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This is the post excerpt.

I have been writing since I was six years old. I now have four novels and seventeen stories in print. Adelaide Books in New York will publish my latest novel, Secretocracy, early in 2020.

My first published book, Friendly Casualties, was a novel in short stories derived from experiences in the 13 years I trundled between the U.S. and Vietnam to provide signals intelligence support to U.S. Army and Marine combat units fighting in South Vietnam. The first half of the book is a series of short stories in which characters from one story reappear in another. The second half is a novella that draws together all the preceding tales.

No-Accounts came from my years of caring for AIDS patients. It tells the story of a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS. I got into helping men with AIDS to help me cope with the horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. When I was with my patients, men suffering more than I was, my unbearable memories went dormant.

Next came The Trion Syndrome. It begins with the Greek Trion legend about a demigod so brutal to the vanquished that the gods sent the Eucharides, three female monsters, to drown him. The protagonist, Dave Bell, is haunted by half-remembered visions of the war in Vietnam. At his lowest point, he recalls that he killed a child. Dave considers suicide, but a young man appears and helps him. It is his illegitimate son, a child he had tried to kill through abortion, who now helps him find his way home.

Last of the Annamese was published in March 2017. I used this novel to confront my memories of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire. Once again, the image of the boy-child recurs, as the protagonist, Chuck Griffin, a retired Marine, grieves over the loss of his son, killed in combat in Vietnam. He returns to Vietnam as a civilian intelligence analyst after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and encounters Vietnamese boys whom he tries to save during the conflagration.

Secretocracy tells the story of an federal intelligence budgeteer persecuted by the current administration because he refuses to approve finds for an illegal operation.

 

Respect for Subordinates: Leadership (5)

One more story about me and my guys in Saigon, about a time when I managed instead of leading.

I’ve related here the story of Ambassador Graham Martin’s insistence that I not evacuate my people when the fall of Saigon loomed. While pretending to obey his command, I lied and cheated and faked to get my guys and their wives and children safely out of the country.

But I screwed up. I withheld from my men the ambassador’s orders. I didn’t want to alarm them. They knew better than I did that the North Vietnamese were bearing down on us. They knew the attack on Saigon was coming soon. They knew that the North Vietnamese were within striking distance of us. They were the guys gleaning this information from North Vietnamese communications and transmitting back it to the U.S.

I informed the Director of the National Security Agency, my boss, General Lew Allen, of the ambassador’s prohibition of evacuation, in an eyes-only message. I told him I was going to use all means at my disposal to get my people out.

By dint of blatant falsehood, pretense, and invention, I succeeded in getting all my men and their families safely out of Saigon before I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the street of the city. I breathed easy in the belief that I had spared my guys the anxiety of knowing the ambassador had forbidden me to evacuate them.

Then, a year or so ago, I had coffee with one of the men who had been a communicator in my comms shop. He told me that the men handling my messages to the director had, of course, read them and knew that no evacuation was to be allowed. Word trickled through my comms guys, then among the rest of the staff. They all knew what I was faced with. They apparently decided among themselves not to let me know that they knew to save me further anxiety.

So they were taking care of me instead of the other way around. And I let them down by not trusting their courage and maturity. In short, I managed when I should have led. And they, God bless them, did all they could to reduce my angst by playing along.

In the long term, it was they who led me.

Respect for Subordinates: Leadership (4)

Continued from yesterday: I forbade the security chief from scrutiny of the men during their time away from the office. And never once did I have a problem with any of those men. I don’t know what they did in their private time. I didn’t care. Besides, as the months passed, they had less and less time to themselves. We were all working eighty-hour weeks. The men began sleeping at the office to save travel time to and from their residences. Toward the end, I and the few men not yet evacuated stayed in the office 24 hours a day. And sleep became a luxury.

In the end, I worked to the limits of my strength to get my men and their wives and children all safely out of Vietnam as Saigon was falling. The U.S. ambassador, who didn’t believe Saigon would be attacked, forbade me to evacuate my people. So I connived, cheated, lied, and stole to arrange for them to escape. They all did. My greatest pride in life is the knowledge that every one of the people I was responsible for left Saigon unharmed.

Those men and I share to this day a bond that is unshakeable. I’m still in touch with some of them. They read this blog and are quick to correct me if I get the facts wrong. The bond we share reminds me of that between combatants on the field of battle: we were devoted to each other and willing to risk our lives for the good of each other.

In sum, my experience confirms that leadership—which is really a kind of love—offers rewards far beyond its costs. I’m proud that I served and saved my followers, even at the risk of my own life.

Greater love hath no man.

More tomorrow.

Respect for Subordinates: Leadership (3)

When I first arrived in Saigon on my last tour in 1974, my guys and I established our modus operandi. My predecessor had been a martinet. He insisted that the men wear ties to work when the standard office apparel in that tropical climate was a white short-sleeve dress shirt with no tie. That meant that NSA employees, even though working under cover, stood out—they were the only ones in ties.

Their previous boss had also disapproved of partying and sexual relations outside of marriage and ordered his security chief to surveil the men (especially those single or there without their families) during their off-hours. They fiercely resented the intrusion into their privacy. As soon as I had one foot in the door, they were flooding me with stories of the previous chief’s shadowing orders.

Many of these men and I were on a first-name basis. We had known each other for more than ten years. We’d worked together at NSA and in Vietnam intercepting and exploiting the radio communications of the invading North Vietnamese. Unlike my predecessor, I was a down-and-dirty signals intelligence grub who, like my subordinates, had done everything from intercept to traffic analysis and translation of North Vietnamese communications. I’d spent more time in field (that is, in Vietnam) than any of them. They respected me, and I respected them. More to the point, we were brothers in the same clan.

Within a week of arriving on-station, I called an all-hands meeting. I told the men that ties were no longer required, and surveillance of them would cease forthwith. They were mature adults, trained in security as well their signals intelligence discipline. I would trust them to use good judgment in their private lives that were, frankly, none of my business. The room, filled with men and one woman (my secretary, Suzy), was all smiles.

More tomorrow.

Respect for Subordinates: Leadership (2)

What happened between me and the 43 men who worked for me in Saigon during the last days of the Vietnam war was the result of my having learned, early in my career, that leadership works far better than management. Leadership means serving one’s subordinates, supporting and uplifting the followers, encouraging them to be the best they can be; management means keeping them under control. Leadership promotes respect and even love; management incites dislike and hostility. Leadership assumes burgeoning competence in subordinates; management presupposes ineptitude. Leadership is for people; managements is for things.

Leadership demands humility, the recognition that the leader’s job is to attend to the needs of the followers. His job is to serve.

The men working for me in Saigon were seasoned experts. Sixteen of them were communicators who maintained links between us and the rest of the world. The rest were mostly analysts that carried out our signals intelligence mission. All of them were topnotch in their discipline. They worked harder and longer hours than I had any right to expect. My job was not to control them but to support them in every way I could.

And that’s what I did. I made a point of asking them what I could do to make their jobs easier. I spent my time trying to improve their transportation and housing. I did the best I could to establish good working conditions at the office. I encouraged them and rewarded them. I left the fulfillment of our mission to them. My mission was to take care of them.

In short, I treated them with the respect they deserved.

More tomorrow.

Respect for Subordinates: Leadership

My recent posts about my early years in Vietnam and my emotions during the fall of Saigon got me to thinking about the guys who worked for me in Vietnam and the relationship we established. The best evidence I have of how that relationship worked is a plaque my guys gave me about a year after the fall of Saigon at a dinner where we all gathered to reminisce. Across the top are the words “Last Man Out Award.” Below that is a brass eagle and the following:

MACV HQS SAIGON, REPUBLIC OF SOUTH VIETNAM

The fall of Saigon will always remain a monumental tragedy in U.S. history. This is to finally recognize your exceptional leadership while safely evacuating all your employees and the closing down amid the danger and chaos of those final days.

[Signed] The Women and Men and Dependents of F46

End of quote. “F46” was our unclassified designator.

That plaque hangs on my “bragging wall,” the spot where I display memorabilia I’m most proud of. I see the plaque—and remember—every day.

My First Assignment to Vietnam (2)

I arrived in Saigon on my first tour there in 1962, just after the formation of a new entity named Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV). It replaced the Military Assistance and Advisory Group (MAAG), and I worked in the J2 (intelligence) office of MACV. My job was amalgamating highly classified material, mostly signals intelligence, with other intelligence sources (principally captured documents and POW interrogations) to produced “finished intelligence” on the North Vietnamese efforts to conquer South Vietnam.

As a result of my assignment to MACV, I spent most of my time in Saigon. My trips to the field were to visit small U.S. military posts throughout the country. But both in Saigon and in the field, I quickly learned that the northern dialect of Vietnamese, which I had learned, was very different from the southern and central dialects. I finally got to the point that I could converse with southerners, but the central dialect still confounds me. Fortunately, all speakers of the central dialect I have encountered were proficient in the southern dialect. And the written language is unaffected by dialect.

I loved the work. It challenged me intellectually and linguistically. When my four-month tour was up, I returned to the U.S., gathered my wife and child, and returned to Vietnam for a full three-year tour in 1963. Before that tour was over, the U.S. had begun committing military to combat. I found myself in the midst of a shooting war.