“This book recognizes a unit, the members of which were among the most impactful of giants on whose shoulders the current special operators stand, whether in the SF Groups or in the most clandestine of our special operations “SMU” outfits. My generation of SF soldiers learned how to be effective in a denied area, using a complex mix of tradecraft, ingenuity, common sense, light infantry, and guerrilla warfare techniques in sabotage and subversion, with a nuance and deftness required to survive to accomplish our unconventional (UW) mission. Their exploits known to few by design, but long rumored can now be shared with the public and SOF professionals. It is fitting too that the unit be recognized and her members honored before time finishes with these great men.”
This is an excerpt from the forward to “Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990” by James Stejskal. The forward was written by LTG Charles Cleveland, USA Retired. LTG Cleveland also said this, “With all the hype generated in recent years by far less discreet and less capable special units, it’s good to read about a unit who remained in the shadows until history and discretion allowed a public accounting.” Amen to that brother Cleveland, amen to that.
This book tells the story of a unit that even many in Special Forces only knew about in vague generalities. I came to know a lot of these men. One of my instructors at the SFOQC came from Berlin. I would meet him again during a Flintlock exercise in southern Germany. I knew James “Styk” Stejskal when I was an ODA commander. More accurately, I knew of him. He was in the team building next to mine at Fort Devens. We may have talked. I don’t remember. He probably never knew I existed. There was no reason for him to know some cheese-assed junior captain. Today he describes himself as a historian, author, conflict archeologist, photographer and veteran. I worked with and learned a great deal from several others while at Devens. My team’s SOP included cellular operations and clandestine communications. I still have a copy of the POI (program of instruction) for guerrilla operations in urbanized terrain (GOUT) we developed as well as a well worn and heavily annotated copy of "Total Resistance" by Major H. von Dach.
I worked with former Det A soldiers and a lot of old friends from 10th Group when I was assigned to an Army SMU as a brand new Army MICECP (MI Civilian Excepted Career Program) case officer. Quite a few Det A soldiers gravitated towards this SMU for there was a lot of overlap in methods of operations. I offer the example of two of these soldiers to illustrate the caliber of men common to Special Forces and to Det A in particular.
One of the pair who we referred to as “the Germans” was a Prussian by birth. His manner was intimidating to outsiders, although I found him to warm and even funny at times. I could easily see him as a leader of colonial askaris under von Lettow-Vorbeck in German East Africa. Among his exploits, he gathered the vehicles in a Teheran warehouse to be used to support the hostage rescue mission had Operation Eagle Claw succeeded in 1980. He moved in and out of Teheran as a singleton covered as a German businessman. He is also a tropical fish breeder. I don’t mean he has a nice aquarium setup. He has a room lined with aquariums raising generations of notoriously difficult to breed species. He generously offered tons of advice to my older son when he expressed an interest in raising tropical fish. When we left for Germany my son gave “the Prussian” his three comical Kuhli Loaches. When we returned from Germany five years later, those Loaches were still going strong. BTW, my ops officer in Germany was also a Det A alumni and a veteran of Desert One.
During my second tour with this SMU, I worked with a fellow Lithuanian-American named Pranas Rimeikis. His exploits surveilling and penetrating an East European criminal enterprise in support of a German SEK operation are described in Stejskal’s book. We worked in the training troop of the SMU. During a reception we held for our students, I spent time chatting up Pranas’ Lithuanian-born father. Pranas later smilingly confronted me, “What are you doing? Recruiting my old man?” Pranas went on to become a two term mayor of Culpeper, Virginia and is now finishing up a term on the city council. My time with Pranas confirmed that there must be a gene for disdain for authority in all of Lithuanian descent. I found a short video interview from Pranas’ time as mayor. I think his personality comes through as does his identity as the son of an immigrant. I can relate to that.
My hope is that this book, along with the exploits of the men of Det A, inspires a revival in a set of skills that I feel has atrophied with the very public rise of the special operators of JSOC and our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. As Jim Stejskal mentioned in a talk he gave at the Daniel Morgan Academy Graduate School of National Security, our experience with the Lodge Act soldiers of Det A should inspire our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. LTG Cleveland recognized the need in a 2014 interview. “First, we needed to address a key capability gap for “high-end” UW. By “high-end” UW we mean the full range of conditions for unconventional warfare, such as where resistance movements are just beginning and operating clandestinely themselves, the occupying power is highly capable, limited safe havens exist, and/or where the degree of risk is exceptionally high.” ARSOF 2022 was published at that time as a roadmap for future SOF development. That publication mentions the 4th battalion to be organized and trained in each SF Group to specifically address this capability gap. I have no idea if this plan ever came to fruition with the establishment of the 4th battalions. I have my doubts. It’s a damned hard thing to do and these people don't grow on trees.
But then, how does this capability fit in with the humble foreign policy that many of us want?