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The 1990s brought good times and bad, with some Det K members being relieved for cause. But as one Det K soldier remarked about the time, “Keep your mouth shut, do some ‘hooah’ PT every day, and the world will keep turning is always my recommendation whenever an SF soldier finds himself in a world gone haywire” (Det K, 131).
Mark Johnson came home from the Gulf War in 1991, after which he helped facilitate Special Forces liaisons—called coalition support teams—working with allied Arab military brigades. To his surprise, he was assigned to take command of Det K in Korea, transferring from 5th Special Forces Group to 1st Special Forces Group. From his recent experience with coalition support teams in combat, Johnson was asked to revitalize the detachment and prepare it for war (Det K, 129).
Det K wasn’t just some liaison that scheduled air assets for the Koreans, they were the American experts who knew everything there was to know about the Korean Special Forces brigade they were assigned to. Back in the day, there was just the 1st Special Forces Brigade, but by this point in time, the Det was working with seven brigades, the 707th counterterrorism unit, a Ranger unit, and the Special Warfare Command. U.S. Special Forces had grown over the years, and the South Korean SOF units had grown with them.
The early 1990s was also when Det K’s new compound was built, shifting the unit from Yongsan to Seongnam. The Det was to be housed right on the same base as the Korean Army‘s Special Warfare Command headquarters, exactly where the South Korean Special Forces wanted their American advisors. New infiltration techniques, such as fast-roping, were introduced to Korean Special Forces, and “no rooftop was safe from the wrath of the helos,” Kim Schrock wrote (Det K, 131).
Schrock was also part of the detachment when they were assigned to Red Team Osan Air Base in an exercise called Cope Jade. The purpose of the exercise begins to make sense when one considers that experts believe “airfields, such as the one at Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, are priority targets for the reconnaissance brigades” of North Korea (Krause, 15).
After stealing military IDs that had been left in bars by service members in downtown Songtan, the team got let through the front gate with the exercise evaluator. They then established their objective rally point at a barracks while Kim stole a military vehicle and drove back to the rally point. Launching their simulated attack, the team took out the airfield tower, the hangars with aircraft inside, and the fuel point, and the post general was called by one Det member from the base’s crypto room. Afterward, Osan was not a lot of fun for the Det because, “when they saw our vehicles, we were harassed” (Det K, 131).
In 1996, a North Korean submarine ran aground near the South Korean village of Gangneung while trying to pick up a recon team that had been spying on a Navy base in one of the most large-scale infiltrations to date. South Korean Navy SEALs sprang into action, boarding the beached submarine and clearing it. Trained by the 707th Special Mission Battalion that had been mentored by Special Forces and allegedly received training from America’s SEAL Team Six, the Korean SEALs had only recently created a counterterrorism capability (Yang, 38). Onboard, the SEALs found 11 dead crew members, liquidated by their comrades as punishment for running the submarine aground.
With an unknown number of North Korean Special Purpose Forces troops on the run, the South Korean Army now had their chance to engage in the hunt for enemy agents. Korean Special Forces deployed by the Special Warfare Command were soon on the ground participating in the search. Detachment K had their role as well. “Det K provided liaisons to ROK Special Forces and integrated U.S. intelligence assets, including helicopters with FLIR [forward-looking infrared], as ROK SOF went after North Korean SOF,” Colonel Dave Maxwell said. Nine of the 13 North Koreans hunted down and killed were taken out by Korean Special Forces soldiers. One was captured, and another is believed to have slipped back into North Korea.
Featured image courtesy of AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon