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News | Sept. 20, 2023

From Puerto Rican Family Values to NSA Leadership Principles: Dennis Velez’s Story

This National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re proud to bring you the “Mucho Gusto!” or “Nice to meet you!” series of weekly interviews featuring members of NSA’s Hispanic and Latino (HLAT) Employee Resource Group (ERG). Our interviewees embrace what we share in common and celebrate what makes us unique, in keeping with the year’s theme, Todos Somos. Somos Uno: We are all. We are One. This week, we’d like to introduce you to ERG member Dennis Velez.
Where are you originally from and what would you like to share about your upbringing?
I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and raised in Adjuntas, a small town in the mountains. I am the oldest child and have two sisters. My parents were the first to attend college in the family. Both had to work to be able to complete their education, and they continued their education as they raised us. My father studied law and has been practicing ever since, while my mother went on to get multiple masters degrees and retired as the southern region coordinator for the PR Department of Education. Early on, I saw that hard work, having goals, and treating people with dignity and respect were key elements to a successful life. 

What does this year’s NHHM theme “Todos Somos. Somos Uno: We are all. We are One” mean to you?
I think about the fact that our country was founded on that same principle. From many, one country emerged. While there are many different Hispanic heritages in the USA, we share many traits and aspirations. Love for family, our neighbors, and country are a few things that bind us. So I think it is the perfect theme to celebrate NHHM.

How has your ethnic heritage shaped the person you are today, personally or professionally?
For me, it started with family. Growing up, I always had plenty of family around me. From my parents I saw the goodness of hard work, having goals, treating everyone the way you want to be treated and most importantly to be close to family. I’ve had a great career in the Navy and have had the opportunity to lead great Americans on ships and shore commands. My philosophy has been pretty consistent across my 32 years of service: 1. Mission accomplishment – you have to work to get the job done, 2. Teamwork, treat everyone with dignity and respect, 3. Have goals - grow professionally and personally every day and help the people you lead do the same, 4. Finally, take care of your family, because at the end of a career, we all want a place to go home to. So for my part as Hispanic American, my heritage is intertwined in my philosophy.

How did you come to work for the Agency and what part of your job do you love the most?
My entire career has been onboard Navy warships as a Surface Warfare Officer. In my 32 years of active service, I’ve been in intelligence and cybersecurity among other fields, so I was really surprised when I was selected to be the Plans & Policy Director for Cyber Command. What I bring to the organization is a different perspective, that of an operator. I enjoy the newness of everything we do here. It is indeed the closest thing I’ve seen to a startup and it is exciting to be in the middle of all the changes and driving future capability.

If I handed you a magic wand, what would be your ideal workplace in terms of diversity, equality and inclusion? What does that look like for NSA as a whole?
I would want a place where every individual is respected and valued by the skill and effort they bring to the important work of defending our Nation. 

What advice would you have for aspiring NSA employees?
Bloom where you are planted and be positive. Have goals and revisit them regularly and make sure your leaders know your aspirations. Good leaders will support you and help you on your way to success. Back to the 4 topics on my philosophy: 1. Mission accomplishment, 2. Treat others with dignity and respect, 3. Have goals – grow every day and 4. Take care of your families.

Extra question: If you could pick one word to represent what NHHM means to you, what would it be?