Category Archives: History

Detachment “A” and SOG

The following article was published by Special Operations Association (SOA).  

Written by Bob Charest who served eight years in Detachment “A” (1969-1972 and 1973-1978) and one year in SOG Project Sigma, B-56 (1967 – 1968) and CCS.

In 2018, I published a post on the Detachment “A” web site http://detachment-a.org announcing a book written by Detachment “A” member Nick Brokhausen entitled Whispers in the Tall Grass that was published in October 2019, chronicling his time in the top-secret elite unit SOG (Studies and Operations Group).

When I published the post about Nicks’ book, I recalled my time serving in SOG, and that there were other Detachment “A” members that served in both Detachment “A” and SOG.

These two units were unlike any other.  The men who served in these units were of the highest caliber in every aspect of a US Army Special Forces Green Beret – intelligence, skills, adaptability, courage, and of the highest character.  They also are highly decorated and their accomplishments extraordinary, yet they were never recognized because both units were top-secret units.

SOG and Detachment ”A” are now declassified decades after the units closed.

When I published the post about Nick’s book, I decided to create a special post entitled Who’s Who in Detachment “A”/SOG, to recognize the most elite and heroic Special Forces soldiers who went decades, never being able to share their stories, as a form of recognition for their extraordinary service.  The list was short but soon after publishing the Who’s Who in Detachment “A”/SOG, I was surprised when other Detachment “A” members responded to the article informing me that they too served in SOG, so the list grew.

This is just a thumbnail look at these elite units and the extraordinary careers that these two units’ members had experienced operating in these types of units during wartime in Vietnam and during the cold war in Berlin.


SOG Overview

24 January 1964 – 30 April 1972

MACV-SOG (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group) referred to as SOG, was the most elite clandestine military unit operating in the Vietnam war.  Their missionTo execute an intensified program of harassment, diversion, political pressure, capture of prisoners, physical destruction, acquisition of intelligence, generation of propaganda and diversion of resources, against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.” They conducted top secret missions deep behind enemy lines across Southeast Asia.  SOG executed top secret missions which were denied by the government.  Missions included intelligence gathering, personnel recovery, reconnaissance, direct action, unusual explosive device deployment and management, psychological warfare, capture of high value targets and conducting ambushes, sabotage, elimination of rogue double agents, assess targets and expertly and on a moment’s notice conducting improvised missions based on conditions presented.

They did not exist.


Detachment “A” Overview

1 September 1956 – 17 December 1984
Detachment “A” was the most elite military unit operating in Europe during the cold war.  Their mission:  From 1956 to 1984, Detachment “A”, a clandestine unit of about 90 Green Berets based in Berlin Germany, were involved in some of the most sensitive operations of the Cold War.  At that time Berlin was part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), located behind the Iron Curtain.  They wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German and stayed on high alert 24 hours a day.  For nearly 30 years during the Cold War, some of America’s most elite soldiers worked in secret. Their missions, always classified, are still largely unknown and absent from the history books. 

Missions included stay-behind, guerrilla warfare, unconventional warfare, direct action, counter insurgency, anti-terrorist.  The missions evolved over time during the cold war with many more diversified missions.

The six modified “A” teams were heavy in demolitions and scuba, had three demolition men each and no XO.  Their skill sets included communications, skiing, mountain climbing, languages, demolitions, scuba, weapons, myriad intelligence work and other specialized skills.

They did not exist.


SOG/Detachment ”A” Intersection

•   Top Secret/Classified elite units.

•   Unconventional tactics.

•   No one knew they existed.

•   Carried out the most dangerous missions.

•   Suicide missions.

•   Demonstrated extraordinary heroism.

•   Severely outnumbered by the enemy.

•   Operated in small units, force multiplier.

•   Highly decorated.

•   Clandestine, covert, and black operations.

•   Intel gathering and sabotage.

•   Acute, diversified multitude of skills.

•   No recognition.

SOG brought out of the shadows by John L. Plaster with the publication of SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam published in 1997.

Detachment”A” brought in from the cold by Robert A. Charest with his “A Thumbnail Look at Detachment(A) Berlin Brigade published in 2012 and his website dedicated to Detachment “A”.

SOG was a combat clandestine unit in Vietnam operating deep behind enemy lines.  Detachment”A” was a clandestine cold war unit training and preparing to oppose a Soviet and East German takeover and control of allied forces in Berlin.


WHO’S WHO IN DETACHMENT ”A”/SOG

The following list recognizes and pays tribute to all those Detachment “A” members who also served in the prestigious unit SOG – another unit unrecognized for decades. This list shows the caliber of Special Forces troops that served in Detachment ”A” and SOG yet were unrecognized for decades.  For Detachment “A”/SOG folks there was one thing that was unique:  unless you served with a SOG member you did not know they served in SOG.  Vietnam individual service was almost never discussed.  This is not an exhaustive list.

Hermann Adler Herman David Halterman Bob Picknell
Howard “Zipper” Allen John Heintel Bill Queen
Ron Braughton Project 404 Laos Rick Hendricks Jimmy Reeves
Nick Brokhausen Lou Herman Harvey Saal
Phillip M. Brown Ralph Keith Joel Schelkelberger
Bob Charest Kim Kendle John Silk
Stu Cranson Tadeusz M. Kepczyk  Gil Turcotte
Ron Davidson Manfred Kropp Paul Whitmore
Gentry Deck Bob Kuenstle James Wilde
Emmett “Jessie” Dover Bob Lees Sid Williams
Bill Durant Georg Moskaluk Robert Willis
Warner “Rocky” Farr Charlie Monson Robert G. Willis
Julius Farrago James “Dusty” Moore Don Wolken
Jerry “Paco” Fontana John  O’Keefe Ivan Woronchuk
Paul Foster Ralph Ormes Ed Yarbrough
Claude L. Greeney Roderick Patterson John “Rowdy” Yeats
Richard Gross    

The direct link to this link to this article can be found on the SOA website

All Detachment “A” members are eligible to become members of SOA.  For further information go to:  Home – Special Operations Association.

Detachment “A” Flash

Bruno von Haas  received this picture from Becky Closen that she found among Frank Closen’s belongings. Bruno remembered this design very well.  There was  a group of Det “A” ers, who got together and thought about having  their own FLASH for Detachment “A”  back in the fall of 1979.  Nick Brokhausen designed the FLASH and somehow Frank became the recipient, and this has been in darkness I guess until Becky resurrected it from on old belongings box of Franks. It amazes me on how things seem to phoenix, out of nowhere, and present themselves.

This is now been incorporated to on our Detachment”A” web site’s  header and as another artifact of our history.

 

Bob Charest Interview

This interview was conducted by The Team House hosts Jack Murphy and Dave Parke.

Bob Charest served in Vietnam and with Special Forces Detachment A conducting the urban unconventional warfare missions in Berlin in the event that the Soviets ever invaded. In this episode we discuss Bob’s career bouncing between Vietnam, Thailand, and Berlin where he served in Project Sigma (which became MACV-SOG) where he did cross border ops into Cambodia, working for the CIA in Thailand, and doing clandestine sabotage ops in Berlin with Det A.

 

Ballad of Green Beret Auf Deutsch

Ballad of Green Beret Auf Deutsch

Aus den Wolken springt der Tod,
Zwoelf Green Berets im Morgenrot
Unterdrueckte zu befrein
Ziehn sie in den Kampf hinein.

Halten dort ein streng’s Gericht,
Fuerchten Tod und Teufel nicht.
Dschihadisten’s feige Brut
Zahlt den Preis mit ihrem Blut.

Wenn auch ein mancher faellt dabei,
Denn die Freiheit ist nicht frei,
In der Heimat warten schon
Die junge Witwe und ihr Sohn.

Eines Tag’s gewinnt auch er
Das Barrett, das Helden ehrt;
Denn wo das Sternenbanner fliegt
Steh’n Green Berets, stets unbesiegt.

Lyrics by Jeffrey H. Raker, CSM USA Special Forces (Ret)

The Man Who Brought Detachment “A” In From The Cold

When Bob Charest realized that Detachment (A)’s history was fading away into the historical dust bin, he started an effort to bring Detachment(A) in from the cold.  With this most important goal at stake, and with the knowledge of how important this unit and its members were to the Special Forces history he began an endeavor that took years of hard work and dedication to accomplish the one goal in his mind:  to bring Detachment(A) in from the cold; to finally bring about the recognition that was so richly deserved to the Detachment(A) unit and its members.  He could not let this unit fade away.

Bob Charest, an eight-year veteran of Detachment(A) 1969-1972 and 1973-1978, launched this endeavor as an independent look into the Military History of Detachment(A), 39th Special Forces, Berlin 1956-1984.

He began by organizing Detachment(A) functions – Detachment”A” members were scattered all over the world.  They started out very small but grew each year and have become very successful.

He then created a new Detachment(A) web site and domain, dedicated exclusively to Detachment(A).  In conjunction with this, he wrote and published the article “A Thumbnail Look at Detachment(A) Berlin Brigade in January 2012.  Then things just took off.  He continued organizing and hosting Detachment(A) functions with increased numbers and success.

The Thumbnail Look at Detachment(A) Berlin Brigade was circulating for some time, and the Special Forces Association(SFA) got hold of it and published the article on their website  Home – Special Forces Association in the 2013 Winter edition of the Drop Magazine.

Bob also worked with the SFA and was able to obtain a section  dedicated to Detachment(A) in the Drop Magazine.

The Detachment(A) functions continued to grow with members getting together to share stories about serving in Detachment(A). These functions were gatherings of the Detachment”A” folks, and the format and motto was simple: come as you are, pay as you go, BYOB and no agendas, no frills,  and no politics. Jeff Raker told him never change this format.

Bob organized several projects to continue to bring Detachment(A) in from the cold which were all team efforts including representation of Det-A in the JFK Museum, collecting Det-A artifacts, and managing the project that brought Jimmy Spoo’s Memorial Stone idea to fruition.

Bob made the Memorial Stone project a team effort which allowed all Detachment(A) members to contribute to the Memorial Stone, which they generously did.  He coordinated with SFA to manage the contributions.  The project was fast and furious, collecting all the money that was needed and then some.  All monies over the necessary funds were donated to the Green Beret Foundation.

He also worked with USASOC and General Shachnow on ceremony activities including speakers, guests, press and  many other ceremony details.  He also ensured that special recognition was attributed to Major Hermann Adler who was unable to attend.

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 Memorial Stone ceremony was covered by the local copy press and was also televised.  It was a major success and a real team effort.

Bob then continued his efforts and wrote another article for the  VFW Magazine entitled: In the Eye of the Cold War Hurricane, Detachment  A Berlin Brigade  which was published in the November/December 2014 issue.

It was at one of the Detachment(A) functions that James “Styk” Stejskal indicated that he would like to write a book about Berlin Special Forces.

In the meantime, to keep the momentum going with the goal to bring Detachment(A) in from the cold, Bob worked with WeAreTheMighty.com and published the article:  This top secret Green Beret unit quietly won the Cold WarThe article was published on 1 February 2015. 

Another article was then published by WeAreTheMighty.com which featured Detachment(A):  The 6 most-secret units in military history which was published on 14 June 2015 followed up with a video The 6 most-secret units in military history

Bob also worked with two highly established authors and writers who wanted to write books about Detachment(A).  These two projects were put on hold because fellow Detachment(A) member James Stejskal’s book was still in progress and Bob did not want to interfere with his efforts until his book was published.

Bob continued his efforts and worked with SOFREP’s reporter Jack Murphy from SOFREP.com who published a short article about Detachment(A) entitled: Detachment A: the Cold War Sabotage Experts of Special Forces published on 27 April 2016.

Jack was a guest at the  September 2016 Det-A function.  He  interviewed Detachment(A) members for a follow-up article which was published on SOFREP.com in a 4-part series dated from 07 February 2017 – 10 February 2017:

Detachment A: Clandestine Special Forces Missions from Berlin to Iran

Part 1:  Detachment A: Clandestine Special Forces missions in post Hitler’s Berlin published 6 Feb 2017

Parr 2: Detachment A: Green Berets play cat and mouse with communist agents published 7 February 2017

Part 3:  Detachment A: counter-terrorism and Operation Eagle Claw published 8 February 2017

Part 4:  Detachment A: Final missions, the wall comes down, and the end of an era published 10 February 2017

Jack conducted in depth interviews with Det(A) members and the  articles he published were outstanding.  Jack has been instrumental in bringing to light Det(A)’s legacy to the public with his professional writings.

The full article is entitled: Detachment A: Clandestine Special Forces Missions from Berlin to Iran

All of these articles are posted on the Detachment(A) website.

Jim’s book entitled Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990 was published 17 February 2017.

Our function in Fayetteville NC in memory of Jeffrey Raker in June of 2017 featured a Detachment(A) formation at the Memorial Stone.  This was probably the last formal formation of Detachment(A).

There was work performed for a project towards a biography of Detachment(A).  Barry Duplantis and Chase Millsap collaborated on this project.  There were interviews conducted at the function. The  two teams of biographers as well as the military professionals worked together on this project.  These efforts resulted in videos of some of our Detachment”A” members which are published on the Detachment(A) website.  Barry Duplantis conducted video interviews with Detachment”A” members and Barry Duplantis along with Chase Millsap generated the Detachment”A” Intro video 1956-1984.

Next, Bob unexpectedly found out that many Detachment”A” members also served in the SOG unit so he published the Who’s Who in Detachment”A”/SOG on 7 Feb 2018.

WeAreTheMighty.com published another  series of articles about Detachment”A”:

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion authored by Logan Nye and published on 14 August 2018.

“Top-tier special operators of the Cold War worry about modern ‘soft skills’ “ authored by  Logan Nye and published an article on 29 August 2018.

A secret Cold War unit was the basis for today’s special operations”  authored by  Blake Stilwell and  published an article dated 23 August 2018.

On  19 May 2019 after much work and review, Jack finalized his Detachment”A” publication entitled: Unredacted: Special Forces Detachment A—Cold War espionage and counterterrorism from Berlin to Iran.

The Who’s Who In Detachment”A”/SOG list was followed up with an article Bob Charest wrote on 5 Apr 2021 entitled Det-A and SOG which was published by SOA in their 1 May 2021 Newsletter.

Many of the articles have been updated over the years as well.  Thanks to all the gifted contributors who worked with Bob to provide exceptional articles and other media-related information about Detachment”A”.

For many years, and at many functions, Jeff Raker has spoken about Bob Charest bringing Detachment-A  in from the cold.  At the September 2016 function, he honored Bob Charest by recognizing all the projects and efforts  Bob has done for Detachment-A.   He presented a thank you card signed by the Detachment(A) members and here is what he said:

“I am not modest in what I’m going to say right now.  One reason we are all here; one reason Det-A, after all those years Detachment-A got put on the map.  One reason there’s a marker at headquarters, with Detachment-A on it, is because one individual, he did have some help, but one individual went all out and made sure we didn’t die.  That individual is here, and because of that individual, we are all here.  And Bob if you will be so kind and stand up – with this card that we all signed thanking you for keeping us together, thanks Bob.”

For Bob, this was the ultimate honor, one he will never forget, from Detachment(A) members and from one of the best Special Forces soldiers he has ever served with, and a very special friend.

Another Special Forces legend Major General James Guest also recognized Bob’s efforts with this message when recognizing a new chapter being formed in the Upstate South Carolina.

 It is great that Upstate South Carolina will have a Special Forces Chapter to preserve the legacy of the Special Forces and the Special Forces Soldiers. They prove the truth of the old adage that out of a 100 soldiers, 80 are just there, 10 insure the mission is done, 1 leads the 10 in doing it. I believe that the SF are all in the ranks of the 10 who will get the job done regardless of what it takes. Bob Charest represents the 1.  He rescued the Legacy of the Berlin Detachment from the dustbin of forgotten history and added it to a place in the Legacy of Special Forces to its rightful place of Honor in the Special Forces Regiment.  

The SF Soldiers will keep the Legacy always.  MG Jim Guest

This goes without saying that coming from MG Jim Guest, a very special honor.

There are now countless articles and videos about Detachment”A”.  Detachment”A”, its rich legacy within the Special Forces community, is now in the history books and it all started with one man, Bob Charest who saw the legacy of Detachment”A” fading away; its history forgotten; Bob set in motion the recording of the Detachment”A” history and legacy.   He has worked  tirelessly:  organizing and hosting Detachment”A” gatherings, establishing a history related Detachment”A” website, the inaugural overview article entitled A Thumbnail Look at Detachment(A) Berlin Brigade in January 2012  and engaging and coordination with numerous organizations, individuals and projects to get the Detachment”A” history and legacy recorded.