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07 30 2020

Meet Sergeant Jean-Philippe Tremblay-Dion, CSU Poggio Renatico Service Desk Analyst

In March 2020, Italy went into full lockdown in the hope of preventing the rapid spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. It was the first European country to be faced with the vast impact of this pandemic. The Italian government imposed a national quarantine while all non-necessary businesses and activities were shut down and only critical services stayed open with minimal staff present.

In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, the NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency's Communications and Information Systems (CIS) Support Unit (CSU) in Poggio Renatico, in north Italy had to remain operational. The CSU provides comprehensive CIS support to NATO's Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC), which ensures that NATO's air forces are ready to deploy to be deployed at any time.

Sergeant Jean-Philippe Tremblay-Dion, a native of Quebec in Canada working for the CSU, and his wife, a DACCC Resource Manager, had to come up with a plan to continue their work while taking care of their two young daughters after their school closed.

Meet Sergeant Jean-Philippe Tremblay-Dion, CSU Poggio Renatico Service Desk Analyst

What do you do?

I have been with the NCI Agency for two years. I am an IT technician doing everything from creating accounts for newcomers, to helping our customers from the DACCC with IT-related problems, reconfiguring computers and installing new software and much more. Every day is different.

How did CSU Poggio Renatico face the coronavirus outbreak?

A pandemic and lockdown of these proportions were not expected. It was a lot of unknowns at first, but our chain of command quickly took charge to protect us. We started working from home on a rotational basis. Only a quarter of about 32 staff members were allowed on site at the same time. There are nine people in my section and initially, there was only one staff member allowed in, but once the government relaxed the measures in May, we increased the number to two. When there was a shortage of hand sanitizer on the market, we produced homemade hand sanitizer using alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, glycerine and distilled water. We made sure that every section, bathroom and the cafeteria were equipped with a bottle of the disinfectant.

How did the lockdown affect your family?

In this part of Italy, schools had already closed at the end of February. Luckily, my and my wife's chains of command were very helpful and understanding from the beginning. We have been able to alternate teleworking and the office between us. This way our 10-year-old and 8-year-old girls are never home alone. They are learning online and will not go back to school before September. The summer break started in June so we enrolled them in a summer camp while we have kept working throughout the summer. The camp turned out to be a huge success with lots of fun activities for the children.

You and your wife are both from Canada. Were you able to find work in Poggio Renatico at the same time?

My wife applied for a couple of positions in different European countries. She got the job at DACCC and we moved to Italy. There weren't any positions for me at first but with the help of my current manager and my chain of command back home, I was soon employed by the Agency. Being in Italy has been an awesome adventure so far. We adjusted very well and my daughters already speak Italian. My wife is in a deployable position so she is busy with courses and exercises. I am more stationary, so I am able to stay here and take care of our daughters when she's away. Back home in Canada, it was the opposite. I was more the one to go to exercises and on deployment.

What are your most recent achievements?

The achievements of the last few months have been at the same time our biggest challenges. Staff members in our section have different skills. There are colleagues that specialize in anti-virus, others have more skills with System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM) software, and so on. As there is only one or two people present on site at a time, we have had to learn and adapt and make sure that if there is a problem, we need to be able to fix it ourselves, even if we are not the subject matter expert.

Why is your work so important for the Agency and for NATO?

The DACCC has to be ready at all times to support NATO missions, as it is a deployable centre from which NATO can control air missions, deliver air surveillance and carry out air traffic management. The NCI Agency CSU Poggio Renatico is responsible for assuring timely delivery of CIS capabilities, services and support to the DACCC. We are administrating the NATO Secret and NATO Unclassified networks and connecting the DACCC to the rest of NATO. My IT colleagues and I are making sure that everybody's computer, other IT equipment and software work properly. Even the smallest technical error can majorly affect your work performance nowadays and we are trying to make sure that everything is operational and everybody can do their job.