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News | May 13, 2015

NSA Observes Armed Forces Week - Marine Corps

The men and women of the United States Armed Forces work tirelessly to protect and uphold the safety and freedom of the country and its citizens. Each service has uniquely contributed to the fields of intelligence and cryptology through technologic advancements, critical breakthroughs, and amazing discoveries.

This week, NSA/CSS will honor each service by highlighting significant cryptologic events of that service throughout our nation's history.


The first wireless transmission from a Navy ship in 1899 created newly assigned responsibilities in radio intelligence and communications security for sailors and marines. They conducted numerous experiments in this new field of warfare during World War I and dedicated themselves to drawing appropriate lessons from this experience in the years following.

In October 1928, the Navy and Marine Corps' first training class of radio intercept operators convened. The school's original location was in a blockhouse on the roof of the old Navy Department building. Graduates were nicknamed the "On-the-Roof Gang."

In May 1942, the marines took over the work of code talkers, first recruiting 29 Native Americans to operate as radio communicators and to replace American military terms with those from Native American languages. Ultimately, the Marine Corps settled on the Navajo language as they felt it would be more secure for several reasons: the language was virtually unknown outside the Navajo nation; it was unwritten; and it was so complex, involving tonal inflections that it was difficult to learn as an adult. Over the course of World War II, approximately 400 Navajos (and one Caucasian) became part of this very successful code talking program. In campaigns against the enemy on the many fronts, the Native American Code Talkers never made a mistake in transmission nor were their codes ever broken.

As of May 11, 2015, 12 marines have been honored on the NSA/CSS Cryptologic Memorial Wall in remembrance of those who gave their lives while "serving in silence" in the line of duty.