Historical Relevance of the Green Door

Hey everyone,

Hoping to gain some more SA on the historical relevance of the origins of the Green Door. (I am not seeking any mission related stuff, or anything about being a part of Green Door) I am merely trying to put into logical thoughts the meaning behind it.

So far here is where I am at:

Prohibition era term depicting a secret entrance into a private club and speakeasy. The door was painted green so that the "in the know clients" knew where to go.

In 1956 Jim Lowe puts out a song called Green Door describing this very thing.^^^

Now here's where I am trying to bridge a gap. AFPC uses the term Green Door because (maybe?) there was a door at AFPC that controlled those specific assignments that was painted green?

Overall, I get the concept. AF members can't apply for Green Door directly. If they want you they will find you. Not only the appropriate clearance, but the read-ins are a must and without being read in you know nothing about the mission or where the money comes from to fund the mission.

So, did the Air Force adopt this prohibition era "privacy", "exclusive" term? Or was their historical relevance prior to all this in the military?

For all I know I've hit every area, but if someone with some historian in them could post I would be much appreciative!


Staff member
Overactive imagination.

I served 1973 thru 1996 and never heard Green Door being mentioned or a if they need you they will find you program other than the need being advertised. Regardless historically the Air Force has conducted the most transparent entry classification and assignment processes of all the services, particularlily so for entry classification into occupation specialties having a formal assessment and selection program.

If a green door metaphor was ever applicable, and I'm making a wild speculation leap, it applied to TACP and weather parachutists being conventional and SOF with assignment to SOF TACP and SO Weather assignments having an A&S imposed by AFSOC for assignment to its units which supported Army SOF forces. It wasn't exactly applicable as the individual had to hold the appropriate AFSC, volunteer for assignment to an AFSOC unit and get through the AFSOC imposed assessment and selection process.

Being found because they want you is also a misconception as within the military it has always been you volunteer and then get assessed to determine if personnel express the desire by volunteering and then being processed through an assessment to determine if the minimum qualifications being sought are processed to be selected. The only significant change over the years is when one can volunteer.

Prior to 1977 one had to at least be a recruit going through BMT to volunteer or through a retraining program. During the period 1977 thru about 1990 it became possible to volunteer during the enlistment process by obtaining a GTEP enlistment contract for a specific projected AFSC. After 1990 the volunteer option became 100% GTEP enlistment contract or attempt to retrain through the First Term Airman retraining program.

As of 2020 the GTEP volunteer option transitioned from specific AFSC to essentially the Special Warfare Career Field 9T500 GTEP contract. The actual occupation specialty code (Combat Control, Pararescue, SR, TACP) awarding training pipeline is determined while going through A&S.

The attached pdf, Need for Arctic Vets, is the earliest example of requirement is advertised to obtain volunteers. There is much back story to this announcement seeking volunteers as the 10th Rescue Squadron wasn't aligned under the Air Rescue Service until several years after1947. However, the tragic failed rescue causing this announcement did result in ARS pararescue personnel being assigned to the 10th. It also caused much anguish for those volunteering believing they would become Pararescue when the Alaska Air Command and then finding the Alaska Air Command had greater need for survival instructors as the results of the commands rescue failure was being directed to get needed trained and qualified pararescue personnel from the Air Rescue Service.

Added: Second attachment is a ca. 1960 CCT recruiting advertisement. At the time the duties didn't even have a AFSC shred although those sought had to have award of Air Traffic Control or Radio Repair AFSC to be assigned to a CCT team. FYI, the radio Repair AFSC was also eligible to volunteer for assignment to a TACP. In 1977 this radio repair AFSC became ROMAD and subsequently became known as the TACP enlisted specialty.



Staff member
I just ran across the below recently published info on the internet. However, every NRO or duty assignment I have awareness of requiring Special Access Program eligibility was advertised back in the day by a classified message to units seeking volunteers having the desired AFSC and qualifications. These were typically not entry level duty position assignments, unless unit/mission support in nature such as admin, supply, etc. The common eligibility qualification denominator is getting through security investigation and an administrative and medical reliability (character) assessment. Very few actually involved going through a performance observed assessment and selection program as duties mostly involve working at a desk or in a secure room or building. More info: Behind the "green door" - Demystifying the mystique of Intel (It wasn't that long ago that Intel worked exclusively behind a green vault door.) FYI long ago mush have been prior to 1982 as I spent time in these vaults and the vault door I went through wasn't green.

Green Door is the typical aggrandized terminology used by most to build their self identity of being a special highly trained secret squirrel scurrying about in the operational environment when actuality the concern is (was) to ensure the selecting of personnel demonstrating the highest levels of integrity and dependability. Considering the increasing numbers of personnel making the news for lack of integrity and dependability the green door appears to be off its hinges if not completely gone.

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Why do Air Force officers refer to green doors? Why? Read on and we'll tell you.
By Theresa Hitchenson, September 13, 2019 at 7:01 AM

WASHINGTON: Sigh. The mystery is gone. After we posted our story (and our slight puzzlement) on the call by the three-star commander of Air Forces Central Command (AFCENT) for info on US space capabilities, and adversary threats, to come out from “behind the green door,” we got schooled about the real meaning of the phrase.

Several Breaking D readers of current and past Air Force affiliation tweeted or emailed us to make sure we understood that the phrase used Sept. 9 by AFCENT Commander Lt. Gen. Joseph Guastella is service slang for programs classified above ‘top secret,’ and had nothing to do with any movies or taverns.

“I suspect that someone has told you by now, but the ‘Green Door’ in your article is how many people in the Air Force refer to classified (especially special access protected – SAP – information),” wrote one amused former Pentagon official with long-standing ties to the ‘black’ world.

This official said the phrase “stems from the office at the Air Force Personnel Center (AFPC) that handles all SAP assignments, such as assignments to the NRO, program offices like the B-21, the RCO, and Area 51. That special office historically had a green door (last time I was there it was back to basic brown). So while it might be fun to allude to other possible origins of the term, it’s unfortunately, pretty mundane.”

But guess what? The phrase actually has a much longer national security and military pedigree as a euphemism for secret. Oh yes, we at Breaking D are delving into a murky realm that is not usually covered by defense publications: semantics and etymology, the study of the meaning and the origin of words and phrases including idioms. Even though that AFPC door may have been painted green simply because it was the only paint found in the janitorial closet at the time, the phrase “behind the green door” — and its connotations of both secrecy and illicit activity — has a history that predates the US Air Force.

As we reported in our original story, one of the earliest references we could find — OK, that we could find in a five-minute Google search while racing towards deadline — to a ‘green door’ that protected secrets was the Green Door Tavern in Chicago. It was originally established in 1921 as a speakeasy, and is still going strong as a legal establishment selling alcoholic beverages and food too. Apparently, many speakeasies back in the bad old days of Prohibition painted their doors green to signal to prospective customers.

But the late, great William Safire, in a 2004 column in the New York Times Magazine (that we found in another Google search after slapping our foreheads because we recalled Safire’s obsession with etymology), explained the original military-related usage. He traced the term back to spies and spy catchers at Bletchley Park during Britain’s World War II efforts to break Germany’s Enigma code.

Safire also mentioned our other two references: the 1956 song called “The Green Door,” about a secret music club; and the (in)famous 1972 film “Behind the Green Door,” which according to Safire, ushered in “the golden age of porn” in the US. (FYI, Amazon Prime TV is airing its third season of The Deuce, nominated for a Golden Globe and starring James Franco, about an adult filmmaker in Manhattan during that era.)
What Safire did not note was another tangential relationship between the film and the military, unearthed by one intrepid Breaking D reader and passed along. “Behind the Green Door” producers were the flamboyant, and tragic, Mitchell brothers James and Artie. Artie spent time in the Army, but — at least as far as we know — the family had no relation to the flamboyant ‘father’ of the Air Force, Billy Mitchell. And even that tiny connection has led us and our source to speculate about whether the film’s name might actually have stemmed from the military slang (instead of the other way around).

But, in the end, no matter. Safire’s masterful history goes on to explain the ultimate source of the phrase, at least that he could find. In 1906, O. Henry (nee: William Sydney Porter) wrote a short story titled “The Green Door.” It was a musing on the human need to embrace “the twin spirits of Romance and Adventure,” according to Safire.

Romance and adventure. Somehow, someway, those concepts got caught up with spycraft in British and American military culture. All you fans (that includes us) of author John le Carre and his fictional hero (anti-hero?) George Smiley may rightly object to the idea that intelligence work is romantic. But, we at Breaking D would argue that it’s completely fair to call it an ‘adventure.’
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Once again thanks for your remarkable input. I always enjoy reading your posts when you dive deep. Overall, from a military standpoint, it sounds like it either just became one of those terms used, or if there happens to be an origin story, it's lost in translation out there, or not broadcasted publicly on the inner webs.

Thanks again!
I was at March AFB and part of 15 TH Recon in the early 60s. We worked behind the Green Door which was a Top Secret area. We had our most recent Reunion there in 2019. The Nave Reserve was using our old building and the vault and the Green Door had been removed, Grady Overstreet.
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