Lucky (2)

More about how luck shaped my life:

In 1961, when my army enlistment ended, I was already comfortable in Vietnamese, Chinese, and French, the three languages of Vietnam. The National Security Agency (NSA) immediately hired me as a GS-11, a high grade for a new hire, and sent me to Vietnam in 1962. I had, almost by accident, become a professional spy.

None of my decisions up to that point had been for the purpose of establishing a lucrative career path. In fact, I hadn’t made any decisions. I was simply pursuing what interested me, mindless of what the future might hold. I didn’t seize opportunities. Opportunities seized me. I was lucky.

Once in Vietnam, I loved the work. I was unique among NSA people there in that I spoke all three languages commonly used in Vietnam and was adept at intercepting and exploiting North Vietnamese radio communications. For the next thirteen years, I was in Vietnam at least four months every year. I had two PCS (permanent change of station) tours there and so many TDYs (temporary duty trips, lasting four to six months each) that I lost count. My job most often was on the battlefield supporting army and Marine units in combat with signals intelligence against North Vietnamese forces. My last job there, starting in 1974 as a GS-15 (the highest rank in the GS system at that time), was to head the covert NSA operation. For my work during the fall of Saigon, I was awarded the Civilian Meritorious Medal, one of the few medals given to civilians.

I can’t speak of my assignments after 1975. They’re all still classified. Suffice it to say that I spoke or read Vietnamese, Chinese, French, German, Italian, and Latin (Spanish came later). You’re free to guess where I might have been assigned. Once again, opportunities came looking for me. I was lucky.

More next time.

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