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10 24 2019

NCI Agency staff awarded NATO's highest honour

Six NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency employees recently received recognition for their dedicated service to NATO.

They were awarded, on behalf of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's highest honour, the Meritorious Service Medal. The Agency honoured the employees in a ceremony on 16 September 2019 for going above and beyond the call of duty.

"We have a lot to be thankful for in the Agency, because we have men and women like yourselves who continue to press forward under sometimes difficult circumstances," General Manager Kevin J. Scheid said at the ceremony.

Each of these employees coordinated challenging projects, inspired effective collaboration and delivered timely results.

Above all, the six showed their commitment to the Agency's mission: to lead NATO's digital endeavour.

"Because you are really working hard and contributing to the Agency's mission and vision, we are successful not only deploying and defending the networks of NATO, but ensuring command, control and consultation," Chief of Staff Major General Göksel Sevindik said.

At the ceremony, each honouree's Service Line Chief or Director summarized their achievement to the audience.

We asked the honourees everything from what drives them to who inspires them. Some described the most rewarding projects they have been a part of. Others provided guidance for new NATO or Agency staff members. All shared compelling insight into what it is like to work for the Agency.

Here's what they had to say. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

NCI Agency staff awarded NATO's highest honour

GP CAPT Quentin Dixon 

Former Commander of CSU Northwood

As commander of CSU Northwood, GP CAPT Dixon's high level of achievement earned him tremendous respect across all levels of the Agency. CSU Northwood is responsible for the provision of wide-ranging Communications and Information Systems (CIS) services to Allied Maritime Command. GP CAPT Dixon not only contributed to the reconstruction of the CIS Support Unit (CSU), but more adequately prepared the CSU by helping it to secure an increase in workforce and financial resources. His careful planning and resolute determination identified him as an officer who could be counted on to raise awareness of key projects, meet operational deadlines and produce quality deliverables, such as the provision of NATO Communications and Information Systems (CIS) to the Standing Naval Forces flagships.

What guidance could you offer someone just starting their career at NATO?

GP CAPT Dixon said, "My advice to anyone embarking on a NATO tour or career is to embrace the many advantages of working within such a diverse organization. You will make many friends and meet colleagues from different backgrounds and services, each with their unique traditions. Each one of them has something to offer, so take this unique opportunity to learn from one another and improve your own knowledge and capabilities."

Ana Marques Pinheiro

Scientist in Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance

Marques Pinheiro's selfless dedication and distinct skillset highlight her as both a role model to NATO civilian staff, and as a leader in the processing and production of geospatial information for NATO's Geographical Information Systems. Marques Pinheiro was awarded the medal for supporting NATO deterrence measures through the development of a geospatial information database. She took ownership of the project and put in months of additional work, despite being on reduced hours for a medical condition. The operation was complicated because of the large territorial area to be included in the database, and the high level of coordination needed between Nations, Commands and contractors among other factors.

You've exhibited a high level of initiative and also made many personal sacrifices. Who inspired you?

Ana Marques Pinheiro said, "I guess my way of working has to do mainly with my personality, but my team as a group is my main inspiration, as we deal with all the projects, big or small, always with one goal: to deliver quality products the best we can and make the customer happy."

LTC Marian Schroeers

Staff Officer, Exercise Planning

LTC Schroeers has played a behind-the-scenes, yet crucial role in some of NATO's most critical exercises. LTC Schroeers's tireless commitment and endurance ensured timely provision of CIS Support to Exercise Trident Juncture in 2018, resulting in a very successful outcome for one of NATO's largest ever exercises. Devoting long hours to a high level of coordination, both across the Agency and with the Command Structure's customers, Allied Command Operations achieved one of their key training goals. LTC Schroeers has also executed to the highest standard planning of CIS support to the upcoming Exercise Trident Jupiter 2019. Carrying out tasks with a superior dedication to detail, LTC Schroeers has become a mentor to new NATO staff officers.

What does it mean for you personally to be a mentor to new staff officers?

LTC Marian Schroeers said, "It is a great honour and big responsibility to be a mentor of our new comrades, as all of them are highly motivated, experienced and full of interest for this new environment and its challenges. To be able to demonstrate to the new comrades the culture and principles of our internal and external collaboration is key for our daily work and our future performance in NATO. Fostering this culture of trust and communication is a critical enabler in our challenging task, as no one is likely to succeed in a given task without the support and engagement of others. As I was a recipient of this sort of support from my colleagues and leaders, I'm very pleased to be able return this favour to our new staff officers."

Berend Seegers

Senior Engineer in Core Enterprise Services

In his role, Seegers took responsibility for the design, implementation and commissioning of CIS infrastructure for the Multinational Division North East Headquarters in Elblag, Poland, effectively connecting the new headquarters with the rest of the Alliance. Seegers led all stages of the project, from technical proposal to cost estimation, contracting, implementation, acceptance tests, and accreditation. As a result of Seegers's expertise and drive to deliver, the project was executed on time and on budget against tight time constraints. Hailed as one of the fastest and most successful deliveries by the Agency of its kind, the project led to enhanced command and control capabilities and cyber resiliency - greatly boosting NATO's Forward Presence in the East.

What is it like to not just manage a project, but see it through from implementation to acceptance tests and accreditation?

Berend Seegers said, "Not only being involved in the management of the project, but also taking part in all other aspects of the project execution, including the agreement of the ongoing support, is empowering. Of course the work is difficult and stressful at times, but witnessing the results and seeing so many colleagues go beyond the call of duty is very motivating."

David Smeeth

Head of Equipment Testing at the CIS Sustainment Support Centre (CSSC)

Smeeth stepped up and took responsibility for several projects key to the CSSC in 2018, demonstrating exceptional non-operational service across multiple fronts. Dispatching his supervisory and managerial duties with distinction, Smeeth led his team to complete instrumental testing of NATO devices. Using TEMPEST methods they validated and verified more than 2,000 complex items were free from surveillance and eavesdropping vulnerabilities. Smeeth also ensured only valid test equipment items were relocated from NATO's CIS School in Latina, Italy. Additionally, he contributed to both the CSSC Forward Support Point project and the rollout of the Enterprise Business Applications (EBA) system. Embodying principle and leadership, Smeeth not only developed much needed EBA training for Agency personnel, but also personally instructed several classes to better prepare CSSC and others for the transition in 2019 to the EBA Work Request and Work Order process.

What is the most exciting project you've been a part of at the Agency?

David Smeeth said, "Working on the spin-up to activation of the NCI Agency Deployable CIS Forward Support Positions (FSPs) at the three NATO Signal Battalions. While this is still an ongoing process, my involvement within CSSC started in early 2017. It is critical to provide preventive and corrective maintenance to ensure the communication and information systems are ready and operational. This is also important to balance the workload for the many new systems coming into the field."

Cornelis Uijl

ANWI Programme Manager

Because of his devotion and tenacity, Uijl was handpicked to serve as Deputy Programme Manager of the Active Network Infrastructure (ANWI) Programme through its most difficult period. The 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. Uijl selflessly volunteered to single-handedly accept the responsibility of managing the ANWI Programme to its conclusion. Uijl then continued to accept additional tasks associated with post-implementation requirements, such as the Business Continuity Project. Further demonstrating his commitment, Uijl commuted weekly to Brussels, Belgium, from The Hague, Netherlands, returning home only on weekends and holidays.

As you've made tremendous personal sacrifices for the sake of NATO, the Agency, and your career, what drives you to not only accept challenging projects, but deliver world-class project management?

Cornelis Uijl said, "Delivering projects and programmes is the NCI Agency's core business. The trust and funding provided by our customers generates an obligation to deliver high quality projects. My drive is to achieve this high quality that we are obliged to. The trust I receive from NCI Agency management is additional motivation. To me, delivering the obliged quality is normal work ethic, nothing extraordinary."