Federal Coach: This year's youngest federal leader to win a Service to America medal

Tom Fox interviews Tate Jarrow, a West Point graduate and Secret Service special agent, who is the winner of the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the Call to Service category for federal employees who are 35-years old or younger.

(Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Tate Jarrow, a West Point graduate and Secret Service special agent, is the winner of the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal in the Call to Service category for federal employees who are 35-years old or younger. Jarrow, who is being honored with the medal on Tuesday for the critical role he played in two major international cybercrime investigations, spoke with Tom Fox about his commitment to public service, his view on leadership and his experiences with the Secret Service.

“Tate is one of the preeminent cyber investigators in the federal government,” Scott Sarafian, a Secret Service assistant to the special agent in charge, told the Partnership for Public Service about his work. “He understands the dark web and how money moves.”

What drew you to the Secret Service?

I’ve always been interested in serving our country since I was in high school, which is why I went to West Point and spent five years in the Army. Toward the end of my military service, I looked at the Secret Service because it has a unique mission—obviously to protect our leaders and foreign leaders who visit the United States. We also do investigations. The dual mission really appealed to me. It’s one of the few places in government that on a day-to-day basis you can really see the direct impact. It’s important that my service is worthwhile, that I am accomplishing something and that I can feel good about what I’ve done.

What are some of the leadership lessons you learned in the military that have carried over to your work at the Secret Service?

The fundamental leadership lesson I learned is the importance of leading as a friend and being willing to do the hard work that you’re asking other people to do. Never ask them to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself.

What has been you experience working with teams on various assignments and investigations?

One of the key aspects is understanding what everyone’s stake is and what your mission is, and then doing your best to align everyone’s interests to accomplish the overall goal. From an investigative standpoint, I worked with FBI agents on a major international cybercrime case. We had a common vision and a common goal to investigate this crime and hold the people responsible who perpetrated it.

Sometimes when dealing with foreign partners, there were cultural, legal and diplomatic factors that had nothing to do with our mission. So the trick was to find the common interest and leverage that to accomplish a common goal. I had to build trust and relationships with the people I was working with.

Have you had any unusual experiences as a Secret Service agent?

The last campaign cycle, I had a temporary assignment for a presidential candidate, who was visiting Nantucket. We worked while the candidate flew to another location. Our job was done, but we were left behind. It was about 10 p.m. There were no hotel rooms, and the ferry that cycled people back to the mainland was not operating. So we coordinated with the Coast Guard to take us back. We were in our stereotypical black suits.

We got into a Coast Guard cutter, but because of the size of the boat, we were not able to enter the harbor. So they launched us in a dingy in our suits. We put on lifejackets and helmets and headed to the shore Navy Seal-style in one of those rubber rafts for the last mile or so. That was a pretty cool experience, courtesy of the Coast Guard, and a pretty cool protection assignment.

What motivates you on a day-to-day basis?

I think of my job in terms of mission accomplishment. If I am assigned to work a protection detail and the individual is safe, everything is good. Sometimes with investigations, you arrest somebody and you know you’re holding someone accountable for the crime they committed against the United States. But often you have to take the longer view and look at a day and think, “I am doing something that’s getting me closer to the objective or the mission success.”

What advice would you give millennials thinking about working for the federal government?

One of the huge advantages of working in the federal government is that it opens many doors and career paths. The experience you can have at a young age far outpaces the experiences you can have in a private organization. As a 22-year old member of the Army, I was in charge of 40 soldiers. And if you decide you want to go a different direction after working in government, many doors will be open. People recognize the value of government service.

How can individuals protect themselves from cybercrime?

From a cybersecurity perspective, think about your house. If your house has a 10-foot chainlink fence or a home security alarm and your neighbor’s house doesn’t, they’ll probably try to rob your neighbor. Cybersecurity is like that. You want to be better than your neighbor. You want to have a better password, you want your Wi-Fi to be password protected. If you think about cybersecurity from that perspective and at least have strong passwords and different passwords for different accounts, you can go a long way in protecting yourself.

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