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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
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.
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.
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 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.