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  • Writer's picturetony

" and defend..."

Inauguration Day, 2021.

For the first time in my life, I watched quite a bit of the Inauguration Day activities. And I just watched President Biden administer the Oath of Office to about 1000 of his appointees.

I first took the Oath of Office for Federal Service in 1976 as I started my first Federal job as a college Junior - a summer appointment as a GS-2 Mailroom Clerk, Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity, Army Materiel Command, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.

While I knew that taking the Oath was serious business, it didn’t strike me as anything unusual. I grew up in an enlisted Army family, living mostly on base housing. Every car on the base stopped and people got out to stand at attention when the colors were lowered at the end of the workday. When an official car drove by, it had special plates if the occupant was an officer of high enough rank, and my Dad would stop and salute. The Star Spangled Banner played in the movie theater before the feature (where, if you wore jeans, they made you go home). And I was a Boy Scout, which came with all of the ceremony associated with that. I took the Oath again when I started at NSA in September of 1977. I never had any career goal other than to be in public service, and now I was on my way.

And I never gave much specific thought about it until almost the end of my career when I was asked to administer the Oath of Office, and offer remarks, to a group of new NSA employees. One of my NSA friends, another retired executive, had the same experience and recently reminded me of it (Thanks, Don!)

On the occasion, we each had the same revelation - we had spent decades in public service at NSA, and the chance to administer the Oath made us realize how much more meaning it had at this stage in our careers and lives. “ and defend the Constitution...”. This was more than a professional obligation, or training, or compliance with laws and policies. This also meant high expectations, controversial issues, tough assignments, and for some it included physical and emotional danger.

But what really struck me (and Don) was how inadequate we felt to share with these new NSA employees the importance, opportunities, challenges, and satisfaction that came with the careers we were lucky enough to have.

My specific remarks are lost to history, but they ended with something like this, which I re-used as part of my retirement remarks a couple of years later.

"Over the last 30 years, the arc or path of my career has been something like this:

  • Wow, I have a real job! ANY job!

  • Wow, this is a really COOL job!

  • This is my career, I should try and get BETTER at it.

  • This is a really IMPORTANT job.

  • I am SUPPOSED to be here; this is my calling, my place in the Universe, or as the kids say, 'I’m livin’ the dream!’

You don’t have to get to that last stage right away, and many people never get there. But as a Federal employee, and as an NSA employee, you have the opportunity to work, learn, and grow in a great place; and most importantly the chance to defend and serve your country and community. My Old Guy advice to you is to jump in and give this job all that you've got; and my hope for you is that, whether you stay here for days or decades, you will look back and see your work here as some of the most important, satisfying work that you've ever done."


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