Note: this is part of a series about America’s first counterterrorism unit. You can read part one here. Master Sergeant Jake Jakovenko was known as a hard man among the Green Berets of 5th Special Forces Group. When asked about what type of soldier Jakovenko was, retired 7th Special Forces Group Warrant Officer Jim “Smokey” West simply replied, “No bullshit.” Born in what he describes as a “no-name village” in Donbass province, Ukraine, to a coal miner mother, Jakovenko was introduced into the same rough life that his family lived in Eastern Europe.
Speaking of his mother, Jakoveko told SOFREP, “When she was 16 in 1933-34, Stalin tried to starve Ukraine out, like the Germans did to the Jews. Someone, for a loaf of bread, said her brother had a pistol. The Bolsheviks came even though no pistol was found. They tortured and murdered her whole family. She was sitting, leaning against a fence, too weak to move from hunger and watched the horror. Two Bolsheviks came over to her, one pointed a pistol at her head. The other said, ‘Why waste a bullet? She will be dead by sundown.'”
Her neighbors stepped in after the Bolsheviks left, taking Jakovenko’s mother in and helping her recover. In 1941, the Germans invaded Ukraine, were defeated, and retreated back to Germany. Ukrainians who had worked with the Germans had to retreat with them or face retaliation. “We ended up in Berlin. Pop was a fireman and Mom worked in a factory, sewing German army uniforms,” Jakovenko said. “We left Berlin in May 1945. Again the Russians were only blocks away, and again it would be death or Siberia. We ended up in a displaced-person camp in Hanover, England. Pop died in 1946, and Mom married my stepfather. It was easier to immigrate to America as a family unit. We arrived in the U.S. in November of 1950.”
After working on a ranch in Idaho, Jakovenko moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, where he soon dropped out of school and tried to join the Army. The first time, he was turned down because he was too young and not a U.S. citizen. In 1958, he volunteered for the draft. He became an American citizen in 1961. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he deployed to the Dominican Republic with the 82nd Airborne Division. When he came home, he volunteered to go to Vietnam. Hitting the ground in January of 1966, Jakovenko served in the infantry before becoming a member of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs), which were rebranded as Ranger companies later in the war. Running six-man recon patrols, he saw plenty of action.
Back in the United States, he volunteered for Special Forces, graduating the Q-course in June, 1968. He again volunteered for service in Vietnam, and then volunteered to participate in the Son Tay raid in 1970. Suffice to say that Jankovenko was about as seasoned as they come, but was far from alone in 5th Special Forces Group. He was in good company among other Son Tay raiders, MACV-SOG, and Mike Force veterans up on Smoke Bomb Hill.
In 1973, Jakovenko was sent to Mott Lake, which was then an isolation facility for Special Forces teams to conduct mission planning. This particular mission was to infiltrate into Iran and recover sensitive CIA monitoring equipment that had been installed along the border. Briefers from the State Department told the Green Berets that Russian Spetsnaz was also getting this mission. The Cold War showdown between Green Berets and Spetsnaz looked like it might actually happen for a moment.
Incredibly, the State Department briefers told the Special Forces team that they were to shoot to wound if they made contact. “I asked if the Russians were getting the same briefing, and being told not to kill anyone,” Jakovenko said. The mission was cancelled and the Russians got ahold of some of the most modern eavesdropping equipment that the CIA had at the time. Master Sergeant Jakovenko was spun up again with the group of Special Forces men who were to execute a hostage-rescue mission during the previously mentioned Hanafi siege in 1977.
Colonel Mountel clearly wanted Jakovenko on Blue Light, so when Jakovenko demanded that his entire ODA be allowed to come with him into the unit, his request was granted. Jakovenko then became the team sergeant of one of the assault teams, his men the assaulters. “Blue Light was ready to launch 24/7, anywhere American interests were threatened. Delta was still selecting and training,” he said about the disposition of the two units.
Kenny McMullin was another team sergeant in Blue Light. Like Jakovenko, he was a Son Tay raider. He made a combat jump in Vietnam and also served in Thailand during the war.
“As everyone knows, my dad loved to read and never stopped learning his craft. He filled his shelves with military history. But I know his prized books were about his friends, many of you here today. All of his books signed, all marked with favorite pages and passages. The names once redacted are penciled back in to celebrate his friends’ achievements,” his son, Steven McMullin, who is also a Green Beret, said at a ceremony after his father passed away.
Roger remembers McMullin as being a “very intelligent guy who really understood the nuances of his business. Not just running recon, but about unconventional warfare and unconventional theory. The theory of the practice of terrorism and revolutionary warfare.”
McMullin continued to serve with distinction after his time in Blue Light as well, serving as a company sergeant major in 7th Group and as battalion sergeant major in 3rd Group.
Both Blue Light and Delta were also busy consulting with foreign counterterrorism units to develop tactics and improve their performance.
Colonel Wegener of GSG-9, the German commander who led the successful raid to free 70 German hostages from a hijacked aircraft in Somalia, came out to Mott Lake. “He liked what we were doing and offered some advice,” Blue Light’s sergeant major said.
A special operations general in the Israeli Army came out to Blue Light’s compound as well. “Here is what you have to look out for,” he told the Green Berets. “You have a counterterrorism force you train every day, but you have to watch out for burn out.” In Israel, they had a practice of rotating their counterterrorism troops to the police force so they could have a recovery period, as the intense training and constant alerts caused a lot of stress for those assigned to these types of units. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army did not have that luxury.
At Delta, they were often seeking advice from the same units. “From my observations, there were no counterterrorism forces that were totally complete at the time. The concept was hostage-rescue units. Counterterrorism was the label the unit was formed under, but initially, there was no idea that we were formed to track them [terrorists] down and kill them in their beds. GSG-9, SAS, and GIGN had some experience based on past terrorist actions and active groups such as the Red Army Faction and the PLO at the Munich Olympics. We got help from them and other organizations. We attended training at special schools, gained access to technical specialists, and applied what we learned to what we developed internally,” Jim (not his real name) said, who joined Delta Force in the early years and later served as a squadron commander.
“A lot of it was on the fly. Target analysis, mission analysis, integration of intelligence, and an understanding from the beginning that you had to have a standalone intel and analysis capability so that you can deploy to a crisis site,” Jim said, which dovetails with Beckwith’s views. “I had learned that from the SAS. They taught me if I was going to do something unique, something very dangerous, then I better have all my own horses. When your life and those of your people are the stakes, you don’t want to have to depend on strangers” (Beckwith, 77).
“No one, including our intelligence agencies, had organizations with the specific capabilities we developed,” Jim said about the late 1970s and early 1980s.