Read Part 14 HERE
Serving on a combat diver team in the mid to late 1980’s, Hand and his team mates would plan to static line parachute into the Team Spirit exercise but that never happened. Instead they helo-casted from a CH-47 helicopter in the ocean off the coast of South Korea with their Zodiac. In isolation for mission planning prior to the infiltration, an officer asked the ODA what they would do if a shark bit their zodiac. The Green Berets tried to keep their composure while explaining that the raft had four individual inflatable compartments in it.
The night before, the pilots had put them out too low while going too fast. It was bad enough that some of the Green Berets were injured and some knocked unconscious when they hit the water. Nonetheless, they were back at it the next night. Under a moonless sky, “we hid our stuff in the hinterlands and did one of the hardest movements I’ve ever done,” through the countryside Hand said. Infiltrating inland, they would dig a hide site in the side of a mountain and conduct the strategic reconnaissance mission, providing overwatch on traffic intersections and reporting vehicular movement all day and night. They never did any joint missions with Korean Special Forces, but the information they gathered would have been coordinated with the Combined Forces Command.
For these ODA’s, Strategic Reconnaissance was their main mission since an American Special Forces team can’t blend in and do low-visibility operations in North Korea, nor could they do much in terms of Direct Action with just a 12-man element. Another mission they could perform was using a laser designator to paint North Korean targets for American aircraft to bomb, a capability that they also taught to the South Korean Special Forces.
By 1986, the North Korean threat to the upcoming Olympics games was looking serious. The Kim regime was ramping up their propaganda efforts, spreading disinformation about South Koreans being diseased with the AIDS virus and trying to stir up student protests. In November of 1987, North Korean terrorists bombed Korean Airlines Flight 858, killing all 115 people aboard. “By early 1988, we were receiving reports indicating that the North Koreans might be planning even more disasters in a desperate attempt to sabotage the Olympics,” (Young, 126) one embassy staffer wrote. Two Delta Force teams were flown into South Korea from Fort Bragg to help prepare security for the Olympic Games. By now, the 707th was prepared to respond to any terrorist threats as well.
Thanks to the preparations undertaken by both the South Korean and American governments, the 1988 Olympics went down without a hitch. Preparations included enhanced security features, a quick reaction force, intelligence sharing, and the prepositioning of US strategic assets within striking distance of North Korea. (Young, 126).
Around this time, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 was coming into effect. Recognizing the flaws in America’s military force structure after the failed Iranian hostage rescue in 1980 and the somewhat dicey invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Goldwater-Nichols Act led to the creation of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and combatant commands as well as theater specific special operations commands such as Special Operations Command-Korea. While President Carter had started his presidency with some naïve ideas, he did come to realize that there were a lot of snakes out there in the world and began to change his beliefs and policies. Under the Reagan administration, there was a renewed emphasis on Special Operations that the military had not seen since Vietnam. In 1984, 1st Special Forces Group had been re-activated and Det K was no longer an orphan, it’s liaison duties formalized and folded within 1st SFG and SOC-K.
While the vast majority of Detachment K’s mission was, and is, non-classified liaison work, they do occasionally get classified taskings. One such mission saw Det K personnel loaned out to military intelligence to aid in teaching the South Koreans counter-intelligence techniques. Such taskings continued to come from time to time, but were unsubstantial compared to the Det’s main function.
(Lead picture courtesy of the US Army)