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Fears of North Korean infiltrations continued, but by this time Det K and other Special Forces teams had been working with the Korean Special Forces for a long time. Gone were the Wild West years of the 1960s. By now, the South could stand on its own two feet and deter and respond to North Korean infiltrators on their own. The Foal Eagle exercise was still held, and one training mission in particular that took place at the Kusan Air Base became a special operations legend: one that demonstrated how North Koreans could infiltrate using airplanes or even gliders.
In the dead of night, a U.S. Air Force Combat Talon C-130 cut its engines and glided right into the Kusan Air Base, touching down on the runway with its lights blacked out. “No one in the control tower, including the exercise evaluator who knew the plane was scheduled to land, so much as heard the silenced black bird touch down” (Cucullu, 168). The Combat Talon taxied over to the parking apron where F-16 fighter jets were stationed. The ramp dropped and a combined team of American and South Korean Special Forces soldiers ran off and planted simulated explosives on the fighter jets. Boarding the Combat Talon, the Green Berets and ROK Special Forces men made their escape. “It was a harsh lesson in vulnerability—a mission such as that one was well within the capacity of the North Korean commandos to execute” (Cucullu, 168).
During this time, Detachment K also introduced the concept of beacon bombing to South Korean Special Forces. It was a mission profile that U.S. Special Forces had been working for decades, but now that it was determined that U.S. Special Forces would have limited missions in North Korea in the event of war, it was decided that these techniques would be taught to their partner force in the South Korean Special Forces brigades.
“Beacon bombing employed the placement of a (radar) navigation beacon at a pre-determined, known point, upon which strike, bombing aircraft referenced off of when the strike aircraft conducted missions,” (Det K, 82) Boner wrote. South Korean Special Forces were taught the necessary calculations needed and how to utilize the GAR-I beacon device.
Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, Detachment K was nearly disbanded in 1980 by hand-wringing conventional Army officers. A U.S. Army general in Korea held Special Forces (both Korean and American) in disdain. This disgust is the reason why, during the coup, Korean SF would only talk to American SF and not the higher-ranking conventional U.S. Army officers in country. That the Det acted as the back channel of communication between the new Korean government at the Blue House and the White House during the coup only further infuriated the general.
One morning in 1980, Major Chuck Randall came into work with a cup of coffee in one hand and opened an envelope sitting in his inbox. To his shock, it contained several copies of orders that would disband Detachment K within 90 days. It turned out that a couple of colonels had conspired with the general to disband the unit and have their manpower transferred to a new staff section created under their command at Yongsan. They despised the fact that Special Forces sergeants were filling high-level brigade liaison positions, positions they felt should be the sole purview of the officer caste. Colonel Grant, who was Randall’s senior rater, put in his own retirement papers in disgust with how the Detachment was being treated. (Det K, 91).
With Randall getting so irritated with the Army that he was threatened with being relieved of his command, he held a joint meeting between the Detachment and Chapter 13 of the Special Forces Association. Together, they began calling every heavy hitter they could think of in a last-ditch effort to save the Det from demise. Randall called friends of the Detachment including Colonel Aaron Bank, General Yarborough, General Vessey, General Mackmull, General Kingston and many others. The Blue House, the Korean Army, several U.S. Army commands, and a number of retired Special Forces officers used back channels to reach out directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of the Army to complain about the disbandment orders (Det K, 91).
Six weeks later, Randall was called into a colonel’s office for a dressing down. His efforts had succeeded in saving the unit, but it came at the cost of his own military career. Randall had sacrificed himself at the altar of politics to save the Detachment, something that the Special Forces community wasn’t about to forget.
Featured image courtesy of the U.S. Army