Meet Agency experts awarded NATO medals for their service
The NCI Agency is constantly evolving to respond to advances in technology and guard NATO against new threats.
And the Agency's employees help it adapt, guiding projects through difficult timelines and complex technical challenges to deliver critical technology and services to the Alliance.
General Manager Kevin J. Scheid, on behalf of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, awarded 12 such employees the NATO Meritorious Service Medal. They were recognized in a ceremony on 13 December 2018 for outstanding service to the organization.
We asked the honourees about their careers, and more specifically, what it has been like to work for NATO's tech and cyber hub. Some described their most exciting projects. Others outlined how they overcame setbacks and challenges. And some of them told us who, or what, inspires them.
Here's what our honourees had to say. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Nick Price, Senior Scientist
Price is a member of a small team of operational analysts who provide continuous expert analytical support to the Afghan Assessment Group (AAG) at Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. From mid-August 2016 to mid-February 2017 Price spent more than four months in theatre. He even spent the Christmas period in theatre for the third time since he joined the team supporting the AAG in 2012. During his deployments Price made significant contributions to the availability of quality data and analytical expertise to the headquarters.
What is the most exciting thing you have done while working for the Agency?
Nick Price said: "The most exciting thing I did was my first deployment to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2012. It was my first time providing deployed support. Going into the ops room and seeing the mission playing out on giant screens brought into focus the importance of the support we provide."
Anthony Verschaeve, Cell Head and Engineer
In his role as a lead Routing and Switching engineer for the NCI Agency business network, Verschaeve distinguished himself. Verschaeve inherited management of the NATO transmission network, which was expanded under his leadership. He spearheaded the effort to create a secure, modern Wi-Fi based network, with redundancy and complete portability for NATO staff amongst three core sites and more than 30 additional global NATO locations throughout the Alliance. The network enables critical services such as communications, security and cyber defence.
What was the hardest project that you've worked on?
Anthony Verschaeve said: "The hardest project I worked on for the Agency is the expansion of a network sized and built for 600-800 users, to 3,500-4,000 NATO users. The network encompasses multiple NATO locations throughout the Alliance, on different levels of network classification. The expansion of this network had to be completed within critical timeline boundaries, by a small team representing all of the Agency's service lines. The project was finished well in time; and its major success was due to the dedication, outstanding personal contribution and the will to succeed by every single member of this team."
Gregor Gosepath, Senior Service Engineer
The Active Network Infrastructure (ANWI) project is a partnership between industry and the Agency to create modern networks for the new NATO headquarters at different classification levels, where personnel can use their preferred method of communication easily, reliably and securely no matter what application or device they choose to use. As a senior service engineer, Gosepath performed under high pressure while leading the ANWI Programme Office Engineering Team. Gosepath produced high quality technical recommendations, which led to sound solutions. Gosepath is a very committed, highly-motivated, talented resource.
What is the best part of working at the Agency?
Gregor Gosepath said: "The best part of working in the Agency is experiencing the loyalty of people from multiple nations and the dedication of all staff to deliver meaningful services to the NATO Enterprise, Alliance and Nations. In the words of General Colin Powell: 'Trust is the glue that holds people together and is the lubricant that keeps an organization moving forward.' During the last projects, work was done, products were created and services were delivered because the matrix teams worked together based on a trusted foundation."
Steffen Broecker, IT System Manager
Broecker has consistently excelled in executing his duties and providing exemplary support to the Agency and its customers. However, it is his role as the Acting Operations Manager which distinguished him. The services he oversees include voice, video and network connections to all 29 Allies, as well as operational deployments. Without his efforts, these critical services used by the Alliance would not have been as expertly implemented and missions would have faltered. Broecker has worked tirelessly to ensure that staff is managed fairly and services are delivered professionally.
Who inspired you at the Agency?
Steffen Broecker said: "Throughout my NATO career, I was inspired by many persons in and outside of the Agency, Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller and former SACEUR Admiral James Stavridis, to name but two. However, my daily drive and inspiration derives from my very diverse team and my immediate management. Most of them are still serving in the Agency whereas others decided to move on or retire. Without naming them, they have certain traits in common: they put the team first, give trust in advance, accept mistakes, do not fear making decisions, focus on achievements and - being in the operational environment for a long time – they have a 'get the job done' attitude. In recent years, it was important for me to have people around me who accepted and embraced change. They were and are a constant reminder to not rest on achievements or laurels."
LTC Elisabete Vidal, Deputy Programme Manager and CIS Subject Matter Expert
In her role, LTC Vidal has brought CIS expertise to the team relocating the NATO Communications and Information Systems School from Latina, Italy to Oeiras, Portugal. LTC Vidal works tirelessly, often through the night, and delivers outputs that are truly exceptional. Since day one, she has provided outstanding leadership and commitment to the agency across a wide range of subjects that would typically require far more personnel. Her ability to lead by example, engage and enthuse staff across NATO is exemplary. As the NCI Academy (the successor of the NATO CIS School) now starts to take shape, the foundations she painstakingly and professionally laid will be felt in NATO for generations to come.
Please tell us about the project you worked on.
LTC Elisabete Vidal said: "The NCI Academy Programme was created to lead the planning, coordination and implementation of a world-class technical education and training capability, supporting the operational preparedness of NATO, and available to all Allies. The NATO Nations, through a rapidly approved Capability Package, reset the geographical footprint in 2012. Since then the NATO CIS School was destined to be relocated to Oeiras. This relocation is partly enabled through the delivery of a purpose-built facility, a striking building enhancing the Carcavelos skyline. A transformation is required to become 'world-class', and the interdependent combinations of all the factors associated with a transformed organization is at the heart of the programme I have the privilege to support."
John Festjens, Coherence Branch Acting Head, CIS Support Unit (CSU) Brussels
As a member of the new NATO Headquarters programme team, Festjens single-handedly put a portion of the project on a path of assured success. The improvement required immense time, effort and personal sacrifice, and only happened because of his selfless service and true commitment to the success of the Agency.
Can you talk about the biggest challenge you've faced in your career? How did you conquer it?
John Festjens said: "Working in a large organization comes with its challenges: we are in a state of constant change and sometimes new projects and activities pop up before we can finish the old ones. Getting things done with a limited amount of resources is always challenging, as is working across the borders of your sub-organization within the Agency. What I find most rewarding and challenging, is working with people. Handling the different cultures and personalities, understanding how to motivate them, how to align people to get to the common objectives. How to get there? Giving the best of myself and a positive attitude, every day."
Yaman Akkasoglu, Service Operations Branch Head, CIS Support Unit (CSU) Izmir
As a leader, Akkasoglu has stepped up and inspired people. In December 2016, he led the implementation of a project that was supposed to finish before the closure of the fiscal year. The sensitive project was delayed, until he stayed awake with his personnel for two nights over the weekend to complete it within the time constraints.
What advice would you give for working better as a team?
Yaman Akkasoglu said: "Communication is critical for creating empathy among team members. Listening and trying to understand each other would be the greatest merits of the team. Constructive feedback is the best way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the teamwork."
David Brown, Principal Engineer
Brown showed exceptional leadership in all aspects of independent testing, verification and assurance of the Active Network Infrastructure (ANWI) for the new NATO Headquarters. Brown analyzed the effort and its challenges, and took corrective action when needed. If those challenges became high risks, he immediately and honestly reported them to senior leadership.
What values are most important for Agency employees to have?
David Brown said: "There are of course many values employees of the Agency should have. However, I have found that two are particularly important for a successful career in the Agency: flexibility and team-focus. NATO's needs and priorities are constantly evolving due to the geopolitical situation. Each of us needs to be flexible to adapt to these changes in a timely manner. Being team-focused in practice means involving relevant staff to solve problems. Hold them accountable, but also respect their expertise and make them part of the solution. Do not try to do everything yourself. Rely on your colleagues as we have very talented people in the Agency."
Marcus Gaul, Senior Scientist
Gaul is a member of a small team of operational analysts who provide continuous deployed expert analytical support to the Afghan Assessment Group at Resolute Support Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. For all but 20 days of this six-month Meritorious Service period, from 1 March 2018 to 31 August 2018, Marcus Gaul was deployed to the group at Resolute Support Headquarters. He was critical to the group accomplishing its tasks, and he did his work with great attitude and energy. This is the second time Gaul has received this honour.
What are you most proud of in your career at the Agency?
Marcus Gaul said: "As a civilian who has worked for more than six years in the Kabul-based military headquarters of the NATO missions in Afghanistan, I am particularly proud of being able to bring my extensive operational experience to different project contexts in the Agency and to provide 'reality checks'."
David Jenkins, Commander, CIS Support Unit (CSU) Brussels
Jenkins has also received the honour twice. Jenkins, as the CIS Support Unit (CSU) Commander in Brussels, is responsible for providing local CIS support. This mission undoubtedly challenged him extraordinarily in 2017. It was an intense period of maintaining the infrastructure at the former NATO Headquarters while preparing the CSU staff to operate and maintain the new NATO Headquarters. Jenkins ensured the contractor performed adequately while keeping the team motivated. He not only exceeded in achieving all of his given objectives, but most valuably showed his exceptional leadership in maintaining his unit's morale and leading the team through an extremely difficult set of achievements.
How was your project important to NATO's success?
David Jenkins said: "I think the new NATO Headquarters project demonstrates that the Agency is capable of great things in spite of what may appear as insurmountable challenges. And whatever challenge our Alliance may be faced with tomorrow, if information, communications or advanced technology is needed, we'll be there."
Pierre Pradier, Service Line Chief
When he joined the Agency in 2016, Pierre Pradier was immediately redirected from the role he was hired to perform to lead the Active Network Infrastructure (ANWI) programme at the New NATO Headquarters (NNHQ). Pradier has demonstrated superb programme leadership and management. He analyzed programme issues and developed a get-well strategy that had immediate, near and far term measures of success. It was his methodical, systematic and orderly leadership that drove achievements in the programme. He articulates problems and offers practical solutions and courageously defends positions with poise and professionalism under intense schedule or management pressures.
What was the hardest project that you've worked on?
Pierre Pradier said: "ANWI was a long journey, marked by many challenges, in an initially cold and empty building… But one thing was there from the start and never faltered: our team spirit. It led us through the storms to our final success: bring IT life to the New NATO Headquarters. As someone once said, 'It is a fact that in the right formation, the lifting power of many wings can achieve twice the distance of any bird flying alone.'"