I was ecstatic the day I
received a telephone call from MGen Skip Burns, Commander of
USAFSS asking if I would accept the job as Commander, 6912th
SS in Berlin. My job in the Pentagon was Chief, SIGINT
Branch. I had been in the assignment for just short of
four years (the magic tour length) in the Pentagon.
And, I had just returned from Berlin a few weeks before with
other Air Staff delegates to investigate a CINC USAFE
complaint. I fell in love with the 6912th
My boss in the Pentagon said
I could accept the position if I could find a replacement. I
told him that he need not worry because my staff was totally
capable of anything I was doing. But, a replacement was
available and I got the orders to go. Four years in the
Pentagon is enough for anyone and I was ready. My family was
thrilled to death. They had never been to Europe and to get
an assignment to Berlin was frosting on the cake.
Once it was known that I was
going to Berlin, I got a call from the Chief of A Group. Ms
Ann Carachristy (sp?) - a very nice lady who later became
Assistant DIRNSA. She invited me to the agency for some
briefings. The briefings were excellent and provided detail
of the mission and plans for the future. I was appreciative.
Appreciative that is until she got to the primary thrust of
the briefing. The plan, according to the agency, was to
move the AF out of the Marienfelde site to Teufelsberg under
the Army. The 6912 was to become an administrative
organization until phased out. She said Mari was in a hole.
They even had diagrams of the Mari mission at Tberg. And,
get this, USAFSS had agreed to the plan. Remember, I was
still at the Air Staff. You can guess what happened.
I had been around this
business for many years and loved it, but that ignited my
spark. It was obvious that we had to stop this plan. We
had to get the local theater users into this and show them
that “Mari was not in a hole.” If the USAFE folks agreed
with me and I was to show the world that Mari was not in a
hole, we had a chance. That was my plan before I
departed NSA that afternoon and headed back to the Pentagon.
For this reason it was imperative that the 6912th
come up with some great things within their mission. We
needed to design briefings that showed the interaction
capabilities within the unit, the synergism of their
products and the fact that the European command was not
about to loose this resource. It took a while and a
lot of hard work, but it worked. CINCUSAFE said that “the
6912th was his eyes and ears to the East.” I
took a lot of joking about that, but it is true.
Off we went to Berlin. My
family and I were all so excited that we didn’t even get a
nap on arrival. We got on a Berlin Bus and toured the city.
What an experience. The next morning was a Saturday so I
decided to tour the units. My first stop was the Radar
Operations section at Tempelhof. Wow, did this hit me as a
giant interactive instrument for the other sites, Mari and
Tberg. To be honest, I got lost in the Radar Operations
building trying to find the operational site. After a short
visit at Tempelhof, I caught a staff car to Mari and then to
Tberg. Adrenalin ran faster with each visit of the sites.
What a mission and what talented people. One could not ask
for anything more.
The base commander and his
staff were another matter. The 7350th Air
Base Group had the notion that they owned the 6912th
and that everything we did was accountable to them--from
personnel, logistics, administrative, to operations and even
command, an amazing and thoroughly misguided notion. The
people in the 6912th were treated like second
class citizens. Although the base commander, in time,
became a real supporter, he was initially of the opinion
that the 6912th was his and he had control of it.
And sadly to say, some members of the 6912th
believed the same thing.
It didn’t take long to figure
this one out. I totally excluded the 7350th from
all unit activities. The officers and senior NCOs were told
that we were a unit under the USAFSS and we answered to no
one but our chain of command and that I would answer to the
It worked. We were the
reason the 7350th was in Berlin. In time they
realized that and supported us very well indeed.
Right in the middle of these
efforts a USAFSS Chief Master Sergeant visited us with
orders to transfer all my cops to the 7350th. I
invited him to visit my office and when he confirmed that
this was indeed his objective, I invited him to leave Berlin
that day. This about blew my mind. Obviously, I first
called the USAFSS Commander, then followed it up with a
message which completely overturned the objective of
transferring my cops to the base. All the other cops in all
USAFSS units were being transferred to the various host
command units except those in the 6912th. By the
way, this Chief Master Sergeant later became a great friend
of mine and we still to this date work together on various
projects. A wonderful guy sent on a lousy mission.
We developed a unit briefing
that became the talk of Europe. We were invited to
many organizations and functions to include the French,
Russian, and, of course, the British. The USCOB sent
visitors by the dozens to see us, as did the Ambassador and
the CINCEUR. We even talked with the Russian Warsaw Pact
chief and members of his staff. Members of Congress visited
The 6912th was
finally recognized for what it was, “the” unit
in Berlin. We soon won the Outstanding Unit Award --
the first for the 6912th, after all those years.
One of our most famous
programs, aside from the “synergistic effect of Comint,
Elint, and Radint“ was our Tactics Reports. Many will
remember these reports. The operational commands were
enormously appreciative of them. In fact information in
these reports was used to train our fighter and bomber
pilots. The agency had a fit, calling the production of the
reports illegal and giving away too much. Later in time,
the agency actually boasted about these reports and their
utility. I will leave it at that while you all recall the
major efforts and skills required to develop and report such
information. A truly outstanding product vital to the
We had the most talented
people in all of the USAF. We were all very proud.
One issue became a serious
issue. Other AF and Army personnel could visit East Berlin.
We could not. This seemed unreasonable. I contacted the
security folks in the Pentagon and asked a simple question -
“why?” They did not have a very good answer. We went back
and forth on that question for a few weeks, and finally we
won. Our folks were finally able to visit East Berlin.
There are many other stories
about our assignment with the 6912th.
Suffice to say that the men and women of the 6912th
were a cut above other AF personnel. We did the job, we
came back the next day for more and we did it right every
time. In the Ballard Blue Jeans Buffet we all let our hair
down. We were all proud of what we did. And, we had a
right to be.
Things got a little less
hectic during my third year in Berlin and I applied for
another year there. The command approved it. One
Saturday afternoon I was lying in bed reading a book when
the telephone rang. It was from MGen Doyle Larson, an old
friend who was Commander of USAFSS. He said, “Bill, my
plow is too full and I need you to come back to the
headquarters at Kelly as the DCS Operations to help
transition the unit to the Electronic Security Command
(ESC). I tried to explain that I had an extension to my
tour. He said, don’t worry about that, come on home. I
stood up, saluted and started packing.
One last thing.
I salute the men and women of
William T. Ballard
Colonel, USAF, Ret