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 https://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.

Howard “Zipper” AllenJohn HeintelJimmy Reeves
Ron Braughton Project 404 LaosRick HendricksHarvey Saal
Nick BrokhausenLou HermanJoel Schelkelberger
Bob CharestRalph KeithJohn Silk
Stu CransonKim KendleGil Turcotte
Ron DavidsonManfred KroppPaul Whitmore
Gentry DeckBob KuenstleJames Wilde
Emmett “Jessie” DoverBob LeesSid Williams
Bill DurantCharlie MonsonRobert Willis
Warner “Rocky” FarrJames “Dusty” MooreRobert G. Willis
Julius FarragoJohn  O’KeefeIvan Woronchuk
Jerry “Paco” FontanaRalph OrmesEd Yarbrough
Paul FosterBob Picknell
Richard GrossBill Queen

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.

 

Former Detachment “A” Member 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.

 

Checkpoint Charlie The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth By Iain MacGregor

Checkpoint Charlie The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth By Iain MacGregor published by Simon & Schuster will be available October, 2019.

Bob Charest and James Stejskal provided input to this book.

Iain’s New Books in History podcast

Link to order this book on Amazon.com

Here is a link to the publisher with more information about the book and author


About this Book

A powerful, fascinating, and groundbreaking history of Checkpoint Charlie, the famous military gate on the border of East and West Berlin where the United States confronted the USSR during the Cold War.

East Germany committed a billion dollars to the creation of the Berlin Wall in the early 1960s, an eleven-foot-high barrier that consisted of seventy-nine miles of fencing, 300 watchtowers, 250 guard dog runs, twenty bunkers, and was operated around the clock by guards who shot to kill. Over the next twenty-eight years, at least five thousand people attempted to smash through it, swim across it, tunnel under it, or fly over it.

In November 1989, the East German leadership buckled in the face of a civil revolt that culminated in half a million East Berliners demanding an end to the ban on free movement. The world’s media flocked to capture the moment which, perhaps more than any other, signaled the end of the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie had been the epicenter of global conflict for nearly three decades.

As the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall approaches in 2019, Iain MacGregor captures the essence of the mistrust, oppression, paranoia, and fear that gripped the world throughout this period. Checkpoint Charlie is about the nerve-wracking confrontation between the West and USSR, highlighting such important global figures as Eisenhower, Stalin, JFK, Nikita Khrushchev, Mao Zedung, Nixon, Reagan, and other politicians of the period. He also includes never-before-heard interviews with the men who built and dismantled the Wall; children who crossed it; relatives and friends who lost loved ones trying to escape over it; military policemen and soldiers who guarded the checkpoints; CIA, MI6, and Stasi operatives who oversaw operations across its borders; politicians whose ambitions shaped it; journalists who recorded its story; and many more whose living memories contributed to the full story of Checkpoint Charlie.

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)