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12 10 2019

NCI Agency deployed: The experience on the ground

The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency contributes to NATO operations by delivering the technical equipment and expertise troops need to communicate effectively.

But supporting NATO operations remotely is not enough on its own. That's why Agency employees volunteer to deploy – to support the end users in person.

Some of our employees recently shared what their deployment experience was like on a personal and professional level.

Nick Hillman, for example, deployed in 2017 to Afghanistan as a Staff Officer for the Resolute Support (RS) Mission.

"One of the aspects that I was surprised by was my lack of knowledge in respect to what the NATO RS Mission was actually doing in Afghanistan, with this being made clear to me during my in-briefing in Kabul," he said. "RS is focused on training, advising and assisting the Afghan military and police."

He worked in both the NATO base at Kabul International Airport and at the NATO headquarters in downtown Kabul, with transport between the two being by military helicopter.

"This was something of a personal highlight as the routes would be changed frequently and you would get to see a lot of Kabul from the air," he said.

Life on the base was "comfortable, but not luxurious," he said, noting that "there is plenty to keep you busy when you aren't working, including the gym, occasional movie nights and national celebrations, plus good restaurants and military dining facilities."

"I found the work rewarding, and a change from the normal office environment back in The Hague or Brussels," he said.

He enjoyed the experience and was glad that he had deployed. Though work didn't really stop for the weekends, he did take holiday time to recharge after deployment.

NCI Agency deployed: The experience on the ground

"I have no regrets about going and would happily recommend to others to do the same," he said. "We all need to get out of our comfort zones sometimes and experience other aspects of how NATO works. For us in our offices we rarely see anything other than computer screens and paperwork."

Captain Joyce Lewis, who deployed in 2018 to assist RS, also noted that the environment while deployed was completely different.

"My volunteer experience was wonderful," CPT Lewis said. "I was given the opportunity to work in an environment completely different from my day-to-day duties, along with meeting other members within the Agency."

CPT Lewis served as the Chief Logistics Officer for RS Signal Support Group.

"I volunteered on my own as I wanted the challenge in operating in the NATO mission in Afghanistan," CPT Lewis.

Logisticians contribute to every mission in a big way. The logistics team makes sure that all NATO members and units have the equipment they need to do their jobs. The team makes sure the equipment works, and that any unused items are reclaimed or repurposed.

"It greatly opened my eyes to how we as NATO partners work together to achieve a single goal," CPT Lewis said of the deployment.

If you want to volunteer to support a NATO mission, CPT Lewis said you must be ready to work.

"Your biggest challenge will come from learning and accepting new ways of doing business," CPT Lewis said. "In order to be successful on your support mission, keep an open mind. Consider how other nations handle situations different from what you are accustomed to."

US Army Colonel Rodney Duncan served in 2018 as the Commander of the RS Signal Support Group. The Support Group is responsible for providing all NATO communications in theatre, which support more than 3,500 users. COL Duncan is now retired.

COL Duncan discussed the opportunity to volunteer with NCI Agency General Manager Kevin Scheid.

"He fully endorsed me volunteering and highlighted the importance of supporting NATO operational missions," COL Duncan said.

The most rewarding part of the tour was working with stakeholders from other NATO and non-NATO nations, COL Duncan said. It was enlightening to hear how different personnel contribute to meeting NATO's goals, COL Duncan said.

"The time spent in support of RS was outstanding," COL Duncan said. "The opportunity to support a vital NATO mission via the NCI Agency was priceless."

COL Duncan recommended others volunteer for a tour.

"Go for it; you will not regret the experience," COL Duncan said. "The relationships built and lessons learned most certainly will benefit the individual and the Agency upon the return home."