Family Time Sacrifices
by Eric Enos, Former Secret Service Agent
[Editors Note: Much of our understanding of Secret Service work comes from Hollywood. Few of us have ever met a Secret Service Agent, or maybe you have and don’t know it. “Inside the Secret Service” is about life as a Secret Service agent. Our contributor, Eric Enos, Concord, is a retired Federal Agent. He now works for a large digital corporation as Deputy Director of Security Crisis Management. He investigates cyber espionage, including foreign government-sponsored espionage, fraud, and other cyber attacks. These are true stories of real-life experiences of Eric Enos, a Concord resident who spent years as a Secret Service agent.
All prospective agents know, long before they are ever hired, of the travel requirements of a Special Agent with the US Secret Service. It’s discussed during the hiring process a minimum of three times; during the initial interview, during the panel interview, and during the home interview. Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions are going to be missed countless times throughout an agent’s career, as the “needs of the Service” take precedence. Travel could be anywhere from four or five days to three weeks, or even a month on rare occasions. Luckily, I was only away from home for thirty straight days once during my career.
I had been assigned to a weeklong detail at the World Economic Forum in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Upon completion, I was then detailed to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City for another three weeks. A month away from home seemed like an eternity. I especially missed my three-year-old son. I cherished the time with my son; wrestling, playing catch, feeding the ducks on our walks, etc., as he seemed to grow and change every day. I told my wife not to tell him which day I was flying home because I wanted to pick him up from preschool and surprise him. When I arrived, the teachers were aware of the situation and had him out back. All the other kids had already been picked up. I remember being teary-eyed as I watched him through the backdoor window. He had grown so much over the past thirty days. He was playing by himself on the play structure, in his own little world as he waited for, what he thought would be, his mom to pick him up, as was the normal routine. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the moment I opened the door, called his name, and saw the wide-eyed surprised look on his face and heard the screech of “Daddy!” And I can still see him (sixteen years later) as he ran from the play structure, his little feet, legs, and arms, pumping away, and jumped into my arms. Nor will I forget the huge hug he gave me and the unconditional love and warmth in that hug.
Time doesn’t stand still, and we never get it back. And once kids come along, time escalates rapidly. Because ours was not the typical 9 to 5, Monday thru Friday, traditional kind of job. It always pitted work time against family time. Work almost always won. With that in mind, I (like many agents with families) always made every effort to share as much of the physical part of the job with my family as possible, getting them into as many events as I could. This wasn’t always easy and happened less often than I preferred, as our family grew from one to three kids and my wife was still working during the first several years of my career. I wanted my kids to get a behind the scenes look at the Secret Service, to see what their dad did, and to see our military and law enforcement in action. I wanted them to get a first-hand glimpse of some of what went into keeping the President and other world leaders safe. As a result, my family would sometimes join me at the hotels I would be staying in while on protection assignments. It was the lap-of-luxury, as these were world-class, five-star establishments. So, when I would be offsite, on detail with the President or other protectees, my family would be at the pool, in the hot tub, or ordering room service (These were expensive family visits). During these stays (I shared this with my parents as well), I would take them into the Secret Service Command Post where they would see the communicational heartbeat of the operation. I would take them down to see the bomb sweeps of the motorcade as carried out daily by Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) teams with their dogs. Over the years they witnessed Presidential arrivals and departures via Air Force One and Marine One and watched motorcade movements. They attended Presidential rallies and fundraisers, sat in the Presidential limo, and even met current and former Presidents and other world leaders.
Of course, visiting the White House was always a highlight, because regardless of the number of times one steps inside the White House there is always an overwhelming sense, a feeling, a physical presence supported by sight and touch, of history as one literally walks in the footsteps of the current President and in those of each preceding President starting with John Adams. The sense of patriotism and American pride is indescribable. Anyone who is inside those walls and doesn’t experience those feelings and emotions is probably residing in the wrong country. Certainly, in the wrong profession. Quite honestly, I always maintained that sense of patriotism and American pride, throughout my career, not only of the White House but of the Office and what it has always represented. The feeling never diminished (despite some of the less-than-appealing actions of certain protectees during my career. Many of which are public knowledge, many are not). My love of the job and respect for the office was as strong on my last assignment (protecting then Presidential candidate Barack Obama) as it was when I started the job.
Of course, I knew the time away from my family could never be replaced and realized that my kids were too young at the time to fully understand and appreciate the scope and depth of what they were able to witness during these inside looks at the Secret Service. Sure, they enjoyed the excitement in much of what they saw, as any kid would in seeing jets, helicopters, and five-star hotel room service, etc. However, it was always my hope that someday when they got older, they would look back on those events with a true understanding and appreciation of just what they were able to witness during those times, its historical significance, and to hopefully develop the same admiration, respect, and pride, in their country and all it stands for, as their old man had. Hopefully, their memories of the hotel’s room service wouldn’t overshadow their memories of the Secret Service.