Military Electronics, Part II.
   (Ver 1)

During the 4 years and 4 months that I spent in the US Army, from November 1974 to April 1979, my primary MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was Scout/Tank Crewman, but, due to my experience in the Marine Corps as an Aviation Radio Repairman, the Army eventually assigned me a secondary MOS, which I think was 31B30, and I have no idea today what the actual title that went with that was. The 31 at the front indicates electronics, I think, and the 30 at the end indicates my pay grade, which was, at the time of assignment, Staff Sergeant.

My two duty major assignments were to 1/9 Cavalry at Fort Hood, Texas, and to 1/33 Armored at Gelnhausen, FRG. I think it might be interesting, for a few sickos, to get an idea what the differences were in how we used our radios.

During AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Knox, we were taught the basics of using CEOIs or Comm-Elect Operating Instructions. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell anyone anything here that I would have to kill them for later.

During every military conflict that the US has had since the invention of the telephone, even, it has been apparent that the enemy gains a tremendous advantage by being able to ‘intercept’ communications between military units.

During WWII a lot of emphasis was placed on keeping the ‘bad guys’ from finding out what the ‘good guys’ planned by the use of encryption devices, such as ‘Enigma’ type machines, code books, etc. (This whole thing actually goes back thousands of years for written codes, but I’m not really qualified to go into that.)

Naturally, during WWII, the Marine Corps came up with a dirty and under-handed method of keeping the Japanese from gaining intelligence from their radio transmissions. They used Navaho Indians as radio operators (Wind Talkers). In the event that the Japanese could lock on to an operational Marine Corps radio frequency, the Navaho language was pretty much unknown in Japan, so they didn’t gain much information. (That makes me feel kind of proud because either I am 1/8th Mohawk Indian, or one of my ancestors at least had a friend that said he or she knew someone who was a real Indian.)

According to Bernard Fall’s book ‘Hell In A Small Place or The Siege of Dien Bien Phu) the French even used the same tactic there by using regional variations of the French language to keep the Viet Minh from gaining intelligence from their radio transmissions after the Viet Minh had captured more than enough radios (American made) to provide a useful SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) capability.

I didn’t know a whole lot about using secure radio transmission techniques until I got to Germany. At Fort Hood, we just didn’t bother with that very much, which, especially in retrospect, was not a good idea. At Fort Hood we used the vehicle bumper numbers as our call signs, had no crypto gear in our vehicles, and used clever code techniques like saying we had ‘crossed the red ball’ when we crossed a road, or were ‘just west of the blue line’ when we were on the west side of a river or stream. We felt so ‘cool’.

Germany was different. We still didn’t have encrypted voice equipment at the lower levels of the unit, but we did have CEOIs. I also got a very good in-brief from my friend SFC Rodester (Roadster) Brandon. He told me that we had three enemies in the area. One was the bad guys across the border, the second was Army SIGINT, and the third was the FCC. All of them, supposedly, monitored us constantly and even the slightest slip-up could be a career decision. (Any slip up would mean end of career.)

This was good training. We changed frequencies and call signs at least once a day when we were in the field and more often if we thought that the current code might have been compromised. (At this time we still weren’t aware of the extent of the Walker fiasco.) We had the capability to produce encrypted messages by using groups of alpha-numeric characters from our ‘funny books’ (CEOIs, ‘funny papers’ were maps), etc. I actually felt more comfortable in that environment. Whenever possible, we were even supposed to use hand and arm signals, instead of the radio, for communications with other vehicles that were in sight. (This option was sometimes sorely abused by the commander of the 1-2 tank who followed the 1-6 tank that the platoon commander was in and who was supposed to relay the signals to the rest of us. The signals that the rest of us actually got were usually understandable, but seldom had anything to do with the current situation.)

Some people were better than others at staying ‘tactical’. I never really had much trouble with it until my beloved ‘Basketcase’ blew its guts out during Reforger in 1978 and I wound up ‘on the hook’. (Being dragged around by a tank retriever.) I decided to send a message to the company command post explaining my predicament in great detail. I wrote the message and then ‘shackled’ it (converted it to code) and it seemed kind of long, but I decided to send it anyway. Fortunately for me, the radio operator at the company CP was a friend of mine, and had a sense of humor. After the exercise he told me that, aside from the message being much too long, midnight had passed (new codes) between the time I started coding it and the time I sent it, so it was completely un-intelligible.

After Basketcase blew up I actually wound up working in my secondary MOS at the Company CP for a few days. It was very interesting and I was amazed at some of the short-cuts that some of my fellow TCs took. It was a good learning experience.

My thanks yet again to Rory.

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