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Special Forces Detachment Korea redesignated

The new unit colors for the 39th Special Forces Detachment.

T.D. FLACK / S&S

Ceremony in Seoul marks change to 39th Special Forces

By T.D. FLACK | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 17, 2005

SEOUL — Nestled in a small American compound on the sprawling Republic of Korea Warfare Command Headquarters south of Seoul, a group of U.S. soldiers gathered Friday to watch history unfold.

Members of the Special Forces Detachment Korea — the longest serving U.S. Special Forces unit in the world — stood at attention as Special Operations Command Korea commander Brig. Gen. Richard W. Mills officially redesignated the 16-man unit as the 39th Special Forces Detachment.

Special Forces soldiers have awaited the move since 1974, when the detachment first was changed from a “combat-deployable” unit to a training unit.

The soldiers work with nine South Korean units, including six brigades, one Special Mission Group, the 707th Special Mission Battalion (Counter Terrorist) and a Special Warfare Training Group.

During peacetime, they teach tactics, techniques and procedures to the South Koreans, said detachment commander Maj. Robert M. Burmaster.

During war, they would act as “coalition support team leaders,” said unit member Master Sgt. Alfred Garcia.

Garcia said the unit’s overall mission won’t change with the redesignation but there will be some immediate differences, from equipment to the potential addition of personnel.

Mills, speaking to the soldiers and guests — including the ROK Warfare Command’s Lt. Gen. Baek Kun Ki — stressed the consistency of the mission.

“What has remained a constant over the last four-plus decades is that we are all here to improve the combat power of (the) Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force,” Mills said.

While the detachment is under operational control of Gen. Mills, it belongs to the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) of Fort Lewis, Wash., and commander Col. Richard Thomas was in Korea for the ceremony.

Thomas said his command had remained “inextricably tied to the security of the Korean Peninsula.”

“And it is well-recognized throughout our proud community that the key element of that tie has been the superb Special Forces detachment standing before us today.”

When the Special Forces community was downsized after Vietnam, the detachment in Korea remained active, albeit as a training unit.

Sergeant Maj. Jack Hagan said only the U.S. Forces Korea commander saved the unit from deactivation at the time. He fought for the soldiers, cutting nine positions from his own staff.

The soldiers relish in the unit’s storied history. The walls of their headquarters are plastered with memorabilia, including a letter from then-President Carter during a 1982 visit.

Team photos of every Special Forces soldier with the command began in 1963 — five years after it was organized. The photos slowly transition from black and white to color, marking the march of time.

In one corner, a large display honors “Sgt. King,” the canine mascot that actually parachuted from a plane in the 1970s, earning coveted jump wings.

Another photo shows Sgt. Maj. Sung Chang-woo smiling after completing his 5,000th parachute jump. Sung is the Republic of Korea Army Liaison who works with the U.S. soldiers.

Col. David Maxwell, Special Operations Command Korea chief of staff, called the 39th a “very small detachment with big responsibilities.”


From left, Maj. Robert Burmaster, Brig. Gen. Richard W. Mills and Col. Richard Thomas take part in a redesignation ceremony Friday at the Republic of Korea Warfare Command Headquarters south of Seoul.
T.D. FLACK / S&S

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