Each year, highly skilled staff from NATO's technical Agency deploy to support the Alliance's operations and missions.
Experts from the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency support the Alliance every day remotely. But staff also deploy to areas where NATO operations are conducted to provide their expertise in-person.
The Agency is constantly deploying its personnel to NATO mission areas such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. Some employees deploy for short trips, while others fill crisis establishment posts for three to six-month rotations.
The Agency mans 12 such posts for the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and two such posts for NATO Mission Iraq.
“It's an Agency priority to give operations our full support," said Gioia Aoi, a Staff Officer for Operations at the NCI Agency.
While deployed, Agency staff members provide technical expertise and support, troubleshooting, training and more.
“After each deployment, they bring back to the Agency an invaluable bag of knowledge that allows us to maintain a full understanding of mission requirements and needs," Aoi said.
The Agency recently adjusted its method for deployments. Instead of deploying for six months at a time, a pool of subject matter experts rotates for shorter three-month tours once a year, said Oliwer Stavarache, Personnel and Operations Manager at the NCI Agency.
"We reduced the handover takeover period," Stavarache said of the new method. “We do the best job with highly qualified staff. We reduce their time away from their families."
Typically, it nly takes a day to bring a previously deployed volunteer up to speed.
When an Agency employee volunteers for the first time, the employee is given pre-deployment training, so they will know what to expect, Stavarache said. Employees are also given preparatory medical care, such as vaccinations.
But the Agency also encourages those new volunteers to discuss the experience with others who have gone before them.
"The deployers, we encourage them to call their predecessors, or to discuss with their colleagues who are there," Stavarache said.
Francisco Javier Garcia Cidoncha recently returned to Europe after filling a crisis establishment post in Afghanistan.
“We talk about leading the digital endeavour," Garcia Cidoncha said. “Leading the digital endeavour is something you do setting up a computer for a programme manager in Brussels, but also making sure that the applications and systems the operational community require in support of its mission are made available."
Garcia Cidoncha served as the Deputy Commander of the Resolute Support Signal Support Group, a crisis establishment post.
“The NCI Agency needs to ensure boots on the ground to enable efficient achievement of its goals and objectives," Garcia Cidoncha said. “In my opinion, this is the only way to establish and sustain the necessary links between the back office in Europe and operational support activities carried out in theatre. The feedback and input provided by the NCI Agency's boots on the ground have proven to be oftentimes of paramount relevance to sort out problems."
In Resolute Support, the Signal Support Group supports 21 sites and nine networks.
“The scope of our activities, in my opinion, is kind of impressive," Garcia Cidoncha said. “We support not only the core network, but also the bespoke ones, the national extensions and so on."
Garcia Cidoncha deployed multiple times while serving in the Spanish Air Force, and during his previous assignment as a NATO civilian in Germany, but this is his first time in Kabul as an NCI Agency staff member.
“When I landed in my position in theatre, I immediately recognized the bond between the work done in our offices in Europe and the impact it has here in Afghanistan. What you are doing in your office, in your vacuum, it has an impact here," Garcia Cidoncha said.
As the technical authority over all Communications and Information Systems-related matters, it's valuable to have Agency staff deploying to crisis establishment posts, said Michaël Danys, who filled such a post in Resolute Support in 2017. Agency staff bring to the positions their experience of how the Agency operates.
Danys, who had never deployed to an operational theatre, was convinced by co-workers to volunteer for the post. Danys described the experience overall as “nothing short of amazing."
“In all honesty, my first reaction when I set foot on the ground over there was 'what am I doing here? And why didn't I just stay in my office in Mons?'" Danys said. “But that feeling basically quickly faded once I started getting settled in."
The handover and takeover process helped Danys settle in, but it helped too that everyone is away from home and is experiencing similar feelings. Talking with others deployed at the same time helps you to process the environment, Danys said.
“Everyone kind of knows what the others might be feeling from time to time," Danys said. “It creates a bond with the others much faster than you would get in the normal office environment."
Filling a crisis establishment post allows you to learn a lot in a very short amount of time. And in Danys' case, it also opened some doors after deployment.
During deployment, Danys served in a position at the management level for the first time, as the Service Management Section Head in the Signal Support Group. In the year and a half since returning from Afghanistan, Danys has acted in a management role as the Service Transition Section Head.
Danys is scheduled to deploy again next year.
“As an individual you can make a difference over there," Danys said. “You really see the results of your contributions, and that gives you a lot of satisfaction."