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CHIPS Articles: On-The-Roof-Gang: The Nucleus of Present-day Cryptology

On-The-Roof-Gang: The Nucleus of Present-day Cryptology
By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Neo B. Greene III, Center for Information Warfare Training - July 14, 2020
PENSACOLA, Fla - When it comes to cryptology, with five different ratings in the Navy alone, it is well known that there are many different subtypes in the field. The advances made in the community are largely due to a group of senior enlisted, self-taught Sailors that came to be known as the On-The-Roof-Gang (OTRG).

Since the formation of the OTRG, cryptology has grown immensely.

“While the way the military has performed their cryptologic duties has changed due to technologic advancements, it’s important to realize that cryptology will have a foundation in the past,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) Dustin Witt, a Center for Information Warfare Training (CIWT) staff member. “Today’s Navy is built on heritage and history, and it’s vital for Sailors today to know how we got here, both as a service and as the CT community. Taking time to understand why the OTRG was established, what they accomplished, and how it impacted our military and country reinforces our sense of purpose. The core concepts are similar, but technology has significantly increased the ways and speed we’re able to go about identifying, locating, and understanding a target.”

The importance of the OTRG started as training to intercept encrypted Japanese katakana, and later transformed to performing standardized training as a whole for the Sailors and Marines who went through the course.

“The importance of the OTRG was that before them, there was no formal or standard training for cryptology like we perform now,” said Mario Vulcano, Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station command historian and instructor. “It was all on-the-job training. What this group did was standardize that training and ran through all these Sailors and Marines to receive it. The reason they got the training was to provide timely information that was accurate as possible so that they could get information to decision-makers so they could make the right decisions. Honestly, that’s what cryptologists do now. So, it’s not incorrect to say that the OTRG was the foundation of what cryptologists do now.”

The significance of the OTRG is still influencing Sailors now, and their importance was eventually turned into an award. The OTRG award, created in 1983, recognizes enlisted cryptologists who exemplify leadership, initiative, resourcefulness and dedication, and personify the highest traditions established for cryptologic excellence.

“The OTRG award represents the pinnacle of a Sailor or Marine’s cryptologic career,” said Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Benjamin Midkiff, a CIWT staff member. “We all come from the same boot camp, the same “A” schools and the same missions. Anyone of us could be nominated for the award if we choose to put the same drive and intelligence into our work that the OTRG did in growing naval cryptology and that, to me, is inspiring. I think the OTRG continues to set the example of what intelligent and dedicated Sailors, of any community, can do when presented with a challenge.”

How cryptology is performed and grows will continue to change in the years to come, as technology advances.

“The OTRG built something from nothing. It’s amazing that from their hard work and accomplishments we have cryptology in every service branch today,” added Witt. “It’s great to see the motivation and drive of junior enlisted service members today. The advances in technology and way today's service members think and operate is guaranteed to further advance our capabilities and meet the mission.”

With four schoolhouse commands, two detachments, and training sites throughout the United States and Japan, CIWT trains over 20,000 students every year, delivering trained information warfare professionals to the Navy and joint services. CIWT also offers more than 200 courses for cryptologic technicians, intelligence specialists, information systems technicians, electronics technicians, and officers in the information warfare community.

For news from the Center for Information Warfare Training domain, visit,, or

ogo for Center for Information Warfare Training. (U.S. Navy graphic by Michele Diamond)
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