My job in Vietnam was, for the most part, supporting friendly forces on the battlefield with signals intelligence, the intercept and exploitation of enemy radio communications. I was able to tip off U.S. Army and Marine Corps, as well as South Vietnamese army troops, about the North Vietnamese, what units were close by, their exact location, and what their intent was. I was so good at my job that between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time in Vietnam that I did in the U.S. And I was more rapidly promoted than my contemporaries, in part because I was willing to put my life on the line to support our troops in combat. In 1974, I was named chief of the clandestine NSA operation in Vietnam. When Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese in April 1975, I escaped under fire.
Where I went and what I did after April 1975 is still classified. Competent in six languages and skilled at combat support, I operated in a number of different locations. While working at NSA headquarters, I was assigned management jobs because I had been promoted to the top of the GS (government service) ranks. From my experience on the battlefield, I knew that leading worked far better than managing. A manager seeks to control his subordinates, but being a successful leader requires humility. A leader’s job is to lift up his subordinates, encourage them to be all they can be, to outdo themselves.
My subordinates achieved remarkable results. I was soon promoted to the Senior Executive Service, the SES. By the time I reached retirement age, I had reached the top of the SES ranks, outranked only by the NSA’s civilian Deputy Director (the Director was always military, a general or admiral). I was then able to retire with a substantial pension that has allowed me to write without financial concerns.
Through it all, I never once tried to get promoted or took on a job that promised more money. Instead, I did what I loved or knew was urgent. The end result is that I am the luckiest of men, free of all money concerns and able to spend all my time writing.
How lucky can you get?