depicted as all being the famous Tiger. Tigers were very rare in the real battle — they were too wide for the narrow roads and too heavy for the bridges. Panzer IVs were much more common.
  • Black Hawk Down follows a significant portion of Task Force Ranger, which is made of several Ranger companies as well as a squadron of Delta Force operators.
  • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson is introduced as a former member of an elite Air Force unit that outfitted its members with advanced suits of flying body armor.
  • Con Air: Poe was an Army Ranger. Unlike in many examples, not only does this set up his combat skills, but also refusal to leave a friend behind (plus a sympathetic female guard) as it's part of the Ranger creed (even said via voiceover at the beginning).
  • Die Hard with a Vengeance: Simon Gruber and his entire unit. While they've long since turned outlaw, they were all part of the most elite infiltration unit of the East German STASI, chosen and trained specifically for their ability to pass as Americans (or other Westerners) to help them operate behind enemy lines in the event of a war. These skills come in very handy when Gruber plans to knock off New York's Federal Reserve.
  • Averted in Dog Soldiers — an SAS squad are discovered dead at the start of the film, and serve as a sort of off-screen Sacrificial Lion. The rest of the film focuses on regular troops.
  • The Squad in the Doom film is made out to be an elite team, which was not the case in the game itself. Them being military regulars rather than elites would actually have helped the plot, as it would have made the presence of Portman and The Kid (both of whom had absolutely no business being in an elite military squad)at least somewhat less egregious.
  • The Elite Squad: a movie about Rio de Janeiro's elite squad of military police special forces.
  • Elysium:
    • Kruger himself is Ex-Special Forces turned chief enforcer for the Civil Cooperation Bureau.
    • John Carlyle's security droids are pretty standard, aside from the fact that they're gold. Yeah, subtle.
  • Halo: Nightfall: Locke's ONI teammates, who certainly aren't shy about it, complaining that the Sedrans will only slow them down with all their equipment being "200 years" behind the regular UNSC's.
  • Heartbreak Ridge. Few marines fought at the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, so the backstory of Clint Eastwood's character was changed to having first served in the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, and joining the USMC afterwards. However it was the US Army Rangers who rescued American medical students in Grenada, not the Recon marines as portrayed in the film.
  • MonsterVerse:
    • Godzilla (2014): Lieutenant Ford Brody is an Explosive Ordinance Disposal specialist, and on top of being the main human protagonist of the movie, he's insanely Unluckily Lucky with his constant Kaiju encounters whereas all the other soldiers – including a specialist bomb-transporting team who have less experience than Ford – die like burning flies.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Monarch now has an elite military team called G-Team to help them combat the eco-terrorists. The G-Team are close to the organization's scientific top brass, especially the leader, while every other military presence in the movie dies like flies as the Kaiju awaken and emerge en masse with King Ghidorah directing them to end the world.
  • Most Wanted: Dunn was not just a Marine, but in Force Recon, who are elite special operations.
  • Deconstructed in Play Dirty, which highlights the brutal nature of commando missions, and the way the covert nature of such missions is often treated by officers as a license to squander the lives of the soldiers sent on them.
  • Predator: Dutch and his entire team. We're never told what their unit or service branch are. However, they're considered so skilled that their CIA handler was willing to lie to them about the nature of the mission he was recruiting them for, feeling that they were the only unit good enough to handle it.
  • John Rambo from the Rambo films was a former Green Beret.
  • Red Dawn (2012) stars Chris Hemsworth as a marine, and the main characters are later attacked by Russian Spetsnaz.
  • In Red Scorpion, Dolph Lundgren stars as Nikolai Radchenko, a Spetsnaz Lieutenant.
  • All over the place in The Rock. General Hummel is considered "the greatest [American] commander of the Vietnam War," and all of his men are former members of Marine Force Recon, the U.S. Marine Corps' most elite special ops unit. The team sent out to take back Alcatraz from him are Navy SEALs. John Mason, meanwhile, was a member of the SAS before being disavowed by his government, though he seems to view his entire army in this light:
    John Mason: I was trained by the best - the British.
  • Saving Private Ryan follows a squad of Rangers from D-Day onwards, while the titular Private Ryan is a paratrooper.note  On the German side, the unit the heroes face during the climactic battle is part of the Waffen SS.
  • In 6 Days, the British Special Air Service are called in from a training exercise when terrorists take the Iranian Embassy in London hostage.
  • Star Wars. This is what the stormtroopers are. In-universe, they are the feared, elite shocktroops of the Galactic Empire. The soldiers wearing dark greenish-grey uniforms with the open-faced helmets are actually the regular Imperial Army troops. But because the stormtroopers look and act far more menacing (Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy not withstanding), and have the reputation to match, they will often be the first into battle. So in any Star Wars medium, it's a fair bet the they will be the ones showcased, although the regular Army usually appears operating all the Empire's ground vehicles.
  • In The Suckers, Great White Hunter Jeff Baxter is a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam. Egomaniac Hunter Steve Vandemeer says that this makes him deadly even without access to his modern weaponry, and therefore suitable prey when Hunting the Most Dangerous Game.
  • Partially averted in Three Kings. Though Major Gates is a former Delta operator and a Special Forces/Ranger qualified Soldier, the warriors he leads are simple Civil Affairs Soldiers.
  • Top Gun follows a squadron of navy aviators through their training in the prestigious "Top Gun" elite school for aerial combat. The real TOPGUN (and its Air Force equivalent, Red Flag) is more along the lines of "learn this shit, then go teach it to your home squadron."
  • In Sergey Bondarchuk's Waterloo a disproportionate amount of screen time is devoted to the Polish Lancers of the Imperial Guard, who in actual fact were just one squadron strong in 1815 and thus much too small a unit to make a significant contribution. In the film it is they who throw back the charge of the Union Brigade (Royal Dragoons, Royal Scots Greys and Inniskillin Dragoons), in actual fact it was two regiments of French line lancers, who wore a very different uniform (green jackets, brass helmets). Also not untypically the only British cavalry regiment shown in that charge is the Scots Greys, who were the only dragoons one to wear bearskin caps instead of helmets.
  • Averted in Yamato. Kamio is an ordinary enlisted sailor and Uchida a petty officer. While the eponymous battleship can be considered a better posting than most, they're not treated In-Universe as some exclusive, elevated group. The old Kamio certainly doesn't speak of the experience like it covered him in glory.

  • Carver of The Accident Man is a former member of the British Royal Marines.
  • While Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's autobiography American Sniper is an example, it contains an example too. He writes glowingly about "The Elite Elite" of the SEALs, the famed SEAL Team Six.
  • Area 51: Turcotte's a Green Beret (US Army Special Forces). We also encounter members of other elite units, including the British SAS (Special Air Service) or later US Navy SEALs. This is usually justified, as they're used for very hard, important missions, and explains why Turcotte's so good.
  • The Black Company starts their story in hard times, doing a unprofitable assignment for the Syndic of Beryl and the Black Company itself reduced to being a force of thieves, rapists and fugitives. Even then, after being recruited into the service of the Lady, they immediately prove to be a cut above the rest of her regular Mooks. And every so often the company historian will dig through their annals and recite about their origins - how they were one of the 12 legendary Free Companies of Khatovar and can reclaim their gloried heritage.
  • In Death's Head by David Gunn, disgraced and mutilated Super-Soldier Sven Tveskoeg is an inmate/guard on a prison planet. After showing his fighting ability against an onslaught of dangerous aliens, a crack team of the elite Death's Head company rescue him by clearing the area with flamethrowers. Sven is quickly inducted into the ranks of the Death's Head and besides being given their trademark black uniform with cap, pair of shades and the Death's Head patch - Sven is given a new more advanced bionic arm and personally trained by a former member of the Death's Head who's serving as an aristocrat's bodyguard.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune: Baron Harkonnen is initially skeptical of Thufir Hawat's deduction that the Padishah Emperor secretly recruits his Elite Army, the Sardaukar, from his Penal Colony planet Salusa Secundus - after all, hardened convicts may be vicious fighters, but no sane man could expect loyalty from such recruits. Hawat explains that the Sardaukar have been indoctrinated with the myth that their hellish upbringing on Salusa Secundus has helped forge them into the best of the best, and they owe the Emperor everything for helping them fulfill that destiny. He also suggests that a similar myth could be used to create an even better fighting force from Arrakis's Fremen population, even by the Harkonnens who have so brutally oppressed them.
  • Heavy Object: The titular Objects undergo massive acceleration during battle, so only the specially conditioned and modified Elites can pilot them. The training of a single Elite costs nearly as much as producing their Object and they are accordingly treated as a massively valuable war resource, pampered and protected outside of combat. Many are even celebrities due to the propaganda value of the Elite single-handedly fighting a war against an enemy nation. By contrast, the soldiers assigned to their support units are completely expendable and are given only the most basic of supplies and training.
  • Jack Ryan: Sometimes played straight, sometimes averted.
    • The Hunt for Red October: Marko Ramius, the captain of the titular ship, is universally acknowledged as the best submarine officer the Soviet navy has ever had. The officers he's trained, by extension, are considered the service's best and brightest and have come to dominate it over the course of twenty years as more and more of them rise to command positions. This doesn't sit well with everybody, as critics note that this clique is dangerously close to being a personality cult and that allowing it to develop runs explicitly against Communist Party policy. It turns out the Party was right for once, as Ramius and his entirely handpicked senior crew end up defecting to the United States with the Soviet Navy's most advanced submarine.
    • Averted in Clear and Present Danger. All of the men recruited by the CIA to the secret operation against the Colombian cartels are very well-trained and qualified for their job, but most of them aren't drawn from existing elite special forces units, but more ordinary light infantry units. This is because special ops units form such a small and tight-knit subsection of the U.S. military, meaning that people would notice if too many of them were drawn from their posts at the same time.
    • Both played straight and averted in Executive Orders. Two of the U.S. Army units that fight off the UIR invasion in the Second Persian Gulf War are the best armored cavalry units in the service. The third, however, is a National Guard unit, albeit one that's been trained by the other two.
    • Played entirely straight in Rainbow Six. Rainbow is a multinational (mostly NATO) counterterrorist team whose members are drawn from what are already the best special forces, intelligence, or police counterterrorism units of their respective countries. These include Navy SEALs and Army Rangers from the U.S, SAS from the U.K, DGSE from France, and GSG-9 from Germany. In a bit of irony, Rainbow's elite status causes some resentment from SOCOM, the U.S.'s own special operations command, whose general feels that it's poaching on what's supposed to be his turf.
    • In The Bear and the Dragon, Rainbow, having proven itself decisively in the previous book, is now assigned to the newly allied Russian military, to help bring their own Spetznaz forces up to par. The Russians are already extremely competent, and towards the end of the book, the two units carry out a joint raid to take out China's only existing ICBM base.
  • Kings of the Wyld: Unlike most settings, mercenaries are considered elite forces who earn glory and fame by protecting people from monsters. It's explained that part of the reason for this is because there hasn't been a large scale human-vs-human war in decades, so the normal army units don't have much to do besides parade and guard things. Mercenaries, on the other hand, are constantly testing themselves against monsters, so one mercenary is easily a match for a dozen normal soldiers.
  • Subverted in Old Man's War with The Ghost Brigades, the Colonial Defense Force's secretive (but not technically secret) Special Forces branch. Nobody in the rank-and-file CDF seems to know much about them, nor know of anyone from the CDF who was able to join them. It is eventually revealed that they are Artificial Humans who are trained from birth to be soldiers, and are Child Soldiers in every way that matters. The sequel, The Ghost Brigades, proceeds to further explore the ethical and spiritual implications of this, giving the explicit interpretation that they are a slave race, bred only to fight and die for humanity.
  • In his political treatise The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli complains bitterly about the Italian system of relying on mercenaries for war. One of his specific criticisms was that your average Italian mercenary group was almost entirely cavalry, because mounted soldiers were perceived as more elite. The fact that they could charge more for cavalry probably helped too.
  • There is a subtle example in Salvation Reach, a part of the Gaunt's Ghosts series. When Rawne's team gets assigned to protect the Chaos defector, he has special badges made which distinguish his troopers from other Ghosts, even the elite scouts and snipers. Also, the team has its own name, the Suicide King, which reflects their extraordinary status.
  • The Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell are focused on a small group of skirmisher riflemen on detached duty from the 95th Rifles (previously Prince Consort's Own), a reconnaissance unit using skirmisher tactics, camouflage and advanced weaponry, hence, the closest thing to special forces in the Napoleonic Era. They are generally portrayed as highly superior to regular rank-and-file infantrymen of the British Army, who are hardly able to achieve anything without the help of the protagonists.
    • It's worth noting that no one considers the 95th a particularly glamorous posting, the unit being a young unit mainly composed of conscripted poachers with jumped-up rankers for officers. The true glamorous elites are units like the Blues and Royals, the Scottish Grenadiers and the Royal American Rifles. Sharpe is at one point offered a transfer to the RAR, and it is clear that the offerer considers this a considerable step up, even without an accompanying promotion.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • The X-Wing Series plays this trope straight, with Rogue Squadron explicitly being the best starfighter squadron in the New Republic, while Wraith Squadron is not far behind them and, if not the best, certainly the most versatile (its pilots are fully qualified as spies and commandos and are called on to do this as often as they are to fly). How this affects their relations with the rest of the military is discussed repeatedly, however, with their cliqueishness and elite status causing some resentment for their peers, and some discussion of how it can cause real problems. Colonel Salm, a Y-wing squadron leader, points out that his (and most) pilots aren't the prodigies that the Rogues are, but get through their battles anyways by being competent technicians rather than gifted performers... which means they can't afford to go too far off-script the way the Rogues do if they're going to remain effective. There's also some talk of the glamour surrounding starfighter pilots in general, which various characters (including Wedge and other pilots themselves) acknowledge unfairly overlooks the work of cargo pilots, capital ship crews, and other parts of the fleet who shared the dangers and whose contributions were equally vital.
    • Karen Traviss' Republic Commando Series does something similar with the Clone Wars era troopers. The ARC Troopers (Advanced Recon Commandos) are the elite of the clone army, and the ones charged with special forces missions. "The Nulls," Kal Skirata's squad, are elite even within that community; the very first batch of ARC troopers, they're somewhat more erratic and harder to control than their peers, which originally led the Kaminoans to want them eliminated. Skirata instead adopted them and eventually trained them into the best unit of infiltrators and spies in the clone army.
    • The Empire has its own equivalents to these. The 501st Legion, Darth Vader's personal stormtrooper force (known in-universe as "Vader's Fist") can be seen as the Stormtrooper Corps' version of the Republic's ARC troopers (and indeed, the 501st originated as a unit of the clone army). Baron Soontir Fel's 181st Wing, meanwhile, is the TIE fighter corps' counterpart to Rogue Squadron. (Ironically, it started out as one of the very worst units in the starfleet, nicknamed "the one-eighty-worst" by its own pilots and considered a dead-end assignment. This changed after Fel's arrival).
  • According to the narrator of Starship Troopers the entire military consist of elite members. At least by the standards of armies past.
    • This is at least true of the Mobile Infantry, the service branch the narrator is in. Also, there are no desk jobs for active service members in the MI. If a job can be done by a civilian, it is (those requiring military experience are done by retired/disabled veterans). About the closest an MI can get to a non-combat position is Drill Instructor (and the one of these we hear the most about quietly complains a couple of times about not being in combat, and by the end of the novel he's allowed to return to the front).

    Live-Action TV 
  • The A-Team: The titular team was an elite special forces unit in The Vietnam War (the name was a colloquial term for the U.S. Army's real-life Operational Detachment Alphas). They're elite even within that community, widely considered the best American unit of the war by their admirers and detractors alike. Even after they're (wrongfully) arrested, tried, and convicted, the fact that they quickly broke out of prison and managed to remain at large for the next fifteen years, despite the U.S. Army's best efforts and the fact that they were right under their nose (living in the United States) and not exactly keeping a low profile (working as soldiers of fortune helping the helpless), is compelling evidence that they are indeed as good as everyone says.
  • Band of Brothers covers the story of Easy Company of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne. Several of the company members, such as Carwood Lipton, cite this trope as the reason they joined the Airborne in the first place.
  • La Brea: Sam's one of two ex-military characters, having been in the elite Navy SEALs.
  • Gang Related: Lead character Ryan was an Army Ranger. The Metas, a Mexican cartel, recruit soldiers from Mexico's special forces as well. They are the main characters to get military backgrounds.
  • Largely played straight in Stargate SG-1. While Stargate Command isn't manned by any existing special forces groups, its SG-teams are largely portrayed as those kinds of units. This includes an extremely extensive skillset (with the teams being constructed to have strong scientific, cultural, and archaeological skills as well as the usual combat skills), and a somewhat looser relationship with the chain of command (with a significant amount of leeway from command authority as well as civilians and even aliens serving on these teams if their skills or knowledge justify it). SG-1 itself is considered the flagship team of Stargate Command, the best among these elite groups. Within it, Jack O'Neill is himself a career veteran of Air Force Special Ops (with references made to numerous past missions in trouble spots like East Germany, Iran, and Iraq), while Teal'c is the former leader of Apophis' armies (which, in a society where Rank Scales with Asskicking, means he was the best fighter in the entire army).
  • In a Speculative Fiction example, most Star Trek series (and all the movies) follow a ship (always named Enterprise or USS Enterprise) that is often referred to as the "flagship of Starfleet" or "the best in the fleet". Those that didn't either followed one of the most strategically positioned bases in the Galaxy (Deep Space Nine), or a brand-spanking-new ship that is often referred to as one of the most advanced ships in the fleet (Star Trek: Voyager).
    • Even in situations where the Enterprise is neither the flagship nor the most technically-superior ship in the fleet, it always has the best crew by far.
    • Deconstructed on the Deep Space Nine episode "Valiant" which centers around the "Red Squad" elite cadets of Starfleet Academy. Red Squad's belief that they are the best of the best in Starfleet leads them to massively overestimate their own capabilities and causes them to try and take on a Dominion Warship by themselves, which ends with their deaths. At the end of the day, an elite cadet is still just a cadet.
    • The USS Discovery is built using all of Starfleet's shiniest new toys, including a unique Organic Technology "spore drive".
    • Star Trek: Lower Decks averts this with the USS Cerritos as the main ship, which specializes in lower risk missions like second contact and routine diplomacy. However the USS Vancouver is featured as one of the standard high profile ships, and the engineering officer is on the verge of a nervous breakdown as a result, hoping to transfer to a lower risk ship like the Cerritos. One recent mission involved the Vancouver crew traveling back in time to kill the person worse than Hitler.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Invoked by AT-43's UNA subfaction CentCom. Their motto is "Better is better!", and their whole military doctrine is founded on the principle of deploying small groups of elite soldiers, usually without armor support. It's noted in the UNA army book that this hasn't proven effective against the Red Blok's opposite strategy of fielding hordes of mass-trained, comparatively less well-equipped soldiers.
    • Generally speaking, being that every army has three to four subgroups with different tactics and make-ups, there's usually one group that fields fewer but more formidable soldiers than the others. The Red Blok itself, for instance, has Frontline, which is understaffed compared to the other Red Blok subgroups and makes up for this with its well-trained soldiers and state-of-the-art combat striders.
  • Battletech:
  • Chronopia has a similar fixation for elites that Mutant Chronicles from the same company has. Among the many factions, there are the Deathseekers of the Blackblood Empire and these fanatical Master Swordsman are the Praetorian Guard for the Ogre Emperor. There's also the Repulsar Knights who are the ultra-heavily armored elite warriors of the Firstborn and their One King and their dreaded Maiming Polearms have dismembered many foes. But perhaps even more notable than Repulsar Knights are the Black Sisters. The Black Sisters are a symbol of brotherhood between the Firstborn and the Sons of Chronos, these barbarian swordswomen serve as elite warriors and wandering judges for the Firstborn and 3 companies of them will always be guarding the One King.
  • Delta Green has the Special Operator profession. It is considered one of the "core" professionsnote , while the Soldier/Marine is considered an "additional" profession. Fridge Brilliance kicks in when you realize how useful a special forces operator is for a Delta Green team then a normal Soldier/Marine, not only they can shoot and fight better, most of their training includes higly specialized stuff like Unconventional Warfare and Counterterrorism, and how some units have training to covertly act in foreign soil for months without support, such as the Green Berets or the CIA SAD/SOG. The Special Operator includes members of the USSOCOM, FBI Hostage Rescue Team and CIA Paramilitary.
    • In the prequel spin-off game set in The Vietnam War, The Fall of DELTA GREEN, most of those organizations were founded over the course of the decade or not at all yet. Special Forces has lapsed into the Military Service category for this game, but gives more bonuses then an active duty Soldier or Marine.
  • Mutant Chronicles is rife with them, with the most prominent being the Cartel's Doom Troopers who get the best of everything from among the Corporations and then there are more specific corporate elites such as Bauhaus's Venusian Rangers and Capitol's Sea Lions. Zigzagged with Capitol's Free Marines, the Free Marines are a Penal troops known for their atrocities and kept in check only by given an antidote to a poison they're forced to take and the promise of freedom after service. That said the Free Marines are considered an elite fighting force because of their renowned savagery.
  • This tendency is subverted in Paranoia: the elites are insanely glamorous, but you will never ever get to be one. No Red-clearance Troubleshooter has ever accidentally been given Ultraviolet clearance by a Killer Game Master just to see what kind of sheer havoc would occur.
    • The new editions of Paranoia feature rules for high-clearance player characters. The action of the game revolves around the political scheming of the elite.
  • Star Wars RPGs will always have a great number of Jedi player characters if they are allowed.
  • One of the options in the Stars Without Number military sourcebook "Skyward Steel" is for the players to be a Deep Black team — an elite, covert-insertion team where unless you want to roleplay through recruitment as well, you have to start at level 3. Of course, this is strictly intended as a form of military-focused game style; default SWN PC groups start as, at best, "a bunch of guys who have a ship and a few guns".
  • Unhallowed Metropolis has the Deathwatch, these are elite forces protecting London from the preternatural forces attacking the city. The Deathwatch has their own specific armor including their trademark gasmask and steel doughboy helmet. Additionally the Deathwatch used powerful weapons that'd be illegal for any other character to use, such as the Death Ray.
    • On the non-military side of things, standing above other adventurers are the Undertakers and Mourners. Undertakers are elite bounty hunters known for their top hat and effectiveness in kiling the undead as well as other things that go bump in the night. The Mourners are famed dual-wielding warriors who are part of a guild to aid the bereaved in mourning dead loved ones and seeing that the corpse doesn't become animated.
  • Warhammer 40,000: It's a good general rule that an army's elite units are more ornate and fancy than the rank and file. Elites usually have more grandiose fluff. Headquarters units tend to have more Bling of War than a convention of militant pimps and fluff that's even more ridiculous. Compare the already superhuman rank and file tactical marine with an elite veteran marine and finally a captain. From a modelling viewpoint, the rank-and-file units tend to have more bodies on the table than elite ones, so the mob models are designed in a way that allows mass painting without consuming too much time, which should be dedicated to grandiose and highly customized centrepiece character models instead. This same pattern holds for pretty much every army. Specific examples include:
    • Space Marines are a whole separate army of elites who get the most emphasis from Games Workshop and steal the spotlight in-universe from the rank-and-file Imperial Guard. They are chosen from genetically compatible young boys and are subject to horrendous trials to even have a chance at starting training.
    • The Sisters of Battle in turn are the cream of the crop of female youth picked for extreme zeal and great talent in battle (or in some specialized orders other abilities), far above the ranks of the Imperial Guard.
    • The Imperial Guard themselves have their own elites with the Tempestus Scions, nicknamed Stormtroopers, the best of the best who're often requisitioned by Inquisitors who need a lot of firepower or sent on special missions not to be trusted to grunts. The grunts in question tend to think of them as overrated ("chocolate soldiers" is one term, as is "toy soldiers"), but this mostly out of disdain at their perceived privileges. Guard veterans squads, generically termed Grenadiers (or for a more specific example Cadian elites being named Kasrkin), get a lot more respect from the regular joes as they were either picked from the ranks or showed extreme aptitude in training and because they live in the same conditions as the line units too. Stormtroopers are picked from among orphaned children of Imperial elites raised in the Schola Progenium, a combination Orphanage of Fear and Boarding School of Horrors that also produces the Commissars and Sisters of Battle among other important military and civil roles, so those privileges are in truth hard earned. Even rank-and-file Imperial Guard regiments are "elite" compared to Planetary Defence Forces, who get almost no focus at all and generally only exist to get slaughtered until the Imperial Guard show up (because the 80 percent of time where the PDF has no trouble is the boring part of the setting). Guard units from normal planets not at constant war footing are made up of the top ten percent of a given tax cycle's PDF recruits, so the PDF's of peaceful worlds don't exactly get the cream of the crop either. And even the PDF is elite compared to emergency conscripts drafted for major campaigns and local militia raised by someone other than the Planetary Governor.
    • Played with for Dark Eldar Scourges, elite soldiers who paid a Haemonculus obscene amounts to graft wings onto their backs (plus adding extra chest muscles, hollowing bones, that sort of thing). They are presented as vain, preening, arrogant pansies who mostly hang out in the sky above Commoragh and don't do a lot, then the Codex goes on to explain that they can afford this because they're so badass that other Dark Eldar will pay them obscene amounts to show up and help out whenever there's a fight, so they don't have to do a lot to be obscenely rich.
    • 4Chan's fan-chapter the Galactic Partridges tend to swoop in, make the last blow on the enemy, and take the credit from the people who actually did the work. They even spy on other chapters so they can better know when to take the credit. They have special drop pod that release a butt of doves, John Woo style, in order to make more dramatic entrances. They are more of a parody of "elite" teams than anything else.
    • The Fall of Medusa V was a 2006 worldwide campaign where the results of various matches played around the world would determine the course of an ongoing plot. The Space Marines and Imperial Guard — lumped into one "Imperium" faction for the campaign — lost the majority of their battles due to the Space Marines being the go-to army for novice players and kids, and the Imperial Guard being consistently low-tier for most of their history before 6th Edition. Statistically, the Eldar won. However, seeing this as a blow to the brand's image, the Eldar were listed as a Pyrrhic Victory and the Space Marines were put down as the Doomed Moral Victor of the campaign note . Many players on the other sides were... less than pleased.
    • Dark Heresy casts you as the servant of the Inquisition, which should in the 40k Universe come with great power and authority. Rogue Trader moves you even higher up the totem pole, putting you in a role which would be analogous to being Hernan Cortez while everyone else is a muck-farming peasant. Deathwatch promotes you all the way to a Super-Soldier who is an object of reverence to common people. In each case, your station is far beyond that of normal human beings.
    • Among the Imperial Guard ranks, there are elite Sanctioned Psykers, known as Primaris Psykers. These individuals have gone through extensive training routine to give them a reasonable chance to fight off Chaos corruption as they use their otherworldly powers. What makes them truly unique is that they're often given a position of trust and authority in the battlefield, contrasting the usual Burn the Witch! mentality of the rest of the Imperium.
  • In Warhammer Fantasy many elite units receive a lot more glory than the rest. Knights in particular are are best remembered for their bravery and skills in turning the tide of battle in their favor. The best example is Crusades of Araby, where a combined army of Empire and Bretonnian knights fought against the armies of the Araby sultan Jaffar, who's army outnumber theirs 20 to 1, the knights fought them off all the way back to Araby, and their deeds are greatly glorified to this day.
    • Warhammer Fantasy also had its own version of the Fall of Medusa V called the "Storm of Chaos" worldwide campaign. This campaign pitted an Elite Army of Chaos Warriors known as the Army of the Everchosen (lead by the at that point newly-introduced Big Bad of the setting, Archaeon the Everchosen) in an invasion of The Empire of Sigmar. Many new players lured in by the marketing picked the Army of the Everchosen as it was the elite showcase army, which ended up putting them against The Empire (traditionally one of the more popular armies) and its more veteran players. Result: The Army of the Everchosen lost badly, with their "Hold The Line" battles usually ending with the Empire succeeding at multiple objectives per battle despite 2-to-1 odds against. Just like with Medusa V, a Story Overwrite determined Chaos had won anyway, with The Empire saved at the last moment by the third-ranked army (WAAAGH! Grimgor, another Elite Army made for the campaign). The backlash led to the whole thing being declared Canon Discontinuity and the later End Times being done entirely by GW's writers.
    • Averted pointedly by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which makes out part of its appeal from the fact that players roll randomly for their origin story at the beginning of the game and it's the Game Master and players' job to make up a suitable story on what drove a Charcoal Burner, a Servant, a Hedge Wisdom and a Rat Catcher with their small (but vicious) dog to became an adventuring party. There are starting careers that represent your characters having experience in adventuring-suited skills, like soldiers or slayers, but they are rare and unlikely to obtain.
  • In The World of Darkness games, you will almost always be able to easily create a new character who is an elite member of modern society even if they are just a new member of their supernatural society. They will generally be one of The Beautiful Elite or this trope. This tends to make sense as either the character's latent supernatural powers aided them or their elite status was what attracted the supernatural to them. Starting characters can easily be world famous pro athletes, gifted, acclaimed scientists, or commandos in the modern world.

    Video Games 
  • The Americans yet again; this time, in Act of War, although this is more towards a specific Badass Army branch known as "Task Force Talon". They get the so-called bleeding edge technology that no one else can get. Your basic grunt is the Task Force Commando. Tech up and you get the Future Force Warrior.
  • The protagonist duo of the Army of Two series began their careers as US Army Rangers who decided to become private military contractors (which tend to be Elites who get paid more and don't have to worry about a government defense budget and NATO "lowest bidder" equipment standardization).
  • Baten Kaitos Origins has an In-Universe example with the imperial soldiers. They can either choose to wield a sword or gun, and the only incentive for the former is "the sword is a status symbol within the military".
  • Battlefield:
  • The Call of Duty series of games is a particularly good example:
    • In the first game the various characters you play are in the 101st Airborne, 6th Airborne and SAS, and the 13th Guards Rifle Division.
    • In the second your characters are from the 13th Guards again, 7th Armoured "Desert Rats" (historically distinguished itself in North Africa) and US Army Rangers.
    • Call Of Duty 3 zigzags this trope. The SAS is featured, fighting alongside the French Resistance, but they play a relatively small role in comparison with the US 29th and 90th Infantry, the Canadian 4th Armoured, and the Free Polish 1st Armoured division. The plot of the game concerns closing the Falaise Pocket, which is accomplished by the conventional units, while the SAS missions are largely unconnected to that objective.
    • Modern Warfare (CoD 4) has your characters being in the USMC Force Recon and SAS. The SAS are conducting the special operations for which they are famous; the USMC Force Recon, however, are largely playing the role of much more standard Marines or even regular army, so, oddly enough, they are the out of place unit.
    • Modern Warfare 2 now gives us the U.S. Army Rangers, and the international special ops unit Task Force 141. Again, though, both are largely doing the correct missions for their sorts of units.
    • World at War: Marine Raiders/1st Marine Division and 150th Rifle Division (Historically the formation whose soldiers raised the Soviet flag on the Reichstag). However, the 150th Rifle Division might not exactly be considered elite, but That Other Wiki states that the 3rd Shock Army they were in, all Shock Armies in fact, received more artillery and armour support than other armies in Russia.
    • Call of Duty: Black Ops is continuing this trend. You play as a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division, that performs, well, black ops.
    • In Modern Warfare 3, you play a large part of the game as Frost, member of the Delta Force squad "Metal"; as World War III has started, their missions are sometimes real special forces work and sometimes they are just called in to help for more conventional tasks. Also, Yuri, the other main playable character, is former Spetsnaz and Captain Price, as whom you play during the last mission, is former SAS and Task Force 141.
      • NPC allies also include other elites, such as the French GIGN, US Navy SEALs, and more British SAS.
    • Most of your allies in Call of Duty: Black Ops II are part of the U.S. Navy's SEAL Team Six, the elite of the already-elite Navy SEALs. Not only that, David Mason, the player character, commands them.
  • In Civilization 4, the unique unit for America is the Navy SEAL. (Which, in-game, is mechanically a buffed version of the Marine.)
  • The Americans at your disposal in Command & Conquer: Generals is made up of mostly elites and high-tech regulars. The Army Rangers are the basic U.S. Army infantry.
  • The Commandos series is one of the rare example of fictional representation of the British Commandos.
  • In Counter-Strike, the Counter-Terrorist team is made up of the US SEAL Team, the British SAS, the French GIGN, the German GSG-9, and the Russian Spetznaz.
  • In the Crusader games, you are already one of the most elite soldiers in the world...and then you defect and join the underfunded, undermanned, underequipped, undertrained Resistance and single-handedly take on missions it would normally take entire assault teams of rebels to complete.
  • In Crysis you wear a nanosuit that costs $1 billion. Needless to say, they don't hand that out to the common enlisted man. You encounter marines who lack it and view you as a One-Man Army, which is indeed how your operational capacities are treated despite the fact that you are part of a small squad, each member of which is shown (especially in sequels/gaiden games) to undertake missions of equal importance.
  • The Elder Scrolls series' spin-off Dungeon Crawl game, Battlespire, takes place in the titular Battlespire, an extra-dimensional magical training facility for the Imperial Battlemages. The Player Character is an apprentice looking to join the Shadow Legion, an elite division within the Imperial Battlemages.
  • ESWAT really emphasizes this. In the game, you are just a lowly beat cop named Duke Oda who has to first defeat 3 bosses with nothing more than your standard police sidearm. Once you do that, you are then accepted into the ranks of the elite ESWAT team where Duke is outfitted in a suit of Powered Armor that has a shoulder launcher and a machine gun Arm Cannon.
  • Final Fantasy VII does this in-universe with a fictional elite unit, SOLDIER, that are highly respected and feared by everyone. Being a member of SOLDIER is seen as cool — in one particular scene, it's established that SOLDIERs are expected to spend a lot of time striking poses and demanding admirers. Cloud was dead set on becoming a member and didn't, but between medical experimentation, magic, mind-breaking trauma and self-delusion managed to convince others he was one, anyway.
  • In First Encounter Assault Recon and its sequels, you're either a F.E.A.R. Agent, a Replica, an ATC Black Ops or a Nightcrawler. Otherwise, you're minced meat, and yes, that category includes Delta Force.
  • Averted in the Gears of War series, where all the main characters are their world's equivalent of regular enlisted men who keep stumbling into critical situations. The Onyx Guard, the actual elite of the COG military, only appear a couple times in the expanded universe, and get utterly slaughtered every time they do.
  • Geist begins with the main character as a member of a suspicious paramilitary unit.
  • Halo:
    • You normally play as the Master Chief, a super-elite, semi-secret, power-armoured, and surgically-enhanced SPARTAN-II Super-Soldier.
    • In Halo 2, you also play as the Arbiter, a member of the Covenant species colloquially called "Elites" for their prowess in battle (all of them are physically a match for the aforementioned Spartan-IIs). He is deployed alongside the Covenant's own special forces on various Suicide Missions to atone for not being able to stop the Chief in the first game, and he happens to be the former Supreme Commander of a massive fleet who earned his position through Asskicking Leads to Leadership.
    • In Halo 3's co-op mode, players 3 and 4 get to play as two Elites from the Fleet of Retribution's Special Warfare Group; N'tho 'Sraom is the youngest member of his Special Operations unit, and Usze 'Taham is a highly distinguished Fleet Security operative. Players 1 and 2? The Chief and Arbiter.
    • Halo 3: ODST, the "gaiden" game of the series where you get to play as a regular human instead of a Spartan Super-Soldier, still has you play as various ODSTs (the UNSC's most elite non-Spartan units) sent in by the Office of Naval Intelligence, rather than basic marines. In fact, the ODSTs you play as are specifically "Helljumpers" from the 105th Shock Troops Division, making them badass even by ODST standards.
    • Halo: Reach maintains the tradition as well. For one thing, NOBLE Team is fairly elite for a traditionally expendable SPARTAN-III team, to the point that one of their members is a much more valuable Spartan-II. For another, the player character, Noble 6, is a black ops assassin who is the only other person with the same lethality rating as Master Chief, which is more impressive given that Noble 6 him/herself is a Spartan-III.
    • Halo 4 also continues the tradition, with Spartan-IVs as the stars of both the multiplayer and the Spartan Ops co-op campaign.
    • Halo 5: Guardians goes even further; the campaign is split between the Spartan-IIs of Blue Team (including the Chief) and the Spartan-IVs of Fireteam Osiris (which includes both Jameson Locke of Nightfall and Edward Buck from ODST).
  • Each of the major Council species in Mass Effect has famed In-Universe special forces:
    • The Council itself has Special Tactics and Reconnaissance, or "Spectres", top-tier agents selected from the very best of the Council species to serve as black ops operatives that answer directly to the members of the Council. They are entrusted with extraordinary amounts of power and are legally allowed to violate virtually every law in Council space in service of their missions. Commander Shepard is selected to become the first human Spectre at the start of the series.
    • Humanity: The N7 special forces, which represent the very best of the best of the Systems Alliance military. The N7 are just the highest tier of soldiers who have completed every level of Interplanetary Combatives Training, which is so grueling and intense that even soldiers who wash out at the first level (N1) are greatly respected by their comrades for simply being selected in the first place. Shepard is also an N7 Naval Special Warfare officer in addition to being a Spectre. Other graduates of the N7 program include Shepard's commanding officer David Anderson and Alec Ryder.
    • Asari: The asari commandos, who form the elite of their military. They're all extremely talented in biotics and guerrilla tactics, and In-Universe are considered the deadliest individual warriors in the galaxy. In Mass Effect 3, Flavor Text for their War Assets entry mentions an incident in which a group of five commandos managed to whittle down a group of over a hundred Blood Pack mercenaries over the course of several days before finally forcing the survivors to surrender with zero casualties.
    • Salarians: The Special Tasks Group, or STG, who are easily the most skilled espionage operatives in the entire galaxy. Of the various elites in the Mass Effect universe, the STG receive the least amount of public attention or fanfare, but that's probably because they win all of their battles before anyone even knows what happened. The aforementioned Spectres were modeled after STG, and the earliest Spectre operatives were drawn from their ranks.
    • Turians: Blackwatch, which is mobilized only in response to situations that directly threaten the safety of the turian homeworld itself. They are said to have the highest success rate of any unit in the turian military, already the most feared fighting force in the galaxy. Ironically, despite the turians being the Proud Warrior Race Guys of the Mass Effect universe, Blackwatch receives the least amount of attention and is only mentioned in Flavor Text. Nonetheless, some of the most respected and badass turians in the series were said to have served or rumored to have served in Blackwatch, including the first game's Big Bad Saren Arterius.
    • While not a Council race, Krogan Battlemasters are generally treated as the most dangerous people in the galaxy, being extremely powerful biotics from a species of walking tanks. The only one we see, teammate Urdnot Wrex, mentions that he once had a week-long battle with an asari commando that ended when they blew up the station they were on. The commando also survived.
    • Your teammates also demonstrate this, especially in 2 — a retired member of the salarian elite force who inspired the Spectres, one of the galaxy's most talented assassins, a tank-bred perfect krogan, an asari with 400 years' experience as a Justicar, one of humanity's most powerful biotics, and one of Cerberus's most trusted Operatives are all recruitable, and most of them are inescapable. Justified because unlike the first game, where your squad is pretty much scrounged together from whoever's most willing to tag along, you're specifically recruiting the most badass team you can deal with a major enemy.
    • The multiplayer mode in Mass Effect 3 centers around a squad of elite operatives with access to abilities and equipment comparable to Shepard's. The Illusive Man's Dragon Kai Leng was, like Shepard, an N7 operative.
  • The Metal Gear series has one of its major characters Big Boss be a career veteran of the United States Military who was involved in various Special Forces. He served as a Green Beret for 10 years until he was recruited by the CIA to be part of a fictional group known as FOX. Later on, he served in Vietnam doing the CIA's top secret black ops working such groups as MAC-V SOG and the Navy Seals. According to the fiction of the universe Big Boss was also the man that helped found the Delta Force and his own personal black ops organization under his command called FOXHOUND, a successor to FOX.
    • Solid Snake himself was a former Green Beret before joining FOXHOUND.
  • Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, MOHAA Spearhead and MOHAA Breakthrough.
    • The relaunch specifically noted that you were playing as Tier 1 operators (the elite of the elite of special forces). For the short period of time when you're not, you're still playing as Army Rangers, which are the elite of the Army.
  • Mortal Kombat: Lt. Sonya Blade and Maj. Jackson Briggs are both Special Forces, though the games don't explicitly say what type. Sonya's attire in some games implies Green Beret.
  • Noblemen 1896 from Foursaken Media justifies this in game. America lost 70% of its population to plague. So, when civil war breaks out, your military couldn't outfit everyone, so the wealthy landowners and the nobility had to buy their own equipment for combat. There's also a unit known as the Elite who start out kitted with the best money can buy, meanwhile Prisoners just get a plank of wood to fight with.
  • Operation Flashpoint:
    • Partially averted in Dragon Rising. While there are plenty of missions where you play as a Force Recon unit named Saber, performing stealth and infiltration tasks...most of the really epic battles in the game have you in the role of a unit of standard frontline infantry named Dagger. And they're who you play as in the final, war-winning mission of the game.
    • In the original Operation Flashpoint, you play as four different people. One is an SF operator, yes, and playing as him involves frankly hair-raising crawls through enemy camps to sabotage tanks, and so forth. But the others are a Pilot, flying a variety of missions which though important are nothing elite; a tank commander on the front line; and an infantryman in the thick of the fighting as part of a large unit with no special tasking or characteristics. So, a massive aversion for the most part here.
      • Additionally, missions featuring the special forces operative are usually stealth-based and include very little to no actual fighting.
  • Operation Flashpoint's Spiritual Successor ARMA and its sequel carry on in the same vein; although ARMA II has you playing as a US Marine Corps Force Recon, and the expansion Operation Arrowhead has you playing as a Delta Force operator, you also play as an ordinary line infantryman, a helicopter pilot, tank commander, a British infantryman and a military contractor — who are not depicted as badass elite team, but more as heavily-armed mall cops in a warzone. The final DLC even allows you to play as someone in the Army of the Czech Republic, who haven't even invaded anyone by themselves recently.
    • ARMA III again averts this trope, you play Ben Kerry, a common infantryman from an almost-disbanded NATO task force in the small Mediterranean island of Altis, that finds himself in a middle of a hostile invasion and has to survive. ARMA III also subverts this trope as the local special forces group, the CTRG, are portrayed as very shady, untrustworthy, using and betraying both your NATO task force and the local allied guerilla group, the FIA and are revealed to actually have caused the invasion that you are trying to survive in the first place.
      • ARMA III's expansion, Apex, reconstructs and run this straight, as you play as a member of the CTRG, fighting against local guerilla and cartel group, Syndikat, in the pacific island of Tanoa. We are also introduced to the Viper team, CSAT's Evil Counterpart to CTRG, a Chinese special forces group specializing in toppling governments and destabilizing nations, as they are funding the Syndikat.
      • Contact, the second expansion for ARMA III, features as the main OPFOR units introduced are the "223rd Special Purpose Detachment" of the Russian Spetsnaz.
  • Intentionally averted by the Battlefield 2 Game Mod Project Reality and its sequel Squad. There are no special forces units are present in the game, nor are there plans to introduce them. The devs wanted the game to be focused on the rank-and-file gameplay.
  • Rainbow Six comprises the Elites of the Elites. It's a multinational unit comprised of the best from each nation's commando teams.
  • The two protagonists of Resident Evil were both elites in their previous careers (Jill was Delta Force and Chris was a USAF Fighter Pilot), and in-game are members of S.T.A.R.S., itself an elite squad in the Raccoon Police Department.
  • In Rise of Nations, the main infantry unit for the Americans is the Marine. This appears in a slightly different form elsewhere. As unique units of civilizations are upgraded past their historical ages, the game usually "elites" them. Sometimes, it's not so bad like companion cavalry -> cataphracts. Some are pushing it like Roman legions -> Praetorian Guard. But Hwarang -> Elite Hwarang -> Royal Hwarang -> Elite Royal Hwarang is just silly.
  • Captain Martin Walker, the Player Character of Spec Ops: The Line is a Delta Force operative. However, the game quickly subverts this trope as Walker and his squad prove to be way out of their depth.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic has the Trooper character, the newest addition to the Republic's elite Havoc Squad, with a starting rank of Sergeant, and regarded as the 'best of the best'. Subverted, though, in that their starting equipment is a t-shirt and weapons worse than the rest of his squad and piddling starter weapons that are worse than the Separatists they'll be fighting, their own squadmates in Havoc, and even the local militia.
    • Of course, in later parts of the game you gain appropriately awesome gear, and a reputation to match it (judging by the number of Republic NPCs who are starstruck on seeing you.
  • In Star Wars: Republic Commando you play as the leader of a squad of elite Commandos that are in turn part of a larger army of elite troopers. Literally making you the best of the best of the best.
  • The S.W.A.T. series; it's right there in the title really. Though in this case the franchise is actually a spin-off of the Police Quest games, which are a complete aversion.
  • Titanfall and its sequel has the Pilots, an elite squad of soldiers who went through extensive and often perilous training regiments for both physical and mental preparation so they could fight as well on foot as when piloting a Titan. They're so renowned, you'd often catch allied NPC grunts pointing you out, remarking how amazing you are, and openly claiming the enemy stands no chance now.
  • Valkyria Chronicles:
    • Averted in the beginning of Valkyria Chronicles where your unit, Squad 7, is made up out of a bunch of civilian militia recruits and local police forces with the only exceptional item being your main characters father's tank. However, not only do your units gain 'elite' status when leveled high enough, by the end of the game your unit is taking on all the truly epic missions anyway. Hell, Squad 7 is the only reason Gallia doesn't fall, as the entire army — the entire main army — gets completely obliterated towards the end of the game. Absolutely nothing changes, because the army was useless anyway. That said, Squad 7 is actually treated by the rest of the army as mere cannon fodder; they were just too awesome to die. But while they might not have been officially named elites, that's what they really were.
    • Played with in Valkyria Chronicles II; while your team members are all cadets from Gallia's most elite military academy, the actual class they're in is a dumping ground for underachievers, eccentrics, and social undesirables. That said, they still end up proving themselves to be some of Gallia's best soldiers.
    • Also played with in Valkyria Chronicles III, where your unit is a black-ops penal legion. However, their exploits (though not their fame) go on to rival those of Squad 7 itself.
    • Eventually played completely straight in Valkyria Chronicles 4, where the main characters' unit of E Platoon is part of the legendary Ranger Battalion of the Edinburgh Army. Belonging to the 101st Edinburgh Division, they are literally a fictional version of the 101st Airborne Division.

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • In real life, elitism among military formations has much to do with morale. Soldiers assigned to an ancient regiment or to a special formation can be expected to feel a sense of elevation over their less favored comrades, and hence to fight more stubbornly. By the same token, troops are also very sensitive to the reputation of their adversaries. To use examples from World War II: in the British and US armies, the approach of a SS panzer division instilled a special thrill of fear and excitement. To the German army on the Eastern Front the Soviet deployment of a Red Guards Army, or still more a Red Guards Tank Army, was a sure sign that the Ivans meant business.
  • The Airborne and the Marines. In any military. Ever.
  • Traditionally, elite military units really were more glamorous, receiving special uniforms that made them stand out on the battlefield so that the enemy could immediately know that they were going up against the best. Cavalry units, particularly hussars, were especially fashionable, with troopers wearing uniforms that were especially ornate and riding horses that were bred for their looks as much for strength and speed. This tradition has carried into the modern day, with military personnel with certain qualifications being allowed to customize their uniforms to make them stand out from the rest.
  • Napoléon Bonaparte's Imperial Guard, and among them the Old Guard, are the most talked about and reenacted units of The Napoleonic Wars for a reason, even if he didn't order them to fight in every battle prior to 1813.
  • The SAS, still considered to be some of the best (if not the best) Special Forces on the planet, whose methods and training are the model for all the rest - indeed, they often help train the rest. They are undoubtedly the most glamorous (and most mysterious, because very little is actually known about them, and they prefer it that way — which rather adds to the glamour) regiment in the British Army - and given that their motto is "Who Dares Wins", you can see why. Consideration for entrance requires at least three years of good service in another regiment, then taking part in the absurdly gruelling 'Selection'. The Hill phase, only the very beginning, has killed trainees in the past, and only 15-20% candidates remain after undergoing it. And these are young professional soldiers in tip-top condition. Then follows the jungle phase (the same, but in a jungle), the combat survival exercise including a week-long 'escape and evasion', and finally, a 36 hour 'resistance to interrogation' test, which is exactly what it sounds like. All those who survive this absurdly brutal process are apparently rewarded with operational deployments.
    • This might contribute to their description by extremely experienced BBC War Correspondent Kate Adie: "They were a lot like Martians: silent, watchful and festooned with strange weaponry." Adie had first brought the SAS into the public eye with her live coverage of the 1980 Iran embassy siege, before which point most civilians weren't actually sure if they existed.
    • The Parachute regiment, meanwhile, is invitation only. Paras wear maroon berets with highly distinctive badges worn conspicuously far to the sides of their faces. It is somewhat less glamorous, however, thanks to a nasty reputation earned by the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, to the point that they're sometimes considered the Token Evil Team Mate of the British Army. That aside, they also have a vague and undefined association with criminality. In reality, they're usually no better or worse than the rest of the army (morally speaking, that is — in terms of their actual competence, they're the next best thing to the SAS, and a significant chunk of the SAS is composed of ex Paras, particularly the Pathfinder Platoon).
  • The Brigade of Gurkhas, respected and feared around the world. note  Tens of thousands of Nepalis apply to join the regiment and obsessively train to meet its selection criteria, partly because of this reputation and partly because Nepal is an extremely poor country and even the below average wage (c. £18,000 per year) for a private is a great deal of money in that part of the world.
  • During World War II the so-called "Chindits" were British special forces who performed operations of great heroism and derring-do and were widely publicized... But they suffered such heavy casualties and were so expensive to supply and train that their effectiveness was questionable. The Chindits spent 1942 and 43 playing hide-and-seek behind the Japanese lines in Burma to little effect. Field Marshall William Slim took over the 14th Army in late 1943 and turned the entire force into highly mobile light infantry. Over the next two years he kicked the Japanese entirely out of Burma; his key tactic was to let his units be surrounded and rely on airdropped supplies to outlast the enemy offensives. He taught the 14th not to rely on conventional supply lines and make frequent offensive patrols — he refused to let his men think the Japanese were superior jungle fighters. In 1945 Slim's army was, man for man, the toughest fighting force in the world.
    • Slim insisted that regular infantry, well-trained, equipped and acclimatized, could accomplish any mission just as well as special forces - proving his point with the 14th Army - and often argued that the existence of special forces, as well as the glamour and mystique surrounding them, weakened the rest of the military by recruiting all the best individuals and then making everybody else start thinking that there were certain tasks that could only be performed by special forces. Louis Mountbatten even suggested that the Chindits were disbanded because "we are all Chindits now." The former page quote sums up Slim's thoughts: "This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier, who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it, should be expected to climb a tree".
    • Creation of special forces was resisted during World War II in several countries for this very reason. Furthermore, transfering the most skilled soldiers in a certain art made it difficult to train the more conventional troops in the same as the soldiers being transfered would have been the natural instructors and leaders.
  • It is precisely because of this trope that the US Marine Corps resisted adding Force Recon to the newly-created Special Operations Command (the fabled SOCOM). "There are no special Marines."
    • The cultural attitude regarding all Marines being "elite" was only part of the Corps' reasoning behind the resistance. There were more practical considerations, namely the fact that if the USMC allowed the transfer, then operational control of Force Recon would, in practice, lie with SOCOM. Force Recon at the time occupied a very important niche in the USMC's overall expeditionary combat scheme and the Corps (understandably) wasn't willing to risk having their deep recon experts being used by SOCOM to carry out objectives unrelated to their own during wartime. However, following the invasion of Afghanistan and many of the Marines' best units being sidelined while special operations personnel largely ran the show, the Corps relented and stood up their own contribution to SOCOM.
    • Who are now officially called Raiders, after a WWII USMC special-ops unit provided with specialized weaponry. It made several (not particularly effective) raids, also operated as standard amphibious infantry and was disbanded in 1944 and the men transferred to regular units. Paramarines, also issued specialized weapons such as the Johnson rifle and machine gun, were similarly sidelined; they never jumped into combat because the Marines didn't have enough planes to drop more than a sixth of them at once and would have had to use every single one just to do that. They also didn't see why the Marines would need their own paratroops anyway.
  • Saddam-era Iraq's elites were the Republican Guard on the ground. In the air, it was the Iraqi Air Force, considered one of the best-trained and best-equipped air forces in the Arab world. The bulk of the Iraqi military, however, were made up of largely conscripted forces that were held together almost completely by the intimidation of their commanding officers, whose morale tactics could best be compared to Commissars from Warhammer 40,000. When both the Airforce and the Republican Guard fell apart, the bulk of Saddam's military simply surrendered en mass. Thus illustrating an often forgotten but important lesson: never focus on your elites to the detriment of the rest of your military.
    • It didn't help that even so-called elites were in many cases mind-boggingly inept, to the point that a typical Iraqi pilot failed to react to the radar lock and/or missile warning — assuming he even had radar and missile warning devices in the first place. An American EF-111 even became the only craft in its family to achieve an aerial victory by making an Iraqi jet maneuver itself into the ground.
    • This applied in the Falklands War of 1982; the very hardest land fighting was against elite Marine units of the Argentinian Army, who fought on to the last bullet, despite the fact the conscript army around them was collapsing and surrendering en masse. Since the war ended, Argentina appears to have learnt this lesson and is now developing more elite units along British lines of training and organisation.
  • Many raised around the US Navy are often surprised and eventually annoyed at how many people think the only ships in the Navy are aircraft carriers and battleships.
    • Speaking of the Navy, they had commandos dating back as far as World War II, who were involved in underwater demolitions and deep sea recovery. Then came the Navy SEALs, then the Navy Special Warfare Development Group, then SEAL Team Six. Today, anything Navy or special forces related would, odds are, center on Team Six. Although with Team Six, their eliteness and overspecialization ended up biting them in the ass a little bit, as they were a touch too elite to risk on the field and so ended up spending much of their early years benched waiting for a mission of sufficient gravity to warrant their deployment, quite a few of the inaugural class of SEAL Team Six (including their original commander) left without actually shooting at a single real enemy.
  • Pilots in just about any military tend to get this treatment, much to the annoyance of the ground crews who work on the planes the pilots actually fly. The main exception to this are "Mustangs", who are enlisted men who became officers, and ultimately, pilots themselves, and thus, guys who actually know what their planes can do, without having to turn back because of a warning light they aren't sure of.
    • The Finnish Air Force's top ace of WWII, Ilmari Juutilainen (94 victories), was a Mustang. He had served as an airplane mechanic as conscript, and volunteered in the flight school after his first tour of duty. He had excellent understanding of various airplanes in theory and practice, what they could and couldn't do, and how to maximize one's own assets and minimize those of the enemy. He was never shot down nor did he ever lose a wingman. He scored two kills with the Fokker D.XXI, 36 with the Brewster 239 and 62 with the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
  • During the Polish-Soviet War, the Blue Army, led by General Józef Haller, which had previously fought on the Western Front as a part of the French army, distinguished itself from other Polish units with excellent equipment and training, high morale and the iconic light-blue uniforms.
  • The Nazis usually called units "elite" for propaganda purposes, such as the Afrika Korps. Other branches, including the Fallschirmjäger and the U-Boat Service, were considered elite. The Waffen-SS zig-zagged this, as their actual combat prowess often paled in comparison to the rest of the Wehrmacht, but their elitism was rooted in their fanaticism to the Nazi cause. Generally though, being a member of the SS did move you up socially. And their units did often get a higher priority of replacement vehicles and guns when there was a shortage, contributing to the elite perception of the formations, even though the troops didn't receive any higher quality training and the supply allocation was due to horrid Interservice Rivalry and politicking Fascist, but Inefficient organizations trying to get one up on the other.
  • Israel's security forces are particularly fond of this. Because of the broad operational scope and pace of the IDF and police forces, almost every combat unit has its dedicated special operations capable unit that receives the latest equipment. Sayeret(recon) has evolved to mean an elite unit in IDF nomenclature and thus evokes this trope.
    • The IDF has the Tzanchanim Brigade (Army paratroopers) which has its own sayeret, sayeret Tzanchanim, regular infantry brigades' Sayeret units, the Oz Bridage (Army Special Forces and its subordinate Units 212 Maglan -commandos-, 217 Duvdevan -a special Mista'arvim unit who disguise as locals- and 621 Egoz -counter guerillas-), Special Fire Regiment 214 (Artillery commandos), the Armoured Corp's various Palsars(recon battalions), Yahalom (combat engineers special operations), Multidimensional "ghost" Unit (combined arms special operations) Shayetet 13 (Navy commando Flotilla), and the Air Force in general and the Air Force's Shaldag Squadron 5150 in particular.
    • The police has Yasam, a quick response riot control unit, Gideonim, a Mista'arvim unit and YAGAL, a counter smuggling unit. The prison service branch has Metzada, riot supression and quick response, Nahshon, who conduct searches and guard personnel and Dror, a counter-narcotics unit. The border police branch has the Yamas, another Mista'arvim unit directly subordinate to Shin Bet (Isreali equivalent to FBI) and Yamam special counter terror unit.
    • Above them all and arguably the basis for most, are the Sayeret Matkal (Israeli equivalent of the SAS), directly subordinate to Military Intelligence.
  • Turkey has the Mountain Commandos for the Army, the Underwater Offense and Underwater Defense for the Navy and the Combat Search and Rescue for the Air Force. Turkish Gendarmes and Police also have their own special forces. The top tier unit are the Maroon Berets, directly attached to the General Staff.


Video Example(s):


SEALs can grow arms back

JD and Michelle speak to an Australian Navy officer in charge of overseeing training for Navy SEALs under him. He tells them that despite the task force uncovering an arm with a potential missing SEAL, the officer tell them that they can just grown an arm back if they don't have one. Which is an exaggerated way of mentioning how elite the SEALs are in the US Navy.

When the SEALs do the "Hoorah!" battle cry, JD's impressed.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / ElitesAreMoreGlamorous

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