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Without a parent command, Randall and his team sergeant could determine how the Det could best serve Korean Special Forces and the U.S. military presence on the peninsula. They also deployed to Australia, Hawaii, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan to support other military exercises. Much like Detachment A in Berlin, who based themselves out of a barracks that once belonged to the Waffen SS, Detachment K now worked out of what had been a bunker belonging to the Japanese Imperial Army. Rumor had it that the bunker was haunted, as some reported hearing strange noises inside at night (Det K, 63).
Inside the bunker were many of the same stations that the Det had when working from the Quonset hut on Camp Mercer. There was an aid station, supply room, rigger’s room, showers, bathroom, and a day room where the unit members could hang out after work and throw back a few cold ones with their teammates. Vault-like doors led into the bunker, and there was even an emergency escape tunnel that let out somewhere near the Han River.
By now, Korean Special Forces had expanded and had stood up their Special Warfare Command. Det K’s commander was the liaison to the Korean SWC commander, and his NCOs were liaison to the individual Special Forces brigades, essentially becoming a member of the brigade staff. During this time, Det K NCOs were also charged with writing contingency plans and designing the special operations portion of training exercises (Det K, 64). Much like in Vietnam and so many other places, Special Forces sergeants were filling roles that the big green machine—the U.S. Army—believes should be the purview of officers. Det K and Korea’s SWC had little issue with their arrangement and carried about their business.
The contingency plans the U.S. and Korean militaries were working on came with a sense of urgency as well, as it became apparent that North Korea was seeking asymmetrical means to attack the south. During the 1970s, four major tunnels were discovered under the DMZ. The U.S. Army tunnel neutralization teams (TNT) discovered and eventually destroyed what became known as tunnels one through four, some of them wide enough to drive a Jeep through. In the event of an invasion, all the North Koreans would have to do is knock down the last bit of dirt, and the communist hoards would rush right into South Korea. By some accounts, there are as many as 24 tunnels under the DMZ to this day. Part of tunnel three remains open and can be visited by tourists.
Military war plans were being revised in Korea when Gordon Cucullu arrived back in country in 1976, this time as a foreign area officer. Initially, 1st Special Forces Group had planned to conduct unconventional warfare inside North Korea in the event of a war, the same way 10th Special Forces Group would have inside the Soviet Union—namely by parachuting Green Berets in behind enemy lines to conduct sabotage and create a guerrilla force to fight the communists in what would have been called Operation Falling Rain. This model was well executed by the Jedburgh Teams and the OSS during World War II, but the notion that American soldiers could blend in with the local population in North Korea was a non-starter. The “stay-behind” mission that Detachment A in Berlin planned for was also out the window because American Green Berets could also not blend in at all in an occupied South Korea.
Unfortunately, Special Forces had not quite learned their lesson yet, as the French and the CIA tried to replicate the Jedburghs in Indochina with disastrous results. The fatal case of path dependency on a tactic was even mocked by the title of a later CIA white paper review of so-called black-entry tactics: It was titled, “The Way We Do Things.” The paper concludes that covert insertion techniques had proven futile during the Korean War and that “the known product of the activity was limited to one team’s weather reporting, useful to the U.S. Air Force, before the team was overwhelmed in a surprise attack after about six weeks on the ground” (Ahern, 3).
Black-entry methods failed to insert agents into North Vietnam in the early 1960s, and MACV-SOG also had a similar experience when small Special Forces teams infiltrated into Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. “Frankly, we could have gotten away with it in South America with 8th Group because we had Cubans and Latinos in the ranks who spoke the language and could blend in fairly well,” Cucullu said. “When I was over there with the Combined Forces Command in ’78 and ’79, I was assigned to integrate unconventional warfare into targeting. We were doing tactical- and strategic-level stuff and passed that on to Det K and to the ROK channels.”
Featured image: Rick Lavoie making his fifth jump with Korean Special Forces to qualify for Korean jump wings in 1966. Courtesy of Rick Lavoie.