Cove veteran

Mike Price and Tom Nutgrass pose for a photo at Papa’s Cafe in Harker Heights. The two were veterans of the U.S. Army Security Agency and served in Vietnam and Korea respectively. The ASA was the predecessor to the Army’s modern-day Military Intelligence units.

An unassuming Army veteran sits in the local cafe eating a meal and wearing a hat among a sea of other veterans also wearing their own veteran’s caps.

Emblazoned on the front of the man’s hat is a patch with an eagle’s claw clutching a pair of lightning bolts, adjacent to an intriguing slogan — “In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor.”

For Mike Price, a Copperas Cove resident and veteran of the U.S. Army Security Agency, — predecessor to today’s Military Intelligence Corps — his experience working at strategic and tactical intelligence levels was a meaningful experience; one the veteran who was raised in a rural upbringing, will never forget.

“I was working at my uncle’s filling station in Iowa, and the (local Army) recruiter was a customer,” Price, a native of Fairbury, Nebraska, said. “He saw sucker when he saw me. In 1963, unless you had joined the Army, you weren’t going to find a job. So I thought why not, do my four years and get out and come back. That didn’t work.”

Price said the recruiter made a job with the Army Security Agency sound “mysterious,” and on the forefront of emerging Army technologies. Upon signing his contract in 1963, Price was shipped to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for basic training.

Within the 250-man basic training company were upward of 50 soldiers destined for assignment to the ASA. After eight weeks of training, he was shipped to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, to earn his specialty at the ASA Training Center and School.

Price said earning his job specialty — 05K — known as an electronic warfare/signal intelligence non-Morse interceptor, came at a steep price during the nine-month school.

“We started off in my case in Morse Code. They trained us and trained us, and it’s tough,” Price said. “You put those ear sets on, and for eight hours a day, five days a week: dash, dash, dot, dot.”

Of the 63 soldiers who started in Price’s class, only 13 graduated, a number he said he still remembers to this day.

Many of the soldiers transferred into other intelligence specialties, or in some cases, completely different skills needed by the Army.

“They couldn’t handle Morse code, and a lot of people couldn’t get a security clearance,” Price said.

Established Sept. 15, 1945, the U.S. Army Security Agency reported directly to the War Department. Comprising all signals intelligence and communication security establishments, the ASA built a worldwide chain of field “listening stations” in global hotspots.

In 1955, the agency took over electronic intelligence and electronic warfare functions previously carried out by the Army’s Signal Corps. The soldiers’ mission was to intercept and analyze enemy communication over the airwaves.

Price and his 12 co-graduates were shipped to Sinop, Turkey, for their first assignment in June 1964. Operating under the alias, “Turkish U.S. Logistics Group Detachment 4,” or TUSLOG Det 4, the ASA unit intercepted near-peer adversaries’ communications on the eastern front.

‘We were spying’

“We didn’t do a thing with logistics,” Price said. “We were spying.”

The duty location was less than ideal, but the soldiers there were committed to their jobs, he said. A lot of soldiers often worked overtime to fulfill their duties and beat the base’s boredom.

“It was never a question of working overtime,” Price said. “So many people volunteered (for the daily shifts), they’d often send some back to the barracks.”

During their duty day, the soldiers of TUSLOG Det 4 sat at listening stations looking for enemy radio signals and recorded all transmissions coming over the airwaves. In pictures of the Sinop base publicly available online on the ASA Veterans website, there are large spherical radio antennas located amongst a sprawling installation surrounded by lush, green countryside.

Nearly two years later, Price was transferred to Clark Airbase in the Philippines for another ASA assignment. In 1945, the base served as a stronghold for the combined Filipino and American forces, and as a logistical hub during the Vietnam War.

However, it closed soon after Price’s arrival in 1965. He was told after serving a “hardship tour” in Turkey, that he could choose any follow-on assignment. The choice was easy — Chitose Airbase in Japan.

The airbase served as another ASA listening station for activities along the South China Sea, including the raging war in Vietnam. Volunteering for deployment to Vietnam, Price was shipped to Phubai, Vietnam, with another 12 ASA soldiers.

“There wasn’t a shower for 10 miles near our outpost, and we had (U.S.) Marines for security and it was a great assignment,” Price said.

Like his Turkish assignment, Price served with a military unit code named to protect the unit’s true mission. A Radio Research Unit was the most common designator. The soldiers there used Airborne Radio Direction Finding equipment to identify, triangulate and analyze enemy radio communications.

According to author William LeGro, the ARDF was the “single most valuable intelligence resource available to American and Allied forces during the war in Vietnam.”

6,000 in country

The 509th Radio Research Group, which commanded three battalions and company-size units, had over 6,000 ASA personnel in country.

Serving in Phubai for 10 months, Price was then transferred back to Chitose Airbase for two years, and volunteered once again for a second deployment to Vietnam.

“They were getting ready to send me back to the States, and I enjoyed overseas,” Price said.

However, love stepped in, and the soldier found himself head-over-heels for a Japanese woman named Yasuko. The relationship would cost Price his job and a downgrade in his security clearance.

“We decided to get married, and I went and told my unit that I decided to marry a foreign national and I was immediately taken out of operations,” Price said. “Love got the best of us.”

His chain of command chastised him and called him a traitor and even a communist, he said. They downgraded his security clearance to top secret and assigned him to the Army’s needs.

Price said he knew his newfound love would lead to consequences, and yet, the two have been married for 47 years.

With a short stint as an Army truck driver behind him, Price served in the signal field and then re-enlisted as an Army paralegal specialist, where he served the remainder of his Army career in Germany, and retired as a master sergeant.

During his 27-year Army career, Price said the assignment to ASA was unlike any other.

The assignments were “enjoyable, and even with challenges, we worked together to overcome. You knew the (fellow ASA) soldiers had your back,” he said.

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