He interviewed Detachment(A) members, who contributed information about the many missions and their stories to him.
This is the main reason I started this 10 years ago as we were dying on the vine. Detachment(A) is one of the most distinguished units Special Forces ever had, yet we officially did not exist. Some of the most qualified Special Forces troops ever created served during the existence of Detachment(A).
Jack Murphy is an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group. Having left the military in 2010, he graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. Murphy is the author of Reflexive Fire, Target Deck, Direct Action, and numerous non-fiction articles about Weapons, Tactics, Special Operations, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism. He has appeared in documentaries, national television, and syndicated radio.
Imagine American Special Forces soldiers traveling around Baghdad in civilian vehicles, speaking the local language, carrying false passports, and operating under a cover as they case targets and dodge foreign intelligence agents. Today, such a thing is an impossibility, a much sought after capability that Special Forces has been unable to attain in recent years. Yet, this is exactly what Green Berets did in Germany during the Cold War as a part of small unit known as Detachment A.
Nearly lost the history books, Det A members lived off of the local economy and worked out of Andrews Barracks, as well as safe houses in and around Berlin. Coming into existence in the 1950’s, their primary responsibility was to be a stay-behind force in the event that the Soviet Union invaded Western Europe. Once the Soviet Army had invaded, these Green Berets would then activate, launching an unconventional war behind enemy lines before escaping and evading their way back to friendly lines.
A big part of what made this mission possible was the Alien Enlistee Act of 1950, sponsored by Henry Cabot Lodge. The idea behind the so-called Lodge Act was to create a sort of American foreign legion, the ultimate Unconventional Warfare unit made up of men who defected from the USSR and its satellite states.
With their in-depth knowledge of enemy nations and foreign language capabilities, they could be trained in Infantry and Ranger tactics before having their skills polished with instruction in sabotage and other forms of Unconventional Warfare. “I felt like I was in a foreign Army,” Bob Charest, a former member of Det A said upon realizing that there were almost more German names in the unit than American ones.
Traveling on Berlin’s bus system, Det A members avoided East German and Soviet intelligence officers as they cased targets that they would strike in the event of a Soviet invasion. One of their main targets was the ring of rail road tracks that circled Berlin. One technique they developed was to use explosives camouflaged as blocks of coal. Once shoveled into the engine of a locomotive by an unsuspecting train engineer, both would be blown sky high.
The mission of Det A changed with the times, its members adapting to the shifting geo-politics of the Cold War. By the mid-1970’s, Det A began working closely with Germany’s GSG-9 counter-terrorism police unit. For the Green Berets, their main concern was terrorists hijacking an American registered aircraft in Berlin. Transitioning from the unconventional warfare mission to direct action, they trained extensively to conduct aircraft take downs. “We developed plans that the pilots never even knew how to get into that aircraft,” Charest added.
From maintaining CIA caches filled with arms and supplies, to developing plans to target Soviet infrastructure, execute aircraft take downs, recover downed pilots, and more, the men of Detachment A conducted the quintessential Special Forces mission which encompassed direct action, unconventional warfare, intelligence gathering, and reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
Modern Special Forces soldiers would be well served by studying the past successes of a unit like Det A. Their mission was so effective that at the end of the Cold War it was discovered that the Soviets believed there to be 600-700 Det A members in Berlin ready to engage in guerrilla warfare. The joke was on them of course, Det A never numbered above 90 men at any given time.
Jack Murphyis an eight year Army Special Operations veteran who served as a Sniper and Team Leader in 3rd Ranger Battalion and as a Senior Weapons Sergeant on a Military Free Fall team in 5th Special Forces Group. Having left the military in 2010, he graduated from Columbia with a BA in political science. Murphy is the author of Reflexive Fire, Target Deck, Direct Action, and numerous non-fiction articles about Weapons, Tactics, Special Operations, Terrorism, and Counter-Terrorism. He has appeared in documentaries, national television, and syndicated radio.
The Detachment (A) Memorial Stone Dedication Ceremony was hosted by LTG Charles Cleveland, Commanding General for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) on 30 January 2014.
The Detachment”A” Memorial stone is in place and the colors were retired with dignity and honor. The dedication ceremony was outstanding, as was the Chicken Friday’s free event, both food and beers. Lots of folks had to cancel due to the weather, however the event was well attended, including Juan Renta, Rocky Farr, Ron Braughton, Jeff Raker, Carl Beene, Gene Piasecki, and many others.
Posted Jan 31, 2014 at 12:01 AM Updated Jan 31, 2014 at 7:05 AM
For nearly 30 years during the Cold War, some of America’s top soldiers toiled in secret.
Their missions, always classified, are still largely unknown and absent from the history books.
But Thursday, on Fort Bragg, those soldiers were publicly honored for their service and sacrifice.
Detachment A Berlin Brigade was a clandestine unit of about 90 Green Berets based in West Berlin. They wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German and stayed on high alert 24 hours a day.
Officials with U.S. Army Special Operations Command dedicated and unveiled a memorial stone for the unit at Meadows Field Memorial Plaza.
They also formally cased the unit’s colors – the flag used to identify the detachment – for the first time.
The ceremony was attended by dozens of veterans of Detachment A, as well as leaders from the Fort Bragg special operations community.
“No force of its size has contributed more to peace, stability and freedom,” Army Special Operations Command officials said.
Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commander of Army Special Operations Command, said the memorial was in a place of honor.
As a captain, Cleveland trained in West Berlin with members of Detachment A. On Thursday, with the Army Special Operations Memorial Wall as a backdrop, he said it was an honor to oversee the ceremony unveiling the memorial, saying the unit was held in high regard.
Detachment A has a proud legacy, Cleveland said, and faced “untold risk – fraught with uncertainty.”
From 1956 to 1984, Detachment A was involved in some of the most sensitive operations of the Cold War, even as the country teetered on the brink of World War III, he said. Its members created techniques that are still in use today.
All the while, the men were surrounded by the Soviet Union at all times.
“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” Cleveland said.
“Well done,” he added. “You are truly without equal.”
The men of Detachment A were specially chosen Special Forces soldiers. Many were immigrants from Germany or eastern Europe, brought in for their cultural expertise.
“They were very brave men and took on some tough missions,” said retired Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow, who commanded Detachment A from 1970 to 1974.
Veterans of the unit described a tight-knit group that was constantly aware of the threats around them.
“We all knew it was a suicide mission,” said Bob Charest, a retired master sergeant who served with Detachment A from 1969 to 1972 and 1973 to 1978.
Charest said the unit effectively operated 110 miles inside enemy lines.
If war had started, he said, they would have easily been wiped off the face of the earth.
In a history of the unit written by Charest, he outlined the unique and diversified team.
“Detachment A was a highly trained, one-of-a-kind unit,” Charest said. “No one knew much about it during its existence.”
They carried non-American documentation and identification and trained at the highest standards, Charest wrote.
The men carried out secret missions to sabotage railways in the early days of the Detachment and later focused on anti-terrorist, sniper and swat combat.
The unit also participated in Operation Eagle Claw – the failed attempt to rescue hostages held by Iran in 1980.
“We were the Delta Force of Europe,” Charest wrote.
Detachment A also helped the CIA, and its equipment reads like it comes from a James Bond novel.
“One-shot cigarette-lighter guns, vials filled with metal shavings for destruction of turbines, noise suppressed weapons for elimination of specific targets,” lists Charest.
Veterans of the unit said Thursday’s ceremony was special, and a unique opportunity to publicly honor the little-known detachment.
“We never got credit for anything because we didn’t exist,” Charest said.
Retired Lt. Col. Eugene Piasecki said the unit was so secret that officials didn’t know who he was when the unit began turning in equipment ahead of its deactivation in 1984.
Piasecki said closing the unit was the saddest day of his life.
“I knew when I closed the door I would no longer serve in a unit like that,” he said.
In the years since the end of the Cold War, Detachment A has been unclassified, but until recently, one mystery remained.
Where were the unit’s colors?
The blue flag that represented Detachment A was unique from the start.
Originally, the unit was denied colors because of its secretive nature. But Detachment A officials appealed to the Berlin Brigade -which technically did not have the authority to issue colors – and was approved. That relationship is why Detachment A’s flag is infantry blue as opposed to Special Forces green.
When Detachment A was shuttered in 1984, the colors went missing, Piasecki said.
The flag’s whereabouts remained a mystery to most Detachment A veterans until November, when it was discovered at a local Special Forces Association chapter.
On Thursday, the flag was officially cased by Piasecki and Army Special Operations Command Sgt. Maj. George Bequer.
The colors were then presented to Cleveland, who said they would find a place of honor within Army Special Operations Command.
The memorial, featuring the image of a crumbling Berlin Wall, was the culmination of a nearly year-long effort, officials said.
Jimmy Spoo, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who served in Detachment A from 1981 to 1984 and most recently spurred efforts to build the memorial, said Army Special Operations Command’s memorial plaza was an incredible tribute and it was only fitting to add a memorial to the detachment.
Dozens of Detachment A veterans made donations to pay for the memorial and excess money – about $2,000 – was donated Thursday to the Green Beret Foundation, a charity that helps Special Forces soldiers and their families.
Detachment “A” participated in “Operation Eagle Claw” the attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis on 24/25 April 1980 by rescuing 52 diplomats held captive at the United States Embassy and the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, Iran.
Detachment “A” was responsible for the pre-mission reconnaissance of the targets by successfully infiltrating a team into Tehran on several occasions and contributed an element to rescue three hostages held in the MFA.
When the first mission was aborted a second attempt was planned for later that year, but was cancelled when negotiations proved successful.
Stormcloud was the code-name for Det “A’s” portion of the mission.
Folks, some good news. The Fayetteville Observer article on our Memorial Stone dedication and my VFW article in the latest issue of the VFW Magazine got the attention of SOA, and were discussed at the recent SOA function in Las Vegas. Jimmy Spoo attended the SOA function and attended the Board of Directors meeting where he presented the VFW article. Both articles were reviewed and a discussion ensued as to why DET-A should become members of SOA.
The Board of Directors approved Det “A” for SOA membership.
I have been a member of SOA for decades and have attended several of these functions. They are great. Our push to get Detachment(A) out of the cold is working.
If you are interested in joining SOA, here is some contact information: