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Spartan Spotlight

Elizabeth Stern

My story starts a little different than most veterans of my age. Growing up, it was never a question of if I would go to college. My three sisters and I were always going to get higher educations. I was a college freshman, English focused in Journalism, in South Georgia on September 11, 2001. That event would shape all of my adulthood, I just didn’t realize how or when. When I was a senior in college, I decided to take a semester from school to figure out what I really wanted to do as an adult. It surprised everyone, including myself, when I enlisted in the Navy (originally Nuke) in 2006. Service to others was something I was taught by parents, grandparents, aunts, & uncles; I’m the 9th generation Phillips to serve in the military. I didn’t know what to expect, but was given amazing advice by my Uncle, who served in the Air Force in Korea. Shortly before leaving, I changed my mind on my career field. I decided not to go Nuke and instead, Information Systems Technician. Full disclosure, the most IT experience I had up to that point was crashing 4 stand-alone Apple computers at the school newspaper in one afternoon.

While in IT “A” School in Pensacola, FL, I met my very soon-to-be husband. We were engaged after knowing each other 2 months, married 2 months after that. Coming out of Pensacola, we were both stationed in Hawaii. I got orders to the USS Hopper (DDG-70), and he was headed to JICPAC (soon after, became DIA). I showed up to the Hopper in January 2007, eager, nervous, and feeling like a complete imposter. However, I managed to have a great Chief and pretty good crew in Radio. Within my first underway, I was learning how to make satellite connections, load crypto, and make network accounts. Within my second, I learned what it really meant to be a sailor, especially on a “small boy.” Soon, I was a line handler, Repair Locker 5 fire fighter, worked Damage Control, and learned how to needle gun with the best of them. We had a great CO, whom I’d love to work for again.

My time on the Hopper wasn’t meant to last. I fell down a ladder well, crashing into CIC’s door. After being on board 11 months, I was put on Limited Duty for medical. I was sent to NCTAMS PAC in Wahiawa for 6 months of LIMDU, which turned into 12 months. After almost year, I was up for orders. My then Chief had already worked with the detailer to get my orders made permanent and surprised me with the news. It was fortunate, a few weeks later we found out we were expecting our older son. During all of this, I advanced in rank very quickly. I made E-5 in 1 year, 10 months.

While at NCTAMS, I helped establish the Operations Department’s new training division, allowing for the new junior enlisted to qualify in SATCOM and NOC operations quickly. I also created an advancement training program, resulting in the department increasing E-4 to E-6 advancement by over 15%. After training, I worked in Tech Control, becoming qualified in various SATCOM technologies and connections. I also was a COMSEC Supervisor, managing over 100 circuits and 8,000-line items of crypto daily.

While my EAOS date was nearing, I quickly realized being a mother was more important than being a sailor. I did not re-enlist, instead served a 5-year enlistment. I was recruited by a large contracting company to work Information Assurance for DIA. We stayed on Oahu for 2 more years, before moving to Colorado Springs, CO. We chose CoS first for the education systems, second because I was able to change career paths slightly within the same contract with DIA. My husband and I made the decision he would be a stay at home dad to our son, while going to school using his GI Bill. We were blessed unexpectedly with a second son in 2015, which extended his time home with our now 4-year-old.

In 2016, I was at a vital crossroads for my career. I had a job offer to join a small business, with the chance to pivot protectories immensely. I had also received an offer from Invictus after the company won the new iteration of the contract I’d been supporting for over 5 years. I went back and forth for over a week, torn between a new opportunity with a familiar company or go to Invictus and continue supporting DIA IA. I, thankfully, chose Invictus. The first time I heard Jim Kelly talk was his conference call with his new employees that had been supporting DIA. He had a passion for the agency’s mission that was unparalleled. Within a few weeks of transitioning, I volunteered and was chosen to be a section lead for the contract. I guess I was showing my Unconquered spirit early on.

I met Jim, Jamie Navarro, Sean Hensen, April Jackson, Ric Humphries, and the rest of the HQ crew in April 2017. I showed up at the HQ office, ready to meet the rest of the leadership team at our first offsite. We’re sitting around the large conference table, going over the plan for the day, when Jim came in the room. He introduced himself, and began talking. Jim commands a room by just being in it.  He let everyone know there was no difference in his mind of his employees. Everyone was treated as equals. It radiated from the top, and it shows. Invictus is a family, teetering on cult.

That first trip to Invictus HQ ended with a sit-down with Jim. He asked if I’d ever consider moving to the DC area. There was no hesitation in my response of a hard no. My family was the most important part of my life. DMV-area couldn’t provide the quality of life and education the boys have in Colorado. He didn’t like my response but said he respected my choice. That has been a concurrent theme in our relationship. This past December, Jim finally met my husband after 3 years at our local Invictus Holiday party. He starts telling the table about one of those conversations. When he gets to why I always say no, he looked directly in Mike’s eyes and told him point blank, that’s the right choice. I don’t ever have to worry about putting my family second to my career.

As an Unconquered, I have experienced more professionally and personally than I could have ever imagined. I have been a part of Intelligence Community teams, changing how the entire IC reports cyber security to Congress. Within the program I support, my leadership has always encouraged me to try, and supported me when most would be apprehensive. Invictus, as a company, has never put anything above the employees. I can, and have, called every one of our Corporate side whenever needed.

I always stop by HQ when I travel to DC, even if the only chance I have is right after flying all day. I never know who I’d find, or where I’d be told to go by whom. I have never been treated as anything but one of the team. I bet those guys have no idea how much it meant to be validated as an equal. Sitting with Jim, Jamie, Sean, James Jr, and crew at TJ Stones, I met former DIA Directors, retired Admirals, and learned so much about Invictus, Jim, and what being the Unconquered really means.

We defend the gates. We work harder than anyone else. We put in everything we have to everything we do. We don’t stop. We make the trip to attend meetings the next day after getting day-before notice. We stay until the problem is solved. We use our collective team and knowledge to support our missions, across all missions. I know being part of Invictus has changed me for the better, fundamentally. The last four and a half years have been the best of my career. Invictus isn’t just a company, it’s a family that supports each other from the top down. I’ll always be grateful to be one of The Unconquered.