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When 9/11 came, South Korea had already been taking terrorism far more seriously than the United States ever did. The Detachment wanted to go to war but found themselves stuck in South Korea. “Me and the commander came up with the international play of sending the Koreans. SOCKOR took it to ROK Special Forces who went to government and it got approved,” Detachment Sergeant Major Jack Hagan said. The idea was that Det K would accompany Korean Special Forces into Iraq when the invasion kicked off, but 1st Special Forces Group stole that job away from them and Tae Kim was the only Det K liaison permitted to go. “They took a company of engineers, company of medics, and one platoon of 707. Later teams from other brigades were mixed,” Hagan said.
The Koreans had done a peace keeping deployment to East Timor and filled some support roles in Afghanistan, but this would be their first time rolling into a real combat zone. Detachment K helped provide them with pre-mission training prior to deployment. Det K liaison Tae Kim described that initial deployment saying, “In the initial push in from Kuwait they had a US escort with US Special Forces NCOs from 1st Group to help them with the convoy. Going out it was the same thing. Every time they went outside the fence, they would be prepared. We would go meet with the local people and US SF was with them.” The Korean contingent consisted of a civil-military organization that was called Zaytun (Arabic for olive branch) division and was stationed in Erbil, Kurdistan.
Tae described how impressed he was with the Korean civic projects in Iraq as they set up a mechanics school, a computer school, built a sports stadium, a police station, a library, and ran a hospital. Fifty years ago US Army units stationed in South Korea would sponsor a local school or orphanage to help the impoverished country. Now, the Tiger of Asia was providing assistance to less fortunate souls.
“We were driving from a construction site in our own vehicle, the ROK in their SUVs with their flag on the hood,” Tae said. “The Koreans would just get waved through checkpoints because they had won the hearts and minds of the Kurdish people. They had a very good relationship.” 1st Special Forces Group officer Gene Yu painted his interpretation of events writing that the Koreans were offered to be stationed in places like Mosul, Baghdad, and elsewhere but they declined because a single Korean casualty was considered politically unacceptable (Wong, 213). “Zero casualties was the policy and order from the Blue House in Seoul” (Wong, 214). At the same time, they had an obligation to participate in Iraq after America had kept their country free for over fifty years.
Yu is quite critical of the Korean government for not letting their soldiers fight and claims that they were mostly there to open up commercial avenues of Samsung and Hyundai when he arrived to liaison with the unit in 2006, a job he described as a useless excuse for the Asia-focused 1st Special Forces Group to deploy to Iraq (Wong, 214). There may be truth to this narrative as well, but Yu fails to mention the important civil programs that the Koreans ran in Iraq.
After a massive blast rocked a couple of government buildings in Erbil, the 1st Group liaisons to the Koreans attempted to stage a joint operation to raid the terrorists responsible with the Korean Special Forces as well as the Kurdish Peshmerga. “I had developed a relationship with the Korean Special Forces Team Leader, and he was just itching to get outside the wire and go kick some ass,” Yu wrote (Wong, 227) but the ROK Special Forces could not go out on operations without permission all the way up from the Blue House.
Back in Korea, there was a pretty good dust-up as the US Army office of heraldry decided that Detachment K would now be known as Special Forces Detachment 39. Special Forces veterans and careful researchers may note that Det 39 is actually the designation of the now deactivated Detachment A in Berlin while Detachment K’s lineage goes back to Det 40 in Korea. Veterans of both Det A and Det K were upset by this move, feeling that it stole from the history of both units.
(Featured image courtesy of DVIDS)
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