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News | Feb. 18, 2020

Bob Bailey: Cryptologic Hero, and Story

By Bailey Bickley, Deputy Chief Cybersecurity Communications

NSA is proud to highlight the mission-impacts of its diverse workforce, which encompasses a range of perspectives and skillsets as well as a variety of races, cultures, ethnicities, genders, ages, and abilities. The linguistic contributions of the Native American Code Talkers is well publicized; the cryptologic contributions of Native Americans contributing to other parts of NSA’s mission is lesser known. We hope you enjoy learning more about one of our former employees.

Humble Beginnings

After graduating from high school, Bob Bailey joined the Air Force on the cusp of the Korean War. “I knew I would get drafted, so instead, I looked at it as an opportunity and proactively signed up for the Air Force.” There, Bob learned Morse code and became a radio operator, stationed in Texas, Mississippi, and Alaska before finding himself at March Air Force Base in California.

Shortly after arriving in California, a Sergeant came through the workplace asking for volunteers for a tour in Maryland. Bob eagerly volunteered and went to Fort Meade to work at NSA.

Life at NSA

When others asked what he did at NSA, Bob replied very seriously “I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I couldn’t even say whether I wrote with a pencil or not!” After a laugh and with noted appreciation for NSA’s more public role in the recent years, Bob shared that he was a traffic analyst, studying and analyzing collection from Russian targets during the height of the Cold War. “My mission was incredibly satisfying and interesting,” Bob said. When asked if he felt like his work made a difference, he replied quietly “I hoped it did.”

After discharging from the Air Force as a Staff Sergeant, Bob was presented with an opportunity to become an Agency civilian employee. He immediately said “yes” and two weeks later, a letter arrived in the mail extending the official job offer to work as a GS-7 (average salary was $4,525 annually). “I felt this (opportunity) gave me increased financial stability and so I was able to propose to my girlfriend and get married.” Over the years, Bob worked for the Agency as a collections officer and an intelligence research analyst. Bob cites his best experience at the Agency when he worked for two years in the National Security Operations Office, a 24/7 mission element that provides oversight of current operations and time-sensitive reporting. “I was surrounded by good people who looked out for each other.”

With the encouragement of his NSA management and while working full-time and raising children, Bob used his GI bill to attend school at night, earning his BA in Business from the University of Maryland in 1972 at 39 years old. “My father had to drop out of high school in 11th grade to help support his family financially,” Bob shared, but his father impressed on his children that if they wanted to work in the chimookamon [non-native American’s] world, they needed a good education. “Finishing higher education felt like an incredible accomplishment. Although my father never graduated or went to college, he made education a priority for his children.” 

It’s a Family Affair

After his retirement from NSA as a GS-13 in 1989, Bob’s children carried on his legacy of hard work, public service, and taking advantage of opportunities. His son, daughter, and son-in-law worked at NSA, along with three of his seven grandchildren. His other children and grandchildren have various jobs in local government, private industry, and public service. “Seeing my kids and their kids graduate and get good jobs is what I am most proud of in my life.”

Interested in knowing more about the cryptologic contributions of other of other Native American’s? See this article and brochure on the Native American Code Talkers.