Author James Stejskal took some time away from wrapping up his latest work, SPECIAL FORCES BERLIN: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990.
Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?
My father was drafted into the US Army at the beginning of World War II and, by the time I came along, he was back and settled into his daily job, although he stayed in the Reserves. I remember his uniforms, his weekend duty, and the summer camp once a year. He’d bring home gifts of unit patches and badges and other items like rations and army manuals.
I would look at his unit commemorative books that were decorated with his drawings of combat in Europe and read the same history books he brought home.
After a short stint at the University of Nebraska I enlisted in the US Army. I don’t think my mom was too happy but my father seemed pleased.
I first trained as an airborne infantryman, and then qualified for Special Forces and successfully completed the arduous training to “win” my Green Beret. I served 23 years with US Army Special Forces in many “interesting places” worldwide, including Germany, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa and retired as a Chief Warrant Officer 4.
After that I worked as a security officer for a US-based non-governmental organization in central Africa and was then recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency. I was a senior intelligence operations officer (Case Officer) in Africa, Europe, and the Far East before retiring again after another 13 years.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
Lots – around three years of research and interviews (plus twenty plus years of experience). Figure out what you will write about, what you know about the subject, and what you don’t know. Start researching what you do know and see where it leads you. The unknown stuff will show its head before long. And remember, to make good note on where you found information so you can find it again.
Don’t forget that research never ends. Even when you think it’s done, there’s always more to find. You just have to decide when it’s enough.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
It was a story that needed to be told, a history of one of the most unique army units in existence.
In 2012, the veterans of SF Berlin decided to preserve the history before it was lost. They realized that it would only be a matter of time before all who knew of it were gone. A “volunteer” was found and slowly documents were located, and interviews conducted to put together a comprehensive picture of the units’ history.
The result is a narrative that comes from the men who served in Berlin from 1956 to 1990. It is not an official record but taken together, it tells more than has ever before been revealed about one of the US Army’s most secret units.
Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction, and why?
Fiction: John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Charles McCarry, Graham Greene, et al….
Non-fiction: William Boyd, Rick Atkinson, David McCullough, Ben Macintyre, et al….
These authors all wrote/write well-woven, complex, often clever stories of fact or fiction that were based in fact or seemingly so… And some, you could just lose yourself in: “Mine’s Bond, James Bond…”
Some of them actually lived the story in one way or another. Then again, I served in Monrovia, as did Greene.
Have you read anything lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Winter Fortress by Neal Bascomb
What are you working on at the moment?
A book, oddly enough.
Thanks James, and we are all anxious to read SPECIAL FORCES BERLIN: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956–1990.