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SOF SIGINTERs Before It Was Cool!


403rd ASA Det

The 403rd Special Operations Detachment (Abn) was the Army Security Agency’s Direct Support Unit for the 5th Special Forces Group. The unit arrived straight from Special Forces training at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, in September 1966 with fifty-one men as part of an effort to restructure the intelligence capabilities of the 5th SFG.

Although subordinate to the 509th Radio Research Group (ASA) in Saigon, the 403rd was headquartered with the 5th Special Forces Group in Nha Trang. At full strength, their personnel were ultimately deployed to some eighty-five remote and dangerous locations in support of 3,500 Special Forces troops across the length and breadth of South Vietnam.

The ASA Green Berets were trained in Morse and voice intercept, serving as highly-trained communications intelligence operators in the field, and also performed their required duties as full-fledged members of Special Forces based on operational needs. They were a rare hybrid, bred by the necessities of a brutal war, and one of ASA’s best-kept secrets.

Those men are the forebears to today’s SOT-As.

Based on Chapter 19, “Unlikely Warriors: The Army Security Agency’s Secret War in Vietnam 1961 to 1973” by Lonnie M. Long and Gary B. Blackburn, iUniverse, 2013

To learn more follow: www.facebook.com/UnlikelyWarriors

Copyright © 2013 Lonnie M. Long and Gary B. Blackburn

Photograph: The 403rd SOD courier run – Plei Ku to Kontum – 1968 (Photo: INSCOM)


12 Responses to “SOF SIGINTERs Before It Was Cool!”

  1. 10thMountainMan says:

    Pre-cursors to the SOT-A guys! Neat article. I enjoy the reference to them as “Green Berets.” While this will likely run afoul of most 18 series it really shouldn’t. If I’m not mistaken wear of the beret predates CMF 18 and the Special Forces Branch. It was previously unit headgear instead of a MOS identification.

    Now before everyone gets their torches and pitchforks out, let me be clear that I am not making the case the Green Beret should return to that status. As the SOF community grew from a very small, exclusive force, to the much larger organizationit is today, people felt the need to make the beret more exclusive and restrict it to certain types of operators. I get it and support it. I’m just glad to see the SOT-As getting recognition for their portion of the Green Beret lineage.

  2. Audio Hostem says:

    Heck yeah, it’s nice to see some vintage SIGINTer love.

    Maybe after ARSOF 2022 is “realized” USASOC will finally implement a selection/training pipeline for their SIGINTers. In the mean-time, it’s up to the crusty old NCOs to get and keep the young guys on point or get them out of the regiment.

    • SSD says:

      Still hasn’t happened? Geesh….

    • 10thMountainMan says:

      I did not know there was an effort to do this. I think the pertinent question towards making a new pipeline would be if the skill sets employed by the SOT-A personnel are distinct enough from that of all SIGINTers to warrant it. I’m obviously excluding additional skills provided by existing schools a la Airborne, SERE, Ranger etc.

  3. Mayflower Research & Consulting says:

    There was a period of time when select SOT-A individuals were allowed to attend the 18E course but were suppose to remain in the SOT-A career field to bolster and/or compliment their skills. It became a point of contention when after a short period of time the majority of them wanted to leave the SOT-A teams and move to ODAs within their groups. The program was short lived.

    • SSD says:

      Over a couple of years. Mid-90s. The stars had to align. I think a couple of the guys actually escaped MI branch.

  4. Ex11A says:

    Somewhere there’s an MI guy still using those same AN-PRD 10/11’s…

    • SSD says:

      In Viet Nam they didn’t even have the PRD series. Even when we stood 3rd Group up in 1990 we had the AN/TRQ-30(V)3 complete with BA-30 battery case (for like 10 D-cells) and 3 separate DF loops mounted on plywood transport backers.

  5. ilnodon says:

    SSD- I was in the 402nd when it combined with the 441st MID at 10th Group in the early 80’s. I know of several guys that left MI for the 18 Series since they got to attend the “Q” Course. Much has changed since then. It was the best 6 years of my career.