In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers, to defense entrepreneurs.

Jenna Paukstis is the vice president of communications solutions for Northrop Grumman’s new Networked Information Solutions division where she helps provide the military services with capabilities that will link sensors and shooters through Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). Paukstis has been at Northrop Grumman more than 13 years and received a master of science degree in industrial engineering from Penn State.

How did you get involved in the defense industry or community, and how has your military experience influenced your career and your decision making?

I moved to Baltimore after college and worked for a start-up telecom company.  That’s where I discovered Northrop Grumman, being the largest manufacturing company in Maryland. The people, the work, and the mission attracted me to the company, and I have been here happily for 18 years now. I have been very fortunate through various program leadership roles on F-22, F-35, G/ATOR, and B-1 to engage directly with our customers and with our ultimate customers, the warfighters, which has shaped my career, thought process and decision-making.  Delivering the highest quality capabilities to enable our men and women in uniform to succeed in their missions is our number one priority. And working in an amazing field where we pioneer every day to continually provide critical new capabilities at rapidly increasing speeds drives all of us every day.

How do you work to be a mentor to younger counterparts?

I mentor earlier career individuals through several formal and informal avenues.  One way is through one-on-one mentoring sessions. These one-on-one mentoring sessions usually occur on a monthly basis where we talk about everything from career development and planning to strategy to work/life balance. I have several mentees at different locations across Northrop Grumman. I also participate on panel discussions for our Employee Resource Groups and Leadership Cohorts, as well as host shadowing days, roundtables, and All Hands meetings, which are all focused on mentoring early career professionals. I think it is so important to communicate openly, often, and transparently, and to be able to articulate the strategy that you are driving the team to rally behind.

What does it mean to be successful in your career field?

Success for me spans several areas. The first is establishing strong customer relationships (internally and externally), which requires active listening and delivering solutions that meet their mission needs.  There’s nothing more rewarding than having a customer address the employee base and talk about how our solutions are providing critical capabilities to the people that need it most. The second is growing the business, which requires innovation, persistence, and risk-taking, while driving change throughout the organization.  The third is growing the talent, because neither of the first two areas are possible without developing the next generation of leaders.

What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?

All of the positions in this industry are absolutely critical. We are a team and each person has a role that contributes to an important mission. The unsung heroes can be found everywhere throughout the organization, but everyone I meet comes to Northrop Grumman with passion for what they do and we all strive to recognize their accomplishments—large and small. Everyone plays an important role and I feel fortunate to be able to work with such an incredible group of dedicated, intelligent, passionate and talented colleagues.

How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?

Industry can build individuals up by valuing what they do from the concept phase.  This means understanding the true life cycle costs and making the right decisions upfront in the design and architecture to breakdown the silos between development, production, and sustainment for success over the life of the program.  Valuing their inputs can drastically reduce the overall affordability of a program and finding ways to recognize their contributions, which are often not visible to the rest of the company as they may take place in remote locations, is really critical to keeping them inspired and to keeping the mission viable.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

The culture of diversity has changed drastically throughout my career.  As a woman in the industry, I certainly remember in college being a minority in the field of engineering, and that persisted throughout my early career in manufacturing.  I can remember instances where my opinions or inputs were dismissed because I was a female or too “early in career to know better.”  I no longer feel that way and I see the emphasis in particular that Northrop Grumman has placed on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and it has truly enriched my professional experience.  Diversity is not just a buzz word in our workplace – it’s part of our foundation and values and that diversity of thought has absolutely led to greater innovation, greater disruption, and improved performance overall.  It is core to our culture and fabric, and the way our company boldly faces the world’s toughest diversity issues by making them part of our conversation at work and equipping us with tools, techniques, and overall awareness to have those transparent conversations makes me proud to work at Northrop Grumman.

What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?

My advice for new entrants is that it is absolutely an exciting field to be in – your role literally saves lives and enables those who fight for the values we believe in.  One of my favorite quotes is “the pace of change has never been this fast, and will never be this slow again.” The pace at which we are making technological advances both commercially and in defense is staggering. Find the mission that you resonate with and understand how your role plays a part in making that mission successful. Every role we have in defense plays a critical part in the mission’s success.  Build those customer relationships internally and externally because your network will absolutely help you succeed throughout your career.  Do not be afraid to reach out and ask questions and be a change agent. Your voice matters!

What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?

Mission Systems and our new Networked Information Solutions division play a key role as we move to an age of data-driven conflict.  Providing connectivity to those defense assets in order to get the right data to the right sensor at the right time is critical and that is what our solutions enable.  Just as commercial technology has connected everything in our home and daily lives, we are generating resilient networks and communications that are connecting platforms that were never designed to talk to each other.  These connectivity solutions are mission aware and survivable in contested environments as they connect systems at various levels of security to provide the intelligence information needed for real-time decision making through advances in processing, AI/ML, and cyber survivability. This is what Joint All Domain Command and Control is all about and we are positioned to make the “Internet of Warfighting Things” a reality as we connect all (air, space, land and maritime) domains.

Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at forcemultipliers@defensedaily.com.