Category Archives: History

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.

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 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 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 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.  He made it 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.

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 War.  The 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.

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 NEWSREP’s reporter Jack Murphy from NEWSREP.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 NEWSREP.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.

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 be the last formal formation of Detachment(A).

We also now have a biography in the making. There were interviews conducted at the function. We have two teams of biographers as well as the military professionals.

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 entitled .

“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 entitled

 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.

 

Gil Turcotte Detachment “A” Plaque Donation

Background

Earlier this year, Gil called Bob Charest and discussed a concept and idea he had for making of a Detachment “A” plaque.  Bob said ‘go for it’.  Gil came up with the concept and design, hired a woodcarver to construct the plaque, and funded it. Gil put a lot of thought, time and effort into this plaque.

Gil wanted an ‘eagle’ cane for Detachment ”A”.  Eagle Canes are a tradition in many states.  Woodcarvers/artists hand craft each custom cane and donate it to the veteran; in support of our veterans.  Maine shares in this tradition and Gil hired George and Donna Gunning, of Windsor ME.  They carve each eagle cane individually to specifications and donate it to any veteran who has honorably served, no matter how long they served.

Gil wanted the eagle cane to be focal point feature of the plaque.

The woodcarvers did their research about Detachment “A”.  They read the articles posted on our web site and as they learned more about Detachment “A” they became very enthusiastic about the unit and the project.

The overall plaque design consisted of:  the eagle cane mounted on the plaque, Detachment A” items, US Army items and a large area for Detachment “A” members to sign their name and dates they served in Detachment ”A”.

Gil collected all the items he wanted on the plaque then created a mock-up where each item would appear on the plaque.  The entire project took about 4 months.  There was a lot of collaboration and iterations – Gil was very particular on what he wanted.

Gil’s Detachment “A” Plaque Description

The actual wooden plaque is 4 feet long and 2 feet high.  It weighs 40 pounds.  It will be positioned at a 20 degree angle for proper viewing.  Gil described each component of the plaque as follows:

The most distinguishing feature of this artifact is the Eagle Cane.  The cane has an intricate Bald Eagle’s Head carved and painted into the handle representing the national symbol of freedom and independence.  The shaft of the cane consists of the American Flag, the Army Branch of Service emblem, a burned etching of “Detachment ”A” with dates of existence 1956-1984, and the Berlin Occupation Medal.

On the left side there is a burned-in wooden block etched with MG Sidney Shachnow’s name, as he is the best known Commander of Detachment “A”.  In the center there is another larger burned-in wooden block containing the Special Forces Crest, SF Shoulder Patch, American and German Wings, and two Detachment “A” coins one coin for the Head and one for the Tails which were Gil’s own coins.  The head consisting of a parachute, represents the infiltration into Berlin by Detachment “A” members led by MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret).  The tail consisting of a broken wall represents the exfiltration of Detachment “A” out of Berlin as LTC Piasecki(Ret) was the officer in charge of the final 10 days to clear out, sanitize and clean the station.  On the right side of plaque there is another burned -in wooden block etched with LTC Eugene Piasecki’s name.

The far right side of the plaque contains the Taps List with those departed members of Detachment “A”.  It is positioned under base of the cane.  Gil expressed its significance to be that whenever the base of a cane touches the ground it serves as a reminder of our honored comrades and brothers who are no longer with us, and to honor them and never forget them.

The original taps list was sent out for reformatting and printing.  It was originally printed on plain white paper.  The owner wanted to know about the ‘Taps List’.  When Gil explained it to her she ordered it to be re-printed on parchment and refused to accept any payment.

On the back of the plaque Gil wrote:  “Donated by Gil Turcotte, SGM(Ret) 2017”.

The rest of the plaque is reserved for Detachment “A” member signatures and certain dignitaries.  Each member signs their name along with time served in Detachment “A”.

Detachment “A” Plaque Signing

Gil arrived on Wednesday to the 2017 Detachment “A” function in honor of Jeff Raker with the plaque.

Gil Turcott’s plaque

Gil designated that the first signature and the location of the signature at the top of the bald eagle’s head be reserved for Bob Charest.  Gil wanted Bob to have this distinction of being the first to sign because he ‘brought Detachment “A” in from the cold” and “made it prominent by bringing long due recognition for the unit”.  Bob was honored as the first Detachment “A” member to sign the plaque at the head of the eagle.

Members present on Wednesday also signed the plaque including John Lee, Chris Feudo, Rick Westbrook, Steve Bright, Lee Fondas, and Eugene Piasecki who signed under the block containing his name.

On Thursday after MG Jim Guest’s speech, Gil had CSM Jeff Raker’s son Jeff to sign the plaque on his father’s behalf and in his honor.

Gill then caught up with our distinguished guest speaker MG James Guest’s(Ret) former Commanding General, United States Army Special Forces Command and obtained his signature.

Gil continued collecting signatures from all Detachment “A” members present at our function.  He also signed for some members with their permission, who were unable to attend, including Daryl Katz, Peter Gould and Doug Curry.

On Friday, right before our ceremony, Gil got MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) to sign the plaque under the block containing his name.

Our June 2017 function in honor of Jeff Raker, included the presentation of the plaque.  At the conclusion of our ceremony after MG Shachnow’s speech, Bob Charest called on Gil Turcotte who then presented the plaque to MG Sidney Shachnow(Ret) who then donated it to the JFK Museum on behalf of Detachment “A”.

About the Cane Woodcarvers

At the far right bottom corner of the plaque contains the woodcarver’s names George and Donna Gunning, Windsor ME, 2017.  They did not want to put their logo because they thought it might detract from the plaque but Gil convinced them to place it on the plaque.  They have produced 3,800 canes for Maine veterans at no cost to the veterans.  Donations are accepted to keep the tradition going.  Gil presented them with an autographed copy of Styk’s book Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990 as a gift, along with a donation for their work.

‘Special Forces Berlin…’ Author Jim “Styk” Stejskal on C-Span 3

Styk on C-Span

Jim “Styk” made a presentation on C-Span 3 (History)  to talk about his book and the unit:   Styk’s C-Span 3 (History) Presentation

Book Overview

“Jim “Styk” Stejskal’s  book, Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990 .

Highly classified until only recently, two U.S. Army Special Forces detachments were stationed far behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin during the Cold War. The units’ existence and missions were protected by cover stories, their operations were secret.

The massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies posed a huge threat to the nations of Western Europe. US military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the juggernaut they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin. The first 40 men who came to Berlin in mid-1956 were soon reinforced by 60 more and these 100 soldiers (and their successors) would stand ready to go to war at only two hours’ notice, in a hostile area occupied by nearly one million Warsaw Pact forces, until 1990.

Their mission should hostilities commence was to wreak havoc behind enemy lines, and buy time for vastly outnumbered NATO forces to conduct a breakout from the city. In reality it was an ambitious and extremely dangerous mission, even suicidal. Highly trained and fluent in German, each man was allocated a specific area. They were skilled in clandestine operations, sabotage, intelligence tradecraft and able to act as independent operators, blending into the local population and working unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move.

Special Forces Berlin was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It left a legacy of a new type of soldier expert in unconventional warfare, one that was sought after for missions such as the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. With the U.S. government officially acknowledging their existence in 2014, their incredible story can now be told.


Styk is also the author of the book  The Horns Of The Beast: The Swakop River Campaign & World War I In South West Africa, published by By Helion & Company.

The book,tells the story of the South African Army in its first foreign operations and the German Schutztruppe’s defense of their colony, German South West Africa, during World War I from 1914-1915. It will be available on Amazon this month.

Styk lived in Namibia from 2010 to 2013 and researched the history and battle sites on the ground. He used primary sources, along with accurate maps and charts of the battles, to shed new light on General Botha’s strategy and his opponent’s defense.

Jeff Raker’s Chicken Friday Plaque

One last wish from CSM Jeff Raker, was to donate the Chicken Friday plaque he received upon his departure from Detachment”A” in 1981, to the members of Detachment”A”.

Chicken Friday was created back in the 1971-1972 era with SGM Tony Kriculi, and MAJ Sid Shachnow.  In the 1970s era, Detachment”A” annexed the old HQ & HQ company mess hall kitchen right next door to the Detachment”A” building.  It was renovated by Detachment”A” members into a Day Room complete with a bar, which was annexed from the hospital.  The Day Room also included a pool table, a parachute canopy over the bar, and beer from Czechoslovakia called “Budvar”, not local beer i.e., Schultheiss and Berliner Kindl.  It was improved during the years leading up to the deactivation of the Detachment in 1984.

On Friday afternoons we had a formation and assigned tasks for various cleanup areas, vehicle maintenance, and other such upkeep duties.  These activities lasted about two hours which then turned into “Chicken Friday”, a social gathering and bier fest for the rest of the evening.  Because of our compartmentalization, and not much downtime among us for socializing, it became a highly anticipated event.  Chicken Friday was frequently attended by Navy Seals from Crete, teams from 10th Special Forces attending our classified city training course, and the German Secret Police whom we worked with.  Chicken Friday and the fest after, was a really big morale booster for the men of Detachment”A” and helped keep “What happened in the Detachment, stayed in the Detachment”.

At our last Detachment”A” function in Asheville on Friday 16 September of 2016, Jeff Raker presented the plaque he received in 1981, to our Chicken Friday.  He hand carried this symbolic artifact all the way from Guam, and it came with him first class – 35 years later.  After the meeting Kevin Monahan suggested that the plaque be donated to the JFK museum.  Bob Charest secured the Chicken Friday plaque and will ensure the plaque is transported to Roxanne Merritt, the JFK museum director/curator where she will ensure that it will reside and serve as part of Detachment”A” history.

This historic Chicken Friday plaque presented to CMS Jeff Raker back in 1981 is being donated to the JFK Museum on behalf of all the men from Detachment”A” 39TH Special Forces.


Chicken Friday 1977

Left to Right: Billy Krieger, Dennis Hebler, Klemme Lemcke
Chicken Friday, 1977 – Left to Right: Billy Krieger, Dennis Hebler, Klemme Lemcke

Memorial Stone Dedication

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.

The following article was posted by the Fayetteville Observer

The following article was posted by Stars and Stripes

 

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DetAProgram

Stormcloud

Stormcloud

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.

Detachment (A) Berlin Special Forces 1956-1984

Detachment (A) Berlin Special Forces 1956-1984

A thumbnail look at Detachment(A) Berlin Brigade
Compiled/Written by: Bob Charest Detachment(A) Team 1 Scuba, Detachment(A) Team 3 Team Sergeant (1969-1972) Detachment(A) Team 2 , Detachment(A) Commo Chief 1973-1978

History Overview

In 1956, six modified Special Forces Operational “A” Detachments from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) stationed in Bad Tölz were relocated to West Berlin as the 7781 Army Unit (also known as 39th SFOD) and embedded within HQ and HQ Co., 6th Infantry Regiment. Each team was composed of one Master Sergeant and five enlisted team members. The overall OIC was MAJ Maltese and his XO, CAPT Barton. After several moves in 1958 the unit found its final home at Andrews Barracks, West Berlin, assigned to HHC, US Army Garrison, Berlin, with its new name – Detachment “A” (DET-A). DET(A) was a clandestine unit constantly on high alert status 24 hours a day. In 1962 DET(A) was separated from the Garrison and became Detachment(A), Berlin Brigade, US Army Europe, which it remained until deactivation in 1984.

Detachment (A) was a unique and diversified, unconventional classified unit. With staff, the unit numbers were approximately 90 men. Detachment(A) encompassed all the Special Forces missions over its existence: unconventional warfare, stay behind, direct action, and anti-terrorist. For example when I arrived in 1969, they operated under the cell concept. Then in the late sixties transitioned to six, 12-man “A” teams, each having its own mission requiring different and multiple skill sets including scuba, HALO, etc.

A certain breed of troop were instrumental in Detachment(A)’s missions. They brought in depth knowledge of other nations, language capabilities and other much needed skills and knowledge essential to Detachment(A). Some of these men were products of the Lodge Act, and many of these troops still had families behind the Iron Curtain. Men like Peter Astalos who served in the Romanian and German armies during World War II; Martin Urich who participated in the largest tank battle of World War II “Kursk”, and many more.

In later years during the Cold War another breed of men were joining the Special Forces originating from all over Europe. Men such as MG Sidney Shachnow born in Kaunas Lithuania, imprisoned for three years during World War II, joined Special Forces in 1962 and served for the next 32 years in Special Forces rising through the ranks to become a Two Star General. He was the Commander of Detachment(A) in the early 1970s. Hermann Adler, Team 3 Leader 71-72, born in the Sudentenland, Czechoslovakia.

After MG Shachnow’s departure from Detachment(A), his replacement was relieved of duty in front of our morning formation by the Berlin Brigade DBC. He was replaced along with several other key individuals who were not Special Forces qualified. Under their direction we were all put back in uniforms. Our Detachment(A) sign logo now had a big Airborne logo appended to it. We were assigned various duties to train the Infantry units of the Berlin Brigade, i.e., EIB training, Scout Swimmer, etc. Their NCO’s looked to us as cadre. These command changes had a detrimental impact on the unit and compromised DET(A)’s mission.

The unit then got a new commander. Colonel Stanley Olchovik, who was born in Czechoslovakia, was an accomplished linguist and had extensive Special Forces operational experience.

CSM Jeffrey Raker, another standout born in Germany, was also assigned to Detachment(A) . He volunteered for Special Forces in 1963, and rose up to Command Sergeant Major. He served as the Sergeant Major of Detachment(A) from 1977-1981.

Colonel Olchovik and Sergeant Major Raker restored Detachment(A) to its primary classified missions. Under their leadership the unit was able to regroup and achieve 100% language qualification, and hone its unconventional warfare and special operations skills. They set up training with the Bundesgrenzschutz GSG9, SAS, and Special Police units. SGM Raker selected and trained two individuals who made the reconnaissance to Iran to plan Operation Egle Claw – Iran Hostage Rescue Mission 1979. He then selected the Detachment that was to rescue the hostages held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CSM Raker served over 30 years in the Army.

Spring, 1981
Spring, 1981

It was men like these that made Detachment(A) what it was– a clandestine unit of Green Beret commandos on high alert 24 hours a day operating in the Cold War era.

Becoming a member of the unit required the potential candidate meet the highest of standards. Those standards were rigorously set and enforced. The slightest infractions were not tolerated. The members of this unit were selectively trained, language qualified SF soldiers, many former German and Eastern European immigrants who brought much needed culture, geographical and language skills to this assignment. They dressed in mostly civilian clothing purchased in both West and East Germany and carried if required, non-American flash documentation and identification. Their missions were always classified.

Physical training was wide-ranging and progressively intense.

SS1974Names

 

For example, on Monday, it was the daily dozen plus a one-mile run. Tuesday, the same but a 2-mile run which progressed through Friday to a 5-mile run. Four times per month we performed a four-mile cross-country run through the Grunewald Forest. Another example, a month in Southern Germany where we trained for winter warfare, which consisted of both downhill and cross-country skiing equivalent to extreme skiing. Specialized demolition training was a required skill for our various targets in Berlin. Some attended the CIA specialized demo course at Harvey Point, NC. We also conducted intense special internal demolitions by our demo personnel.
DET(A) participated in all the Flintlock exercises along with our sister unit 10th SFGP(ABN) located in Bad Tölz Germany in various ways sometimes as assets, Guerrilla Chief as well as participating in communication exercises. We would combine our Scuba training with 10th SFGP in Bad Tölz, Germany.

Each month, we conducted our airborne operations staging and flying out of Berlin Tempelhof AFB and jumping into Bad Tölz, Germany.

Some of the tools of the trade used were coal filled with C-4 for the earlier sabotage of the rail ring surrounding Berlin. One-shot cigarette-lighter guns also known as stingers, vials filled with metal shavings for destruction of turbines, noise suppressed weapons for elimination of specific targets. A myriad of weapons and vehicles were available. All of our scuba gear was German Dräger. This included a Dräger one-man portable decompression chamber.

Other tools included dual passports, or dual nationalities, GS ID cards for specific reasons. Diplomatic passports walk on water IDs for exploring boarder areas in all sectors. Vehicles utilized included both US and German registration. We used German weapons, i.e., Walther MPK 9mm that fit in a briefcase.

Area studies were conducted to gain a solid understanding of the culture, languages, history, geographical data, and target acquisition.

The status of forces agreement with the four powers occupying West Berlin specified no elite forces. However, the allies the British, Russians, and the U.S. etc., had their own elite forces.

We participated in NATO escape and evasion exercises and exclusive DET(A) city exercises in Berlin, which included dead drops, live drops, primary meetings, surveillance, and in-city communications. DET(A) had a city course that we taught to the 10th SFGP personnel as well as SEAL Team Two from Crete.

DET(A) knew that the KGB had us under constant surveillance and possessed dossiers on all of us. Part of our city training was against the Soviets surveillance of us.

Unit members wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German, and grooming standards were relaxed, i.e., long hair.

Bob

 

Bob Charest Example of Relaxed Grooming 1977

During the mid 70s our mission was changed to anti-terrorist, sniper, and swat combat in cities. We were the Delta Force of Europe.

In 1978 DET(A) was tasked by the CIA to dig up several mission support sites positioned throughout Berlin for stay behind operations and check the conditions of the equipment in them, i.e., weapons, demo, commo, medical, and to recommend replacements.

Detachment”A” was deactivated 1 October 1984 and the doors locked on 17 December 1984.