For a good many years during my career as an employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), I provided signals intelligence support on the battlefield during combat to U.S. and friendly forces. That meant that I used the intercepted radio communications of enemy forces to tip off friendly forces as to what enemy units were nearby, where they were, what they were doing, and what they planned to do.
That meant that I had to be on the battlefield with the troops. Because my presence there was secret—to prevent the enemy from knowing a signals intelligence operative was snooping on them—I operated under cover: I wore the uniform of an enlisted man assigned to the unit I was supporting. I was indistinguishable from the grunts that surrounded me.
As I have reported here before, the troops on the ground found my presence hilarious. The fact that a civilian who outranked their commanding officer was roughing it right along side them struck them funny. When they learned that my payroll signature was Thomas L. Glenn III, they couldn’t stop laughing. They assigned me the radio callsign TG3. An American unit I was supporting in central Vietnam, near Marble Mountain, commissioned a local sculptor to create an ornate triangular desk nameplate for me in black-and-white marble. The name on it? TG3.
While I can’t make public claim to be a veteran of combat that took place after 1975—because where I was and what I was doing are still classified—I do stoutly maintain that I am a Vietnam vet. I spent the better part of thirteen years in Vietnam under cover as military supporting forces in combat. It’s true that I was a civilian pretending to be a soldier or Marine. But I faced the peril of the battlefield side by side with my military buddies. I earned my spurs.
My principal memories from those years of service are the young men who fought by my side. They were eighteen and nineteen years old. By their standard, I was an old man—in my late twenties and early thirties during Vietnam, even older in later years. To me, they seemed like boys in men’s bodies, big enough to fight and be killed in battle but young enough to think more like children than adults. The brutal deaths of so many of them by my side still haunts me and always will.