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Tena Lawyer


After becoming acquainted with Tena Lawyer’s story, it is not hard to understand that she played a remarkably important role during her 20 years in the military. She was a rising member of the intelligence community.


She continued to play a key role in that community as a civilian leader after leaving the service.

Retired and with time on her hands in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lawyer realized there were stories she wanted to tell about her life, so she penned her debut memoir, a 365-page book released in October 2021 titled, “CompartMENTALized: My Journey from Camptown to the NSA.”

Lawyer, now 61 years old and a Florida resident, was born in Franklin and grew up in Camptown, a census-designated place in Isle of Wight County. She left the area at the age of 17 to go to college at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

As noted in the summary of her book, she lacked clear direction while at UMBC, going four years without declaring a major.

But then she joined the U.S. Army to pay off mounting debt and to complete her bachelor’s degree. She celebrated her 21st birthday while in boot camp.

She ultimately earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration in African American studies and personnel management, and she completed a master’s degree in educational leadership while on active duty as well.

Now working as a certified life coach, her master’s degree heavily informs what she does and “it also did when I worked at (National Security Agency) in education and training,” she said, indicating that she worked as a teacher in the U.S. intelligence community.

The Army allowed Lawyer to travel the world and learn about its people, and the military experience proved to be an effective teacher for her, helping her to become a key teacher to many.

“I think the military instilled discipline in my work habits, if you will,” she said. “That really honed them for me. I do believe, as an educator, personality has a little to do with that as well, but I think that I needed that discipline that the military provided, so I think that was really a catalyst for me to do well in the future.”

Her book summary noted that she worked hard at every leadership position offered in the military and advanced in rank to first sergeant during her 20-year military career.

Lawyer chose the intelligence track based on her initial scores to enter the military.

“So I was in the intel community the entire 20 years,” she said.

As part of the premier Intelligence Corps, she worked in support of the NSA for more than 10 years as a soldier, on and off based on assignments.

“I think I really enjoyed being in the know and having a good understanding of the intelligence community, our assets, how we collect what we do in order to keep American citizens safe,” she said.

Asked if there was a particular part of her military service for which she is the most proud, Lawyer pinpointed a time when she led almost 300 soldiers in support of intelligence collection.

“That was really cool to have all of these soldiers doing different things for the nation,” she said. “I even had doctors and lawyers in my company that support what we do in the intelligence community, so it was wonderful. I really enjoyed that the most, leading those troops.”

Lawyer will be holding a book signing and chapter reading of her memoir on Veterans Day, Friday, Nov. 11, from 3-5 p.m. at the library in the main building on the Paul D. Camp Community College campus, located on College Drive in Franklin.

Her book will be available for purchase at the event.

For more information, visit www.tenaalawyer.com.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Franklin native Tena Lawyer had achieved the rank of first sergeant by this point in her military career.


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