Family Versus Duty

During all my years at the National Security Agency (NSA), I was torn between the needs of my four children and my duty as a defender of our country. I’ve written extensively in this blog about my thirteen years in and out of Vietnam, but I haven’t talked about the years after 1975. That’s because my work during those years is still classified. The tension between the calls of the nation and the duties of a father continued until I retired as early as I could in 1996 to write full-time.

Throughout those years, I gave my duty as a patriot priority over the needs of my children for a father. That meant I was often out of the country, away from my children as they were growing up, for extended periods. There is no question in my mind that they suffered as a result. So did I. And yet, looking back, I conclude that my decision was the morally correct one.

Part of the reason for that conclusion is that in so many cases, there was no one else available to do the job who had the requisite talent and training. I was comfortable in seven languages and often knew the signals intelligence business better than anyone else available at the moment. I was combat-tested and could work effectively on the battlefield. I was adept at operating under cover. I had better than average ability to withstand exhaustion. I was used to living in danger and had developed a sixth sense for detecting the presence and threat of those inimical to the interests of the U.S.

I did everything I could to keep my children with me. My children went with me on two tours in South Vietnam—they spent more than five years of their childhood living in Saigon and escaped only twenty days before the city fell in 1975. After Vietnam, I had no more full tours abroad, but I had many shorter “temporary duty” trips—hence the term TDY—that took me away from them.

So my children suffered the privation of a father’s absence. And I learned the pain of being away from them. To the degree that I am a patriot, they, too, are patriots. They gave up time with their father for the good of the country. The U.S. should honor them, as it does me, for their sacrifice.

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