For most people, talking about what they do for a living easily can stretch into a long conversation. This is not the case for Intelligence Specialist Seaman Tom Perry of Kasilof. Once he says he works in Naval Intelligence, there isn't much more he's allowed to say.
"He does not talk about what he does and never has," said Linda Perry of Kasilof, Tom's mother. "The most I know is from the people that do the security clearances on the family."
Tom is stationed on the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea, Linda said. The Peleliu is an amphibious landing craft that transports troops and carries helicopters and Harriers.
He joined the Navy right out of high school. Linda said he went to the mall one day and spoke to Navy recruiters, came home and told her he wanted to enlist. He graduated from a home school program in January 1999 and left for boot camp a month later.
Tom was not the first member of his family to enlist in the armed forces. His oldest brother, Paul Perry, is in the Army; two uncles are in the Navy, and Tom's father, the late Philip Perry, was in the Air Force.
"He was always proud of his dad being in the Air Force," Linda said. "I think Tom had a lot of respect for that."
Computers and science were always interests of Tom's, so it was no big surprise to the family when he chose to enter the Naval Intelligence field. After boot camp, Tom went to Virginia Beach, Va., to receive training in that field. Since going in to Naval Intelligence, Tom's conversations about his job have gotten shorter and shorter.
"He's not allowed to talk about work," Linda said. "He's cleared at a high level of security. I thought there was just one level of high security, but there's multiple levels of top secret. I asked him how many levels there are, and he just laughed and said 'I wouldn't know that.'"
After his first round of training, Tom chose to be stationed in England. He has cultivated an interest in Medieval England since he was young, Linda said. In fact, he's writing a novel set in that time period and location, so being assigned to England gave him an opportunity to gather information for his book.
According to Linda, Tom's duties include sanitizing sensitive information for public release. While in England, Tom met his future wife, Maggie, of Massachu-setts. He finished his tour of duty in England after two years, and he and Maggie traveled to Kasilof to be married last August.
After the wedding, Tom returned to Virginia for another round of training. He was there Sept. 11. Prior to that day, Tom was beginning to rethink his commitment to the Navy.
"He was just married and was really not as happy with being in the Navy," Linda said. "He kind of wished he could spend more time with his wife."
The events of Sept. 11 gave Tom a renewed sense of resolve.
"I got a phone call and his voice was changed," Linda said. "He said 'Mom, don't worry about this, we will handle it.' He has been very committed to taking care of the terrorist element. He's very in tune to just making sure it never happens again and doing his part. The telephone call itself was like he grew up overnight. For being 22, it was like a realization: 'Now I know why I'm in the Navy.'"
Immediately after Sept. 11, Tom was assigned to the Peleliu. He was flown from Virginia to San Diego and from there to the ship.
Tom has e-mail access on the ship, so the family usually hears from him about once a week. But e-mail access is cut off if the ship is engaged in some kind of activity so Linda and the family have gone through periods of weeks without hearing from him.
At one point, John Walker and eight other prisoners were held on the ship, Linda said. Tom didn't tell her much about the situation, other than Walker was heavily guarded and no one was allowed contact with him.
In his e-mails, Tom's spirits seem high and he appears to like it aboard the ship.
"He likes whatever he's doing and in his free time, he still works on his novel," Linda said.
The ship is scheduled to return to San Diego the first week in March, after six months in service for the war.
"I don't worry about him," Linda said. "He's an incredibly bright and spiritual young man and he is doing what he should be doing. I would like to believe he stays on the ship, and if he doesn't, I don't want to know about it. I don't allow myself to worry about him, but I will be happy when he comes home."
Tom has another year and a half before he finishes his term of enlistment. After that, Linda isn't sure what he'll do -- if he'll go to college or pursue a career in civilian intelligence. But she doubts he will reenlist.
"I think he probably won't stay in the Navy as a career because he doesn't like being away from his family," she said. "They plan on having a family in the future, but he doesn't want his wife to raise a child by herself so my guess is he will come out of it."
Whether he stays with the Navy, Tom's family is proud of his service now -- especially how he sees his responsibility to protect not only his family, but his country as well, Linda said.
"He's very committed to that ideal," she said. "It's really interesting to watch him grow up. On Sept. 11, there was a marked change. Sometimes I wonder if other parents didn't feel that same change in the attitude of their kids."
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