Remembering the mystery woman

Xavier Smith • Updated Aug 18, 2017 at 12:00 PM

When it comes to military intelligence, there are only a few women who have had the same or more of an impact than Glenda Griffin.

Glenda Griffin, who died last year as a resident at Carrick Glen Senior Living in Mt. Juliet, was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame earlier this year for her work in the field. Her journey from her hometown of Summertown to one of the most celebrated women in military intelligence history was filled with commitment, setbacks, integrity, obstacles, opportunity and mystery. 

Even after her death, several aspects of her impact on modern military tactics remain a mystery, even to her family. However, family members said there’s nothing mysterious about the woman they knew and loved. 

Early years

Glenda Griffin was born Nov. 28, 1938 in the Summertown community, which is in Lawrence County near the Lewis and Maury counties line, to William Howard King and Lillian Dale Dyar King. Glenda Griffin’s daughters, Christi Griffin and Sharon Monterroza, described her childhood with three other sisters as simple – filled with farming, church and hard work. 

“My granddad expected them to get all A’s. He also expected his girls to be independent and be able to support themselves. In the time they were growing up in this rural community, my mom and her sisters were being taught that you have to be able to take care of yourself,” Christi Griffin said. 

Glenda Griffin graduated from Summertown High School in 1956 and married her husband, Wayne, two weeks after graduation. At the time, Wayne Griffin was recently discharged from the military.

The couple moved from Summertown to Pontiac, Mich., and Birmingham, Ala., before they settled in Huntsville, Ala. 

Redstone Arsenal 1958-81

Hidden Figures, released in 2016, depicts the stories three African-American women who served a vital role in NASA during the start of the country’s space program. The women – Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan – capitalized on new opportunities presented with the space program. 

Monterroza said portions of the film reminded her of her mother. 

“In retrospect, that’s how I see my mom’s life. She was somebody who was able to take opportunity with the space industry coming into Huntsville – missile command, the Army – there was just opportunity. She was hired at a very low-level job.” 

Glenda Griffin gave birth to her son, Donald, in 1957 and began her federal service career in 1958 as a level GS-2 mail clerk. Two years later, Christi Griffin was born. 

Christi Griffin said life in Huntsville was normal, although some things – such as bomb drills at school and emergency plans – made her realize their life was slightly different. 

By 1965, Glenda Griffin joined military intelligence where she became an analyst. According to her military files, her understanding of Soviet Union air defense tactics and doctrines advanced the continuous and immediate exchange of information between the intelligence community in the United States and U.S. Air Force units in Vietnam. 

“We always thought the Russians were going to bomb Huntsville, because Huntsville was doing such interesting things. Mom was studying Russian missile systems in the 1960s, and I knew that. I don’t know how she did or what it meant, but I knew she was studying the Russians,” said Christi Griffin, who noted she was about 12 years old when her mother told her about the family’s assigned emergency bunker at Redstone Arsenal. “I didn’t know what to do with that information. I was thinking I was doomed it came to that.” 

Glenda Griffin provided intelligence analytical support during the next several years to U.S. personnel supporting the Israeli-Arab conflicts. She also oversaw a translation effort of captured Arabic documents that became the basis for an understanding of Arab capabilities to wage air defense combat. 

Monterroza was born in 1969, four years after Glenda Griffin’s third child, Carol Anne, lived for one day before her death. She recalled the time she realized her mother didn’t have the average 9-5 job. 

“One time, she said she needed to stop by work. So we go into Redstone Arsenal and go through these doors, and she says, ‘Sit here.’ There’s two military police or soldiers with guns, and she walks through the doors,” Monterroza said. 

The sisters said despite their mother’s work, she was typically home by 5 p.m., made dinner, taught Sunday school, kept a weekly hair appointment and lived a seemingly normal life. 

“We never really asked questions, because she wouldn’t tell us, because she couldn’t,” Monterroza said. 

Glenda Griffin decided to make a move to advance her career in 1981 after her husband died in 1980. 

Adelphi, Md.  1981-97

In 1981, Glenda Griffin transferred to the U.S. Army Electronic Research and Development Command, predecessor of the U.S. Laboratory Command, in Adelphi, Md. The sisters said the move was necessary for their mother to advance her career. 

Monterroza said her mother traveled more while in Maryland, but she still managed to take care of her while Christi Griffin their brother stayed in Alabama. 

While in Adelphi, Glenda Griffin was instrumental in developing an electronic warfare integrated reprogrammable database. During her assignment in the special programs branch of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, she developed policies and procedures for managing intelligence special access programs. 

In 1985, Glenda Griffin became the deputy to the deputy chief of staff for intelligence and chief of the specials program branch. She and her staff refined the procedures to protect special access programs during field testing. 

In 1987, she became the deputy chief of staff for intelligence. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, she managed a major foreign exploitation effort that provided previously unknown intelligence that resulted in changes to a major battlefield system. 

By 1990, Glenda Griffin became the senior intelligence officer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and was appointed a special Army observer to the inter-agency Scientific and Technical Intelligence Committee. 

She also managed the consolidation and downsizing of the seven independent laboratories of the U.S. Army Laboratory Command into the unified Army Research Laboratory.

Glenda Griffin also established a women’s mentoring program and championed for the advancement of women in the intelligence service. 

During her last year at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, she established the first computer security and incident response team in the Army. The team successfully developed automated methods for recognizing, identifying, responding to and reporting computer security intrusions. 

Monterroza said although her mother was involved in several different aspects of the military, her presence was always felt at home, something that bewilders Christi Griffin. 

“I told her that she might think mom was home when she was in Maryland, but she couldn’t have been, because I’ve seen her training certificates,” Christi Griffin said. 

Retirement in 1997 and Hall of Fame 20 years later

Griffin retired from federal service after 37 years in September 1997. At the end of her career, she received the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service; the Della Whitaker Memorial Award given by the Federally Employed Women in the Adelphi Chapter; and the Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

She moved back to Middle Tennessee, following her retirement and became an active member in the Pleasant Heights Baptist Church in Columbia, member of the local Rotary Club and volunteer at the Parthenon in Nashville. 

Griffin lived at the Carrick Glen Senior Living in Mt. Juliet until her death in 2016. Monterroza said knowing her mother’s story shaped her perception of people in the latter years. 

“You really don’t find out about people until their obituary. No one ever would have known mom did this – people thought she’s just a sick old woman,” Monterroza said. “I think we misjudge the older generation. A lot of her career is a mystery, but she was a woman. She always took opportunity as it came to her. She had a lot of unexpected sadness in her life, but she always overcame it. She also counseled other women and men on how to improve and make a difference in life.”

Griffin was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame on June 23. 

“The story used to be, ‘I worked my way up.’ You just don’t work your way up from a mail clerk to deputy director of intelligence for the Army. Somehow they saw something in her,” Christi Griffin said. 

Christi Griffin said her mother was inducted into the hall of fame for two reasons – including something she did in the 1980s no one will talk about. 

“I don’t know what she did,” she said. “Whatever it was had to have been a very serious thing.”

The sisters said aside from their mother’s recognition, the comments from other people before, during and after the ceremony highlighted what their mother meant to other people. 

“A non-commissioned female officer came up and said she knew mom, and she was feisty and the reason the woman stayed in the military. She had a young baby as a single mom, and mom basically told her to stick it out, because she would have a great career,” Monterroza said. 

“So many women who didn’t know mom would come up to us and talk about her impact,” Christi Griffin said. 

Only 10 percent of the more than 200 inductees into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame are women, and Christi Griffin said her mother wasn’t there by accident. 

“Mom had integrity, and people trusted her. My mom always respected people’s dignity. She was kind and compassionate. Mom had so much compassion for people, but she also expected them to make good decisions and do the right thing,” she said. “I think she was born with all these qualities, but she learned some from when she was young and used them throughout her life.”

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