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CSM Jeff Raker Bio

JEFFREY HERMAN RAKER
COMMAND SERGEANT MAJOR, UNITED STATES ARMY (RETIRED)

Command Sergeant Major Raker is a native of Germany.   In 1952, at the age of 16, he was one of 40 successful High School students among 100,000 applicants who were selected for a one year student exchange program in the United States.  He graduated from Ephrata High School in Ephrata, Pennsylvania in June 1953.  Upon his return to Germany, he applied for an immigrant visa.  He re-entered the United States in 1955 and worked as a heating and air conditioning installer until he enlisted in the Regular Army as an Infantryman in January 1958.  Following basic and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he was assigned to the 14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.  During this tour of duty he graduated from the 25th Division NCO Academy, rose from Private to Sergeant and was awarded the Expert Infantryman Badge. 

During his next assignment at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he served as a Drill Instructor until he volunteered for the First Infantry Division’s 8th Infantry as a Squad Leader and later was assigned as Platoon Sergeant and promoted to Staff Sergeant.  After winning several drill competitions, the Battle Group Commander, Colonel Bryce Denno, named him the “Drill Master of the 8th Infantry”. 

In January 1963, then Staff Sergeant Raker volunteered for Jump School and Special Forces.  He completed the Special Forces Qualification Course with specialization in Operations and Intelligence.  His first Special Forces assignment was in Okinawa in B Company, 1st SFG(ABN).  His initial six month deployment to Vietnam was as a Light Weapons Leader on A-233 at Dong Tre in the Central Highlands in 1964-65.  His second six month TDY tour in RVN was as an A Detachment Intelligence Sergeant at Ap Bac in the Plain of Reeds in IV CTZ from October 1965 to March 1966.  When the team was tasked to open a new a SF camp at Kinh Quan II, the team recruited, trained, equipped, and deployed two companies of Hoa Hao CIDG soldiers in the area along the La Grange Canal that connected AP Bac with Kinh Quan II.  The Detachment Commander opted for a split team and left Raker as Team Sergeant with three other team members at Ap Bac in the Sub-Sector advisory role.  Toward the end of this deployment, Raker was promoted to Sergeant First Class. 

Three days after returning to Okinawa, SFC Raker was deployed to Taiwan as Operations Sergeant for Operation Li Ming with the National Chinese Special Forces for four months.  His next assignment was with Company A, 6th SFG(ABN) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina as A Detachment Intelligence Sergeant until he volunteered for reassignment to Vietnam.

Starting in January 1967, he was initially assigned to A-103 at Gia Vuc in I Corps, then at Sa Huyn to deny the NVA access to the salt flats.  In May 1967 he was assigned to Detachment C-1 as Operations Sergeant and in July as I Corps Area Specialist at 5th Group Headquarters in Nha Trang.  He finished up his tour as Group Operations Sergeant and returned to Okinawa and 1st SFG.  He was assigned as B Detachment Intelligence Sergeant with duty at Group Headquarters.  His next assignment was as Instructor at the Special Forces School’s Operations and Intelligence Course.  During this assignment he completed the Instructor Training Course as Honor Graduate and was designated Outstanding Instructor of the Quarter for the Special Forces School.  He was promoted to Master Sergeant and applied for the Bootstrap program and graduated in June 1971 from Campbell University with a B.S. in Social Science and Secondary School Teaching Certification.  He received orders for reassignment to Germany with duties as Operations Sergeant VII Corps at Stuttgart Moehringen.  He qualified for certification as Emergency Action Nuclear Release NCO and was instrumental in the successful annual nuclear surety inspection for the Corps. 

In December 1972 Master Sergeant Raker was selected to attend the first class of the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas.  He graduated in June 1973 and was one of ten students selected to apply for a reserve commission, an honor he respectfully declined since he was told there was little chance of serving on active duty in a commissioned capacity.  He reported for duty with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th SFG(ABN) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in July 1973 and was assigned as A Detachment Operation Sergeant until August of 1975, and as Company Sergeant Major until December 1976.  During this period he was tasked by the Battalion Commander to head a team of NCO’s to test the vulnerability of nuclear and chemical storage depots to penetration and terrorist interdiction.  Later the mission was extended to communications facilities as well.  The team was able to successfully point out weaknesses in the security of several installations and recommend methods to shore up security and improve the training of security personnel through several Mobile Training Team (MTT) missions conducted by SFODs from 5th SFG. 

Having been promoted to Sergeant Major in September 1976, Raker was assigned as Detachment Sergeant Major of Detachment A, Berlin.  The unit had recently undergone a shake-up resulting in the relief of the commander and the replacement of several key personnel by individuals who were not Special Forces qualified.  In addition, their classified mission was in danger of compromise under the current leadership.  Language qualification which had been a prerequisite for assignment was at less than 30 percent.  Sergeant Major Raker was able to cancel the detachment’s training missions to the infantry units of the Berlin Brigade and return the Detachment to training for its two primary classified missions.  Working with the new commander coming on board who was himself an accomplished linguist and had extensive Special Forces operational experience, the unit was able to regroup and achieve 100% language qualification and hone its unconventional warfare and special operations skills by training with GSG 9, SAS, and special police units.  The Sergeant Major instituted one day a week on which all transactions had to be conducted in the language of the target country.  He selected and trained the two individuals who made the reconnaissance to plan Operation Eagle Claw, and selected the detachment that was to rescue the three hostages held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He advised the Air Force on countering a threat by Libya to attack several AWACS aircraft in Germany and Saudi Arabia after making on site reconnaissance and conducting an extensive vulnerability study. 

For his next assignment Raker reported to Fort Devens, MA as Command Sergeant Major of 2d Battalion, 10th SFG(ABN).  A highlight of this assignment was a two week deployment on an exercise with a clandestine German organization with a stay behind mission.  As a result of the exercise he was able to provide his unit with a glossary of tradecraft specific terms in German to enhance interoperability with German special operations units. 

In December 1981, General Lutz offered Raker the assignment of Command Sergeant Major of the United States Army Institute for Military Assistance which soon became the Special Warfare Center and School.  As the unit that was the proponent for Special Forces, Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs, the mission to staff the new SERE Course fell on the CSM.  In addition, the creation of a career management field for Special Forces which would enable SF soldiers to serve through pay grade E-9 in Special Forces rather than be at the mercy of four different career fields once they reached promotion to Master Sergeant.  As part of this initiative, replacing the Lieutenant on the A Detachment with a Warrant Officer, required development of a career field for warrants.  Although the initial proposal by Colonels Beckwith and Crerar suggested an Intel Warrant, CSM Raker was concerned that such an individual would find it hard to become a full-fledged member of the team.  He therefore suggested that the warrant office would be a Special Forces qualified Senior NCO, a graduate of the O&I Course and ideally qualified in an additional SF MOS and a foreign language.  Eventually agreement was reached on the subject.  In addition to making weekly trips to DA to brief the DCSPER and the Chief of Staff, together with the Commanding General, the Proponency Officer and the CSM of the newly activated Special Operations Command, CSM Raker convened critical task selection boards, assisted in the rewriting of job descriptions, and laid the groundwork for a Special Forces Noncommissioned Officer Development Program.  Although he lobbied for a stringent selection program, the time for that would not come until TRADOC eased its control over Special Forces training. 

With two years until mandatory retirement at 30 years’ service, CSM Raker asked the SWCS Commander to return to the unit where he had begun his Special Forces career:  the 1st Special Forces Group.  He thus ended the 30 years of service to his country as CSM of the 1st SFG.  He was able to enjoy deploying with his battalions to Alaska, Thailand, Korea, and the Philippines. 

His awards and decorations include:

  • Special Forces Tab
  • EIB
  • CIB
  • Master Parachutist Badge
  • Legion of Merit
  • Bronze Star
  • Purple Heart
  • Meritorious Service Medal with two OLC
  • Army Commendation Medal with two OLC
  • Air Medal with one OLC
  • Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm
  • Several foreign parachutist badges

After his retirement from active duty, he was hired by Guam Community College.  His first assignment was as Senior JROTC Instructor.  His ROTC unit won top honors at all competitions, both on island and on the US mainland.  He was cited in two resolutions by the Guam Legislature and one by the College’s Board of Directors.  At the end of his two year contract he was rehired as Assistant Professor with adjunct duties as Associate Dean for the night program.  Upon retirement of the incumbent, he applied for the full time position of Associate Dean for Occupational Education and was hired for the post.  In addition to his duties as administrator, he taught two classes on American Government and one class in Interpersonal Relations and wrote curriculum for all construction trades courses. 

He retired from the College in 1998 and concentrated on serving in various veterans’ organizations:  he served 15 years as President of Chapter 46 of the SFA, Historian, Vice Commander and Post Commander of American Legion Post 1, Americanism Officer of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and has appeared on local TV and Radio programs on behalf of the College and the veterans of Guam.  He was the Graduation speaker at Class 28 of USASMA.  He attended every National Convention for the past twenty years and has contributed to the development of Special Forces Training at two conferences convened at SWCS.

A Clandestine Cold War Military Unit Steps Into the Light

Author:  Drew Brooks, Fayetteville Observer

Dressed in civilian clothes with long hair, the men looked like any other on the streets of East Berlin.

Their German accents didn’t give away their true identities as American Special Forces soldiers, part of a clandestine military unit operating during the Cold War.

Berlin, a divided city located 100 miles behind the Iron Curtain, was a focal point in the tensions that developed between NATO forces and the Soviet Union after World War II.

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Formerly secret Cold War Green Beret unit to get recognition at Fort Bragg

This article was published by Stars and Stripes authored by Drew Brooks of| The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer

For years during the Cold War, men such as Bob Charest and Jimmy Spoo toiled in secret.

As members of a clandestine unit of Green Berets based in West Berlin, they wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German and stayed on high alert 24 hours a day.

But today, the members of Detachment A Berlin Brigade will receive much deserved and long-awaited recognition.

Officials with U.S. Army Special Operations Command will dedicate and unveil a memorial stone dedicated to Detachment A Berlin Brigade at Meadows Field Memorial Plaza on Fort Bragg at 3:30 p.m.

Officials will also formally case the unit’s colors – the flag used to identify the detachment – for the first time.

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.

Their missions were always classified, according to Charest, a former team sergeant and communications chief for Detachment A Berlin Brigade.

“Detachment A was a highly trained, one-of-a-kind unit,” Charest said in a unit history. “No one knew much about it during its existence.”

Charest and Spoo will speak during the ceremony, hosted by USASOC commanding general, Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland.

Detachment A Berlin Brigade operated from August 1956 to Dec. 30, 1984, according to officials.

A history of the unit, penned by Charest, outlines a unique and diversified team of about 90 men.

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.

“We were the Delta Force of Europe,” Charest wrote.

Detachment A also helped the CIA, and their 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.

The unit was deactivated after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Memorial Plaza, Detachment A Berlin Brigade will take its place of honor among other storied special operations units, including Task Force Ranger, the Alamo Scouts and the Office of the Strategic Services Detachment 10, among others.

The stone will feature the unit name above a crumbling Berlin Wall.

Charest said the memorial stone was the result of efforts by Detachment A veterans, many of whom plan to travel to Fort Bragg for the event.

The veterans meet regularly, but their ranks are thinning, Charest said.

“We were falling into oblivion,” he said.

In recent years, the detachment has been honored with a display at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum at Fort Bragg, Charest said. The memorial stone will complete efforts that were begun by Spoo, a member of the U.S. Special Forces Hall of Fame who works for the U.S. State Department.

Spoo, Charest and dozens of other veterans made donations to pay for the stone.

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From Berlin to Vietnam, a Green Beret on combat and espionage during the Cold War

Connecting Vets author Jack Murphy published this article about Bob Charest as a follow-up to the podcast.

For decades a clandestine Special Forces unit existed in Berlin prepared to launch unconventional warfare and sabotage operations in the event that the Soviet Union invaded. Special Forces Detachment A existed under a cloak of secrecy, their members wearing civilian clothes with relaxed grooming standards. They wore German clothes, they spoke the language, and lived off of the local economy.

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The insane life of this Holocaust survivor and Special Forces veteran

WeAreTheMighty.com author Blake Stilwell published this article about Sid Shachnow.

For most people, surviving the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe would be the defining moment of their lives. Men like Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow aren’t most people. The Lithuanian-born Shachnow survived a forced labor camp and went on to join the U.S. Army, serve in Vietnam, and lead the Army Special Forces’ ultra-secret World War III would-be suicide mission in Berlin during the Cold War.

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Detachment “A” Colors

Originally, Detachment “A” was not permitted have their own colors due to the classified nature of the unit.  However, some Detachment ”A” members persisted and eventually were granted the authority to issue colors.

CSM Terry Swofford was the last CSM of Detachment”A”, when it closed its doors 1984.  He packed the flag and it remained with him ever since and no one saw it for a long time.  He informed Bob Charest that he took possession of the flag.  After CSM Swofford passed away, it was missing in action.  We knew it was passed along informally but did not where it ended up.

During the course of the Detachment ”A” Memorial Stone project and dedication ceremony General Shachnow stated to Bob Charest who was a member of the project that he wanted to retire the colors at the ceremony.  Bob knew this was an essential artifact for the ceremony and immediately initiated a search request to all the Detachment”A” members to locate and secure the missing flag.

SGM Thomas Twomey and LTC Eugene Piasecki simultaneously found the flag at the SFA Chapter 1-18 Team House.  Bob Charest contacted MG Sidney Shachnow and informed him where the flag was located and requested that he personally secure the flag.  MG Shachnow retrieved the flag and secured it until the day of the Detachment ”A” Memorial Stone Dedication Ceremony that took place on 30 January 2014.

During the ceremony, MG Sidney Shachnow and Bob Charest presented the Detachment ”A” flag to LTG Charles Cleveland at the Detachment”A” Memorial Stone dedication.  LTG Cleveland announced that the Detachment”A” flag would have a permanent home at USASOC HQ where it now resides.

The week after the ceremony, the flag was officially cased by Eugene Piasecki and SGM George Bequer.

2021 Detachment”A”/PSSE Special Forces Berlin Get Together After Action Report

The 2021 Detachment “A”/PSSE Special Forces get together was held  in Colorado Springs from Thursday 13 May 2021 –through Sunday 16 and was well attended.

On Thursday an informal meeting was conducted in the hospitality room for announcements and provide updated schedule changes.

On Friday afternoon , Visited the 10th SFG Compound, Group HQ, Regimental Mess, new Team Room, and Maritime.

On Saturday there was  a lunch held at the Edelweiss Restaurant.

Many thanks to Bill Crowley and Chuck Sekelski for all the hard work of setting everything up.

The German food was outstanding.