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In subsequent years, Det A was also developing a relationship with Germany’s Spezialeinsatzkommandos (SEK). Detachment A’s team six, “had its own unique mission. Most of ours dealt with close comradeship with the local SEK so we spent a lot of time with those guys,” Braughton said, which entailed working in the city and running surveillance operations.
In between their busy professional lives, the Det A members would find time for recreation as well, some of them becoming amateur treasure hunters. Combing the countryside with metal detectors, a couple of the guys located and dug up a small box. Taking it back to the unit’s lounge, a crowd gathered around expecting to find some Nazi loot inside worthy of a Indiana Jones movie. When the men opened it up all they found was a dead bird inside, someone’s pet that had been buried.
- Team 2 in Garmisch
In 1981, General Dozier was kidnapped in Verona, Italy by the communist Red Brigades. Det A split into sniper and assaulter elements, packed up their weapons and gear, and were ready and waiting for a military aircraft to pick them up. After six weeks of captivity, Italian police stormed the apartment where Dozier was held, rescuing him and arresting a half-dozen terrorists without firing a shot.
In December of 1984, Det A was in the process of being deactivated with only a handful of men remaining in the unit when they were called upon to perform one final mission. The German customs department and Berlin SEK were conducting a joint operation and needed a Russian linguist. A Green Beret from Det A who had a Lithuanian background was dispatched to assist in the investigation since he spoke Russian. Dubbed Operation Odessa, it was originally envisioned as an uncover operation, in which German authorities were targeting a criminal gang of Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Russians who were smuggling guns, drugs, and passports. The ensuing surveillance operation involved pretty much every man left assigned to Det A and in the end the gang leader was arrested, to be later convicted in the German courts.
Despite Det A’s successes, the end of an era was near. One day in 1984, Kevin Monahan and Ed Cox left the empty team rooms in Andrews barracks, all of the equipment and gear having been packed up and shipped out. Downstairs was the lounge and unit bar where the men used to meet for “chicken friday” once a week. They would clean the team rooms, latrines, and vehicles together and after the Sergeant Major inspected, would commence to have a party and drink all night. Multiple members of Det A fondly recalled that, “we worked hard and we played hard.”
Monahan and Cox were the last men out of the Detachment that day, and forever, locking the doors behind them. As they were shutting down the unit, the Green Berets joked that they felt like retreating Germans in World War Two, burning bag after bag of classified material. After decades of working in the shadows, Detachment A was inactivated.
Det A’s legacy was handed off to a new Special Forces unit in Berlin called Physical Security Support Element (PSSE), with several Det A members making up the core cadre of the new unit. Disguised as military policemen and working under a more effective official cover as 287th Military Police Company, the new unit developed security protocols and did site surveys, but also continued the clandestine mission to counter Soviet activities and conduct counter-terrorism operations. Additionally, PSSE also worked abroad in Africa and the Middle East preparing embassy security plans. PSSE existed right up to the end of the Cold War, shutting down in 1990 after the Berlin wall came down.
Afterwards, American military officers in Berlin had the opportunity to meet with their Russian counterparts. As it turned out, the Russians believed that there were 800-900 US Special Forces soldiers in Berlin ready to carry out sabotage operations. In reality, the number was never more than 90. In a unique way, Special Forces had been successful in one of their core tasks as acting as a force multiplier, not just on the ground, but in the minds of Soviet military planners as well. With PSSE shut down, the US counter-terrorism mission in Europe was next handed off to another newly stood up Special Forces Commanders In-extremis Force (CIF).
Most of the men who served in Detachment A remember it as their favorite assignment, including those who went on to serve more than twenty years in Special Forces, or moved on to Special Mission Units, or pursued a career in CIA. Det A was where they caught the bug, loving the camaraderie of the organization and the allure of the mission, serving in America’s only urban unconventional warfare unit.
Today, after fifteen years focused on direct action missions in the Middle East, Special Forces is seeking to reinvest in their core mission of Unconventional Warfare. Part of this includes re-learning lessons from the past, lessons that can be handed down from veterans such as those who served in Det A when it comes to blending in and completing low visibility missions in foreign countries.
When it comes to the legacy of the unit, “Paco” Fontana stated that, “there is a lot of people who didn’t know anything about Det A. They had a real war-time mission that no one knew about and we were doing it for so long, so the legacy is that silence is golden.” Charest remembers Det A as a unit that was, “able to do the impossible. You were given a mission, we had many, and we did them all. We were so dedicated, it was like being in another world.”
For the Det A members, their time in the unit will never be forgotten, “the relationships, the mentorship, the experiences that we had there as young Special Forces guys, we were really pushed out to grow into that legend and do the things we were supposed to do and accomplish the mission we were given,” Braughton said. “It’s the job, it’s the lifestyle, it’s addictive.”
In recent years, the men of Det A have begun coming forward to tell their story; lifting the cloak of secrecy which was so strong that even within the unit none of the six teams ever knew each other’s missions due to compartmentalization. In 2014, a ceremony was held at Special Operations Command on Fort Bragg to place a memorial stone for Detachment A. The unit’s colors were also permanently cased and retired, a moment that was symbolic for veterans of the unit who had never received any public recognition for their service up until that time.
Today, Detachment A serves not as a Cold War relic or historical curiosity, but rather as an example of how Special Forces soldiers can live off of the local economy, move around with fake travel documents, plan sabotage operations, and conduct urban unconventional warfare. These are capabilities that US Special Operations is desperate to reacquire. For 15 years the war on terror has placed an emphasis on Direct Action missions, but in today’s quickly evolving environment, America will have to once more perfect the unconventional warfare mission.
Thanks to Detachment A, there is no need to start from scratch when developing these capabilities for today’s Green Berets. SOCOM has a previous example to draw upon, and should know exactly who to go talk to for advice: the clandestine Special Forces soldiers who stood their ground against communism on the front lines of the Cold War.
*Note: all ranks mentioned in this article refer to the soldier’s rank during the timeframe being referenced, as many went on to retire as senior NCOs, Officers, and Warrant Officers.
Beckwith, Charles. “Delta Force.”
Lenahan, Rod. “Crippled Eagle.”
(Lead image courtesy of Mike Mulieri)