There is a secret society in DC that no one ever talks about. It works silently, behind the scenes, without fanfare or bombast. Its rules are not written down, but they are followed without question. It is one of the most powerful groups in the Pentagon.
It is the EA circuit. “EA” stands for Executive Assistant. They are the people you see out in the front of every Admiral’s office. They are not aides – the aides take care of the Admiral’s personal and logistical needs. The EAs take care of the paperwork and handle the myriad of tasks that make the Pentagon run.
EAs don’t smile much.
Every task that comes to an Admiral goes through an EA first. Every decision made by an Admiral (especially in the Pentagon) gets disseminated by the EA. Every detail, every deadline, every meeting…gets handled by the EA.
Except the good news. The Admiral gets to hand out the good news.
The EA gets the bad news stuff.
When an EA gets a call from another EA, it is rarely to hear happy things. But here is where the magic of the circuit comes to play. EAs have a tacit understanding that they aren’t the sources of bad news – only the conduits. A typical conversation between EAs goes like this:
EA for the senior Admiral: “Hey, got some bad news. You guys just got whacked a hundred million dollars. My boss needs to know where your boss is going to take the cuts.”
EA for the junior Admiral: “This is going to hurt.”
EA for the senior Admiral: “It’s going to hurt even more. I need your answer in an hour.”
EA for the junior Admiral: “Roger.”
That’s pretty much how it goes, hundreds of times a day. No whining, no raised voices. Just two people passing on information.
What happens AFTER the EA conversation is often not so even-keeled. Action officers and bosses alike react to the news as you would expect, and the EA is usually in the center of the fray.
They work insane hours, coming in before the boss, and leaving after the work is done.
Which is why they don’t smile much.
I was always surprised – even suspicious – at the lack of animus between EAs until I became one, and discovered it was real. Many of the EAs go on to Flag rank (I didn’t); in fact, many of the EAs I worked with in DC are Admirals today. And you know what?
They deserve it.