How will future generations interpret the chapter we write today?
The closing of some chapters in life is significant, while others receive little to no attention. For naval cryptologists, April 11, 2020 marks the end of a significant chapter. On this day, Captain Harold E. Joslin, the last member of a historic group known as On-The-Roof Gang (OTRG) died. Most historians view the OTRG as pioneers – the very nucleus of FCC/C10F, formally known as Commander Naval Security Group (CNSG). This chapter started in 1928, when Sailors and Marines received specialized training in Japanese Morse code known as Kata Kana. Later to be known as “Roofers,” this group of men trained in a small classroom constructed on the roof of the Navy Main Building in Washington D.C. The reason for this strange and remote place was security. Prior to WWII, some viewed Japan as a growing threat to world peace and navy decision makers needed timely and accurate information. The sources and methods for this exquisite information came from the Roofers intercepting Japanese diplomatic and naval communications! The training concluded in 1941 with a total of 150 Sailors and 26 Marines trained. Today, there are only a handful of people living who have firsthand knowledge of this group of pioneers.
For those who served at headquarters CNSG or the Activities and Detachments it commanded, their chapter is beginning to close too. In 2005, the names of all Naval Security Group Activities and Detachments (NSGAs and NSGDs) changed to Navy Information Operations Command and Detachment (NIOCs and NIOCs). This was 15 years ago. If you read the biographies of the most senior officers and enlisted sailors with 16 or more years of actual cryptologic service, you can find the names of some of these NSGA and NSGD commands. However, only a few currently serving within FCC/C10F have experienced cryptologic operations at these mostly overseas commands and can relate to the special comradery that thrived there.
Regardless what chapter we read, there are common values we share across the generations of navy cryptologists. For more than 90 years we continue to provide timely and accurate information to decision-makers so they can make the right decisions in the defense of our great country and we continue to stand the watch 24/7. WWII, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, the Cold War, Global War on Terrorism, and Great Powers competition, we continue to stand the watch, even with the COVID-19 virus.
However, we must not allow the successes of our past to mislead how we prepare for the future! To quote the former Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, “The U.S. Navy has not lost a ship to enemy action since 1944. The U.S. Air Force has held air superiority since 1945. It is hubris to think that can’t change. We have no preordained right to victor on the battlefield.”
We must have a lasting sense of urgency in order to write our next successful chapter in cryptology. Be proud of our history, but don’t let our achievements breed complacency.
Post Script: I acknowledge the capture of the USS Pueblo (AGER 2) on January 23, 1968.