Book Reviews

Charming Memoirs of an Edgy Career Start 

Alexandria, VA – Review: Fairly Smooth Operator – My Life Occasionally at the Tip of the Spear


Author: Caroline Walsh

Reviewed by: Ralph Peluso, Literary Editor

Zebra Rating–5 Stripes

Caroline Walsh is a Coast Guard veteran and former CIA intelligence officer who, in this her debut work, shares with readers her incredible rollercoaster ride from Coast Guard recruit to life inside the CIA. Her story is not ‘easy as a Sunday morning drive’ on the causeway heading to Key West, Florida, but more like a harrowing jaunt navigating life’s difficult turns, including sexual harassment, suicide and middle school type prejudice. Caroline does dot her work with plenty of humorous moments. This unique book is more than an engaging collection of memoirs. Caroline wrote Fairly Smooth Operator as a satire on the higher profile, more serious spy and special operations novels. “I had been involved with some cool and interesting things, but wanted to provide a view of day-to-day life and the challenges that enlisted members and veterans faced. I also think that from my stories, at times you can see a real lack of resilience, so I knew I wasn’t worthy of claiming to be a true smooth operator,” Caroline commented in a recent interview.

For new authors, writing about oneself is always somewhat of a gamble. Caroline had stories to tell. Encouraged by close friends, she leveraged her stand-up comedy routines into a series of quick paced vignettes base on those experiences. Caroline’s effort was not only cathartic, but resulted in an informative and entertaining series of stories. “This was a way to close some of the chapters in my life and move forward into my next chapter of starting a PhD program in San Diego. It was an important practice to write the book and make sense of my own experiences,” Walsh added.

There are plenty of messages to unpack in Caroline’s work. Although the setting of her book is in military service (United States Coast Guard), the messages are broadly applicable to business and social situations. Walsh stated, “I hope that readers take away a few leadership lessons from the book. One lesson is simply to treat others well, maintain a baseline of leaving people with their dignity, even in challenging or tense situations.” One of the chapters in Fairly Smooth Operator, entitled “Don’t You Know You’re Toxic”, is an indictment and declaration of poor leadership qualities in all walks of life. This chapter will make you question why higher ups more often than not choose to ignore problems rather than act on an issue. Are they too incompetent to understand the issue, or simply a part of the problem or corruption? Or does their “position” of authority serve to fill some unnatural void or hide an inferiority? In “Spy Stories”, Caroline provides a delightful dissertation on the proper use of the term ‘tip of the spear’. Left me wondering, “how come I did not know that!”

It is clear that Caroline’s life changed for the better once she transitioned into a more respectful environment. Walsh added, “I hope that people in leadership positions read my book and prioritize creating ethical and respectful environments in the workplace. I hope that women who read the book take away the importance of supporting each other and maintaining good communication channels with each other so they can compare notes on what is going on at work, especially in male-dominated organizations.”

And, reader will learn sometimes you need to take a break, rest, and process the most difficult things that are going on in your life. Many people, especially those in the military and national security situations sphere, have the ability to plow through adversity. But just because you can, doesn’t mean it is a healthy thing to do.

I asked Caroline what she may have done differently in hindsight to handle her Coast Guard experience. “I would have cultivated a little more faith, especially before going to Guantanamo Bay. At that time, it felt like my life was far beyond my control, and it really was, given the deployment orders, so I just needed to relax and wait for it to pass. Contrastingly, I would have stood up a little stronger at the first Coast Guard unit in which I was assigned and looked for ways to address the issues rather than just cope with them the best I could.”

Caroline is a native Ohioan. Upon graduation from college, she enlisted in the Coast Guard and since has completed a master program in Homeland Security at Pennsylvania State University, and wrapped up a PhD program in leadership studies from the University of San Diego. Currently she works at that university’s Military and Veterans Program office. During her career, she also served as a CIA intelligence officer. And… is a stand-up comedian!

What’s next? “I look forward to supporting organizations in elevating their leaders and strategizing to create more ethical environments to help them retain talent, build team cohesion, and work towards the organization’s mission. I also developed a Standup Comedy Skills for Leader Development Workshop and I look forward to engaging leaders in the enlightening experience of writing and sharing aspects of your identity and perspectives with humor,” Caroline added. Fairly Smooth Operator earns highly informative and entertaining – 5 ZEBRA STRIPES

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