The NATO Communications and Information Agency does more than provide computers to the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
In addition to delivering critical technology to the Alliance, 100 to 150 Agency employees a year deploy in support of NATO operations.
Some of those volunteers are NCI Agency employees who are also active in their Nation's military, and some are civilian staff members, said Oliwer Stavarache, Personnel and Operations Manager at the NCI Agency. Ultimately, the Agency aims to choose volunteers who are prepared to integrate quickly into a highly technical role for a NATO mission.
“You need to put people who are ready from the beginning, people with experience, people who know the business behind it," Stavarache said.
A pool of Agency volunteers takes turns filling posts for at least three months at a time. Agency staff of different backgrounds, genders and ages have volunteered, Stavarache said.
Claire Banazol deployed in 2017 to Afghanistan to support NATO's Resolute Support Mission.
“Working in an environment with representatives from 50 nations is a huge privilege," Banazol said. “Learning from each other and sharing experiences broadens your horizons."
“The training and preparation equips you for an operational deployment. And colleagues in theatre are always willing and able to provide support and encouragement, so you never feel alone," Banazol said.
As the Logistics Section Head for the mission's Signal Support Group, Banazol oversaw logistics for the Communications and Information Systems (CIS) used in the mission. The Logistics Section Head is responsible for protecting NATO's investment and contributing to the delivery of secure and robust communications in theatre.
Banazol managed the supply depot staff, and coordinated equipment maintenance and service requests. In the role she also served as logistics advisor to the Commander of the Group.
“I was the only Section Head with Afghan nationals working in their team, which was very rewarding and gave a positive perspective on how the mission is impacting the lives of people in the country," Banazol said.
Patrick Coumans deployed in 2019 to Afghanistan in support of the same NATO mission. Coumans, an engineer, served as the Theatre Computer Security Officer when deployed.
And this wasn't the first time Coumans deployed to Afghanistan. Coumans deployed previously as a trainer to Afghan security forces.
“It is a great and invaluable experience to contribute to the Resolute Support Mission," Coumans said.
In the role of Theatre Computer Security Officer, Coumans advised leaders in theatre on all computer security-related items. Coumans also delivered engaging training to all incoming staff at the Resolute Support Headquarters.
“It gave me pleasure to invest time in developing the communication information security expertise in others engaged in the Resolute Support Mission," Coumans said.
Being passionate about security means abiding by strong ethical principles, Coumans said.
“Many of the security decisions I made led to substantially more work than if I had taken a less disciplined approach to security," Coumans said. “Through this discipline I've tried to improve the security of the networks of which I was responsible."
SSGT Nana Sarpong also deployed in 2018 to Afghanistan to support the same mission.
“When I was offered the chance by NCI Agency to work outside my normal role as a logistician, I saw this as both an opportunity and a challenge," SSGT Sarpong said. “Looking back, I am very grateful for the experience."
As the Theatre Change Coordinator for the Signal Support Group, SSGT Sarpong worked on the “small but dedicated" team responsible for managing changes to the CIS in theatre.
“These controlled changes have a significant impact on the Resolute Support Mission," SSGT Sarpong said.
SSGT Sarpong managed changes to CIS services and infrastructure. SSGT Sarpong also coordinated approvals with the Agency's back office.
“My tour was all I expected, thoroughly challenging and enjoyable working in such a complex multinational operational environment," SSGT Sarpong said. “I have learned a lot in this area in my seven months on operations. I can certainly recommend the experience to other colleagues working in NATO who are looking for a challenging experience."
Dr Philip Eles supported Resolute Support in 2019 as an Operational Analyst in the mission's headquarters.
Dr Eles oversaw a programme to measure Afghan public perceptions. The team Dr Eles worked with supported the Commander of the mission in assessing the mission's progress.
The team analysed operational data to identify trends that could be useful to decision-makers.
“As a civilian operational analyst, the opportunity to work directly with military planners on operations is invaluable," Dr Eles said. “You get such a great understanding of the complexity of the operation, as well as the decisions the leadership is faced with."
While deployed, Dr Eles also supported the US negotiating team preparing for peace talks with the Taliban.
This tour was his sixth two-month tour in the past six years.
“I wanted to be a part of something that mattered and had an impact," Dr Eles said. “And through our support to RS, I feel that I am."