At Amentum, we celebrate our people, our cultures, and we recognize the value of diversity and inclusion. In March, we’ll focus on Women’s History Month while shining a light on one employee at a time. Today’s Q&A is with Nicole Dircks, ES&T, Fusion Center TDL Lead, Development Engineering & Innovation (DEI), INDOPACOM Innovation & Experimentation Support Services Program.
How did your military service prepare you for a successful career at Amentum?
20 years of military service gave me the fortitude to tackle tough projects independently and lead them through to a high standard of completion.
How did you come to join Amentum?
As Joint Interagency Task Force West’s Counter Narcotics Operations Center (JIATF-W CNOC) Chief, I worked with an Amentum employee (Lynn Mariano) on continuity of operations (COOP) planning. He recognized that I was retiring soon, and Amentum and I might be a good fit for each other. I had worked closely with U.S. and partner nation interagency organizations throughout the Indo Pacific, namely Oceania. I loved the work. Meanwhile, Amentum was charged by INDOPACOM with establishing a fusion center within Oceania. As it turned out, it was a great fit.
What is your professional and personal background?
I was born on Kauai, raised in Nevada, spent a good portion of my career either deployed or based out of San Diego. I came full circle and returned home to Hawaii. I went to college in Las Vegas where I majored in Public Relations and Minored in Marketing. I joined the Navy after college; my original intent was to be a public affairs officer, but intelligence officer sounded so much cooler! Turns out, they’re very similar – both distill information for an audience, which is a passion of mine. On the personal side, I grew up in the kitchen next to my mom, who was a fierce woman. From her I developed a passion for cooking and learned to face challenges head on.
Describe the work you do and how you think it makes a positive impact.
I essentially bring partner nation interagency organizations together to improve their ability to view and analyze their operating environment. It’s crucial in this era of great power competition to unify efforts with likeminded partners viewing the same operating environment. There’s definite overlap with Women Peace and Security that I look forward to exploring.
What are some of your accomplishments and/or what has been your proudest career moment?
I received my Master Training Specialist certification from the Fleet intelligence Training Center in San Diego in 2011. I earned a master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the Navy War College in 2016, recently received my PMP certification, and I’m the boss of my PTSD every day. My proudest moment is actually kind of funny – I was briefing Vice Admiral William Gortney and his Council of Captains when he was Commander, U.S. Navy Central Command. I was the Section Chief for counter piracy operations at the height of Somali piracy. VADM Gortney asked his captains if U.S. operations were actually deterring pirate operations. There was dead silence in the room. So, I spoke up and told him no, that in fact piracy attacks were increasing exponentially. He asked his Captains why it takes an O3 to be honest with him, and again – total silence. So, I spoke up and told him half-jokingly it’s because I had less to lose. This really tickled him, and he stood up, shook my hand, and gave me his command coin. It reinforced my conviction to always speak truth to power, which I’ve endeavored to do throughout my career. I find that strong leaders appreciated it.
What do you enjoy about working for Amentum?
Amentum makes a concerted effort to take care of me and gives me the trust and room I need to execute my responsibilities. Leadership is there to guide me, but not micromanage me, which I truly appreciate. Moreover, the people I work with and for are just top notch personally and professionally. I’m honored to work alongside them.
What are you passionate about?
Downtrodden people, animals, work, empowering women, and designing my condo. I have a soft spot for up-and-coming women and take them under my wing whenever possible. Conversely, I look up to women more senior than me and seek their guidance and mentorship.
What’s your career advice?
Empower your subordinates, your peers and your supervisors. That entails anticipating their needs, forging through rice bowls, taking the high road in conflict, being a calming and steadfast presence, and generally taking care of people, regardless of their position.
What does safety mean to you or do you have a favorite safety tip?
I’ve lost friends in the armed service due to safety mishaps both on and off the job. So, safety is ingrained in everything I do. From taking an Uber if I plan to have a cocktail, to defensive driving, to observing my surroundings, I’m constantly planning ahead to mitigate any mishaps, and I encourage my team to do the same.
What’s the best invention in the world and why?
Sliced bread! I don’t know what I’d do without sandwiching a bounty of foods between two slices. I’d have to stop working to eat!
Anything else you would like to share from a personal or professional perspective?
Two times in my career I experienced harassment and gender discrimination. Both times debilitated me emotionally, but never professionally. My mother always said, “Never let them see you sweat.” So, I handled those incidents head-on with my head held high. In the face of harassment, I became my commands’ equal opportunity program manager. In the face of discrimination, I ultimately raised the issue to the INDOPACOM Inspector General’s Office. Seeing the matter through was not an easy process, but it endeared me to several women who experienced what I experienced; and speaking up for them made it worth it.
What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
To me it means I’m not alone and my voice is heard. I was raised in the ranks before #MeToo and saw and experienced both active and passive discriminations. More often than not, I was the only woman in a room and felt compelled to ensure that what I had to impart was heard. For it, I earned the moniker “Honey Badger,” which I’m proud of. Women’s History Month gives me the conviction that I have value to contribute, and so I will, even if I have to battle issues head on.