Volume 05, Issue 1
|Integrated Defense Systems|
Protecting national secrets
What do employees on classified programs do? They can't tell you--but they're on the front lines of U.S. security
BY MICHELLE ROBY
Their workday begins like that of any other Boeing employee, with the usual good-bye to family and the usual commute. But then they enter a world known only to a few, a world where protecting knowledge is imperative to the security of the United States and its allies.
They're employees who work on classified programs.
Each classified-program employee embraces the challenge to protect the secrets of some of the United States' most sensitive national space and intelligence programs, but they don't consider their efforts extraordinary. Like all Boeing employees, they pride themselves on delivering results that meet or exceed the customer's expectations and help build a better future for Boeing.
"Boeing's classified-program employees play a vital role in our nation's defense," said Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems, the Boeing division employing the majority of classified-program employees.
Personal integrity at work
Every Boeing program contains pockets of information that require protection. However, information within classified programs has an added element of control due to U.S. security needs. "If you don't do your job, you can put others in real peril," said Sheree Walker, a systems engineer and technical subcontract manager.
Like other employees, classified-program employees understand the importance of the information they've been entrusted with and the outcome of compromising that information. That understanding accounts for the personal ownership employees have for their work. "I honestly believe in what I do because it supports freedom across the world," said Dave Bever, a program manager. "Our classified work supports the men and women in uniform and the safety of everyone in this nation."
Most classified-program employees aren't aware of the exact nature of their job until they're briefed, or "read" into the program, by Security. Many don't know what to expect at first, but they soon start to understand the significance. "Once I was read into the program, I knew hands-down I wanted to pursue this as a career," said engineer Sarah Vaneekhoven. "It was so important to the nation. I wanted to make sure the program thrived."
Balancing secrecy, community
While many classified-program employees work in areas and locations known only to a few, others labor among the greater Boeing population, indistinguishable from anyone else except for the buildings they enter. While they maintain an aura of secrecy about their job, they make sure they connect with their family and Boeing colleagues to participate in community activities.
While "outside," these employees must continuously guard the information they have. "I always have to remember where I am and when I can discuss certain topics," said systems engineer May Tassler.
Similarly, when employees leave the office, there isn't much of an opportunity to discuss work with family and friends. For employees' children, the mystery of what their parent does is difficult to understand based on what they see on television or hear during "Show and Tell" at school. It's also hard when there are restrictions on bringing visitors into the office. "It is a hard concept for the kids to understand that you can come to their school, but they can't come to your work," said Denny Hodge, a Boeing associate technical fellow.
Working on classified programs does make discussing work with family difficult, but not impossible. "They understand that we can't talk about what we do," said Manny Yi Donoy, Quality manager. "They trust us completely and vigorously support us. That support speaks volumes to how we feel about our work and the dedication we have to our job."
Unique to these employees is an understanding and acceptance that the rest of Boeing--and the majority of Americans--will probably never hear of the successes of their programs beyond their immediate circles. And they're OK with that knowledge, knowing as Boeing employees they can take pride in the successes of their peers. "I get a kick out of hearing what's going on around the company, like the International Space Station, C-17 and 787," said Charles Hebert, chief engineer for FishTools software. "It's cool because Boeing is so diverse. But for my part, publicity isn't really why I do this."
"The nature of the work makes it very challenging, and every success is rewarding," said Tammy Povak, a systems engineer. Working within a like-minded community is a source of satisfaction for many employees, including those in this group. "The rewards of working with highly motivated, smart people who share my enjoyment in tackling some of the world's most formidable scientific and technical challenges--that's why I'm here," said Jim Soash, a deputy program manager.
And for some, it's about career growth. "I never would have thought I could start a new career working on classified programs after so many years in the airline industry," said Ralph Lennon, X6 risk manager. "I sometimes pinch myself to make sure it's real." For others, the opportunity to devote time to a worthwhile cause is the motivating factor. Said software engineer Jason Weller: "I always wanted to serve our country in some way, and this allows me to do that."
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