This site is dedicated to ALL those who served in usafss, the united states air force SECURITY service, on the nsa comint intelligence team, during the cold-war years
VIVA USAFSS!
HeadsetHeadset

The headset is probably the most representative icon of our work--after all, we did a lot of listening. The photo on left was provided by Al Lorentzen (USAFSS 1956-1962). He wore this set while stationed on Shemya Island and later in Scotland. One can only estimate what intelligence came through this one set but, believe me, it was substantial. Then multiply that by the thousands that were in use 24 hours a day around the globe and you may get an idea as to the magnitude of the USAFSS MIssion.    


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Administrator Note
:  This piece was presented by Ronald Poff in response to a request for former USAFSS folks to share their experiences with others.

6986th RSM Wakkanai  

by

Ronald Poff

Hi.  I was a Lieutenant Flight Leader at 6986RSM, Wakkanai from 9/58  to 9/59.  During that brief period I experienced all that was USAFSS.   I had 50 airmen and several Tech Sgts in my flight.  My linguists switched languages nearly every shift in ops, just to keep me on my toes.  I had airmen who were so proficient that they would recognize the "fist" of their target and the sound of his transmitter so well that they knew when and what he would be saying.  More than once, at  the start of the radio day I would be monitoring a position where the airman was typing away before his target began sending simply because he knew what was going to be sent and how the sender would "warm up".  Often there were other transmitters operating right over the target, which made for tough work for the airman. I usually started our shift  with a large bottle of APCs on my desk so my men could handle the headaches of hard listening.  A favorite trick was to remove the ear  pads from their headphones so they could put the speakers right on their cheek bones for better reception, ergo, fewer  headaches.

Since we were in a fishing village, during the slow mid-shifts we would buy whole cooked king crabs from the local cannery (350 yen, a little less than a dollar) and butcher them on the ops floor, sauce courtesy of the mess hall.

There were tests of our abilities at times.  One evening I was notified of a flight of Soviet TU-16s, as seen below, Badger headed east across the sea of Okhotsk.  My instructions were, once they cleared the Kamchatka Penninsula, to  draft a brief but detailed message for transmission to Hawaii and  beyond.  This was a test that was supposed to be held up by the comm  center but the officer in charge was at a party and failed to stop the  message.  It got as far as Fort Meade!  before being stopped.  In the  meantime, we had dumped a lot of paper on the floor and were about to  pour fuel oil on it and light the thermite pencils on each receiver.   Another time, an Air Force infiltrator managed to get into our complex  before being captured  and slightly wounded by the APs

I was one of the first Officer Flight Leaders at Wakkanai,so we improvised a bit.  During each shift copious amounts of coffee were consumed.  We couldn't afford to be sending someone to the mess hall from OPS so we decided to create a coffee shop attached to the secure area.  We hired a Japanese carpenter to connect a small storage building to our covered walkways within the secure area.  To do this we literally moved the building and had a guard on the carpenter until he finished the job.  Then we acquired a 30-cup pot and filled it at the start of each shift.  It never went dry, but the coffee developed quite a distinctive taste.  I drained the pot one night only to discover the red rubber washer around the heating element had started to melt.  Hence, a new pot.  When the station was inspected, there was considerable confusion as to why one of the buildings was not where it  was supposed to be.

I had been a fisheries biologist before my hitch, so I was obviously interested in what might live in the lake just south of Wakkanai.  I convinced the local fishermen to use a big seine on part of the lake.  NO FISH!!  No wonder. The local people literally strained the water for minnows, snails, etc. using fine wicker scoops.  We did catch  salmon and sea trout on Poff fishingthe river flowing from the lake during seasonal runs. On our 72 hour breaks, I would arrange fishing trips to char stream south of town,usually with a weapons carrier and several airmen. We had to be careful because Hokkaido brown bear were common in the area. An invasive dwarf bamboo covered the stream banks and the bears left neat tunnels through the stuff. These were tempting routes to the creek but you didn't want to meet a bear coming toward you.

As an aside, when I arrived our BOQs had just been upgraded from old Japanese quarters. The floors had all been varnished, so for weeks our maid scrubbed them with abrasives to remove the varnish--they didn't like paint in Japan. There were four rooms to a BOQ and we paid a local woman $26.50 a month to wash our clothes and maintain the rooms. She almost died when we gave her a new iron for Christmas, which cost us $26. She had lost her husband at the end of WWII when the family fled Sakhalin Island ahead of the Soviet invasion.

Russian  Trawler,Wakkanai, Japan

A suspicious Soviet trawler, as seen on the left, in port in Wakkanai,  meant all 6986th personnel were confined to the station, but I got this from base personnel.  Note the array of antennas.   

I hope you find these recollections interesting.  Its been 50 years,  but the memories become more vivid with time.

Sincerely,     Ronald Poff

ronjpoff@gmail.com

Administrator Note
:  This piece was presented by Ronald Poff in response to a request for former USAFSS folks to share their experiences with others.