Tuesday, January 30, 2007

off we go, into the wild blue yonder....

It was recently "gently" pointed out to me that I had pompously (my interpretation) suggested that I don't post here about inconsequential things, such as bronchitis and buying a camera. It brought me up short, reminding me that I should practice what I preach. While the following may be actually considered even more self-indulgent, as it is about me, my mea culpa is that it is in response to a request.

I spent 6 years in the Air Force as a cryptologic linguist. This is how the USAF describes this job:

Operates and manages operation of communications equipment. Operates radio receivers, recording equipment, typewriters, keyboards, computer consoles, and related equipment. Tunes receivers to prescribed frequencies or performs frequency search missions, or both, over specified portions of radio spectrums to locate and monitor stations and frequency use. Monitors and records communications, adding appropriate comments to assist in transcription and analysis. Performs preventive maintenance on mission equipment.

Transcribes and processes communications. Transcribes, translates, analyzes, and reports on assigned communications.

Translates spoken or written material from one language to another. Uses wording aids, and references. Recognizes essential elements of information for reporting activity. Assists analysts in identifying, analyzing, and reporting activities.

Maintains technical aids, logs, and records. Compiles and maintains operation records and statistics. Ensures logs, forms, and correspondence are properly completed, annotated, and distributed. Monitors and maintains handbooks, working aids, and analytical references to ensure applicability and currency. Reviews, updates, and compiles data for operational use.

Paraphrased, I listened to arabic communications, recorded and typed what I heard, translated it, analyzed and reported it.

I included the official job description because that is about all of the detail I can get into without disclosing potentially classified information. This job requires a top secret/sensitive compartmented information security clearance.

I joined the Air Force in March of 1983 because I didn't know what else to do. I was in college and was burned out - I tried to work full time and go to school full time and I just couldn't hack it anymore. I had had some idea that joining the military would give me a full-time job that would also help pay for college. I took the military entrance exam and scored well enough that I could request any job they had an opening for. Somehow or another I ran across the description for airborne cryptologic linguist - that really caught my eye as I've always been interested in flying. The job requires a facility for foreign languages, so I took the language aptitude battery and qualified for language school. So off I go to basic training. (The less said about basic, the better.) While there, I had to take 2 days worth of tests to determine which language type I had a propensity for (slavic, romance, inflected, etc). Once again, I scored well enough to be allowed to choose. I had no idea which I was interested in. We saw a film that described the locations the different languages were taught. At that time there were 4 (I think) - San Antonio, San Francisco, San Diego, and Monterey. Monterey sounded the most interesting place to be (I still don't know why San Francisco didn't top my list - although I remember pictures of Monterey including palm trees and the ocean) so I asked which languages were taught there. Arabic was among those that had current openings. So, come April, off I go to Monterey - to the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey, California. I spent the next year there 6 hours a day, 5 days a week learning arabic. This included written as well as oral training, with some cultural lessons too. Here is where I met Laura. She was a student at DLI too, learning chinese. We decided to marry. (Laura decided to leave the military.) Due to the "dangers" inherent in the airborne portion of the job, I opted for a ground slot instead - new wife, kid on the way, etc. In April of 1984 I graduated from DLI and in May we moved to San Angelo, Texas, for my next school - this time technical training. For the first time I was introduced to the fundamentals of being a cryptologic linguist. (see job description above) We were there for 3 months - during the middle of the summer. In September we moved to the island of Crete. Now began another 3 months of OJT to learn mission-specific skills (new equipment, targets, etc.) For the next 2 years there I worked a cycle of 4 swings (2:30PM to 10:30PM), 4 mids (10:30PM to 6:30AM), 4 days (6:30AM to 2:30PM) and 3 days off. Believe it or not, you get used to it. Anyway, in September of 1987 we moved back to the states, to Maryland. I worked at NSA (the National Security Agency) for the next two years doing primarily analytical work.

In late 1989 I had some choices to make. I was due to re-enlist in early 1990. I liked my job but it meant the distinct possibility of transferring to Crete every 2 years then back to Maryland. As much as we liked Crete, the biggest problem was that there weren't schools there for kids beyond elementary school - which they would reach during the next enlistment. If we were stationed on Crete when the kids were old enough for jr. high or high school they would have had to attend a DoD boarding school in Spain. That wasn't going to happen. So, my choices were to:

a) stay in, and when the kids were old enough, hope for an assignment to somewhere other than Crete,
b) stay in and go to Crete unaccompanied - Laura and the kids stay state-side,
c) change career fields giving me other assignment options
d) get out of the military.

Neither a nor b appealed to us. I tried option c but wasn't able to get a slot in the career field I wanted - computers. I could have re-enlisted and continued to try option c, but I was on the cusp of my next rotation to Crete and didn't feel confident that I would be allowed to transfer. So, I chose option d. My dad told me about this company whose computers he repaired that had a programming staff and I submitted a resume. They called me down for an interview and within a week I was offered a job. The next week I took terminal leave and we moved in with my parents here and I took this job.

I know that this doesn't tell you really anything about being a cryptologic linguist. The only other thing I feel I can mention is that there is (or was when I was in) a "crypto" portion of the job that involved codes & cyphers. What can I say, I like puzzles. If you are interested, there have been a few books written about NSA that might give a little more insight to their overall mission and imply a little more about what I did. For those that hung on all the way to here, you deserve a prize (that I don't have to give) and I hope it wasn't too boring. I am planning on a multi-installment post about our experience living on Crete and our kids being born there. Maybe that will prove to me more interesting.

10 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

Anonymous said...

I get the prize: first to comment. If it's not too trivial to note, I guess you're feeling better.

Did you ever fulfill your enthusiasm for flying?

Moogie said...

Wow...that all sounds highly complicated. I think I would have chose option D as well.

Hope you are feeling better!!!

Thailand Gal said...

I saw that comment and it felt a little like a punch in the gut. I can't imagine what the person actually meant. Perhaps he or she will extrapolate.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I know what a cryptologic linguist does and the kind of clearance you had to have to do that work.

You owe no one any explanations about anything you choose to write. Speaking only for me, if I didn't want to read it ~ I wouldn't be visiting here ~ and certainly wouldn't be commenting.

We all have our own reasons for doing this. I've always been a rather ponderous person, questioning everything. I certainly hope my post didn't generate any bad feelings among anyone. It is just my observation of some people on a Yahoo list. Perhaps I should have included examples that would have clarified my point a bit better.

It wasn't underhanded, nor passive-aggressive, nor a stinging commentary on anyone's blog content.



urban-urchin said...

My BIL mentioned something about listening to transmissions for certain words- red flag words I guess. but could say nothing more. have you seen the enigma machine at the Smithsonian?

Anonymous said...

You owe me a double prize, since English is not my first language...
But, no, since I enjoyed reading your experience,which was actually the prize..
I guess you took my comment about what you wrote the other time as a teasing, nothing more! (and certainly not "a punch in the gut!")I trust your good sense of humor.

Bob said...

De - your prize is that you don't have to read it again! My health is not a trivial note, yes I am feeling better, just not completely recovered. Thanks for asking!

Moogie - I guess any job that requires 2 years of school/training is kinda complicated. Like any complicated job, it was in turns rewarding, frustrating, tedious. And I still haven't fulfilled my desire to fly. One day......

Chani - I laughed and then felt a bit of a blow too when I read her comment. I tried to take it in a positive way - my comment on your post was contradicted by the contents of my blog - according to her. As she didn't expound on it, (and also I agree with you)I am not going to worry about it.

Urban Urchin - we were taught to transcribe and translate everything, but there were key words or phrases that indicated the relative importance of that particular message. But there are other methods where you are only interested in certain things - hence keyword or phrase triggers.

I haven't seen the enigma machine, but I did see the original computer built to decode the enigma messages. It was displayed for a time in the front lobby at NSA.

Bob said...

mayou - I will have to come up with a special reward for your diligence!

Yes - overall I treated it as a joke. I do have a tendency to take things too seriously, but I have been working on it. I do try to have a sense of humor about myself.

Mother of Invention said...

Wow! What an interesting life you've had. One choice certainly leads to another...like that movie, "Sliding Doors". Door#1 had Laura behind it! Lucky choice!
Can't wait to see pictures and read stories about life in Crete.

scott said...

bob i am new to this blog. i am currently in the d.e.p. with the usaf. i am conracted to be a linguist and i leave for basic in july, then to the dli. i am married also, and would love to hear more about being a linguist so that my wife and i can know a little more of what to expect from military life. i have been looking online for info on what a liguist does and how it is; i have mostly heard negative things like the job is boring... it doesn't sound boring to me and i am pretty excited about it! any info or tips would be greatly appreciated

Susanne said...

Not boring, only long but who cares?