When William Shakespeare wrote “though she be but little, she is fierce,” he could have been describing Chief Master Sergeant Nina Ung. Chief Ung serves as the Directorate of Operations Senior Enlisted Leader in National Security Agency Hawai’i (NSA-H), where she leads a team comprised of military and civilian employees tasked with producing foreign signals intelligence and cybersecurity information. According to Chief Ung, a significant strength of her operations team is the blending of civilian and military cultures that generates diverse perspectives.
And, Chief Ung understands the value of a diverse perspective. According to diversity.defense.gov, only about one third of Chief Master Sergeants in the Air Force are female and even less are from Asian descent. So how did Chief Ung navigate and succeed in the enlisted ranks? “I didn’t take the time to think about being a female,” she explains, “I worked hard and proved myself.” And, she’s done that since she joined the Air Force, which she says is the best decision she ever made.
As a seventeen year old growing up on the Big Island of Hawai’i, Chief Ung was immersed in a diverse environment, which instilled a deep appreciation of leveraging varied backgrounds to achieve optimal mission outcomes. She may have suffered a bit of culture shock moving to the mainland, but quickly adapted. Chief Ung credits her mentors, both male and female, for providing her opportunities to grow.
Over the years, the mission at NSA-H has evolved, but their motto “Kina’ ole”-- capturing the spirit of doing the right thing -- persists. It’s also the same spirit that Chief Ung embodies as a leader. During Chief Ung’s pinning on ceremony, a military ceremony where the member receives her new stripe, an NSA colleague shared how Chief Ung’s personal investment in him as a junior enlisted Airman put him on the path to success when he otherwise may not have had the chance.
According to Chief Ung, aspiring intelligence professionals should not let worry, doubt, or fear stand in their way. “If you don’t see your type of leader, then be that leader,” she advises. NSA-H has a wide variety of programs available to K-12 and collegiate-level students that make an effort to appeal to everyone so they can do just that- which attracted a young female intern Chief Ung recently mentored. (More information for students and educators can be found on our Resources for Students and Educators page.) Chief Ung stresses the need to make these opportunities known to all, especially at a time when women still receive less than 20 percent of computer and information science degrees.
Thankfully, Chief Ung has not let barriers stand in her way. Her fresh perspective on leadership and mission inspires her team and drives NSA-H Operations to live up to that motto: Kina’ ole.