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May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and NRO would like to highlight the work and effort Maj Yong Sinn puts in everyday being a member of the NRO’s Front Office.
Q: What is your current position in the NRO?
A: I am the executive officer to the principal deputy director of the NRO. I’ve been in this position for about 10 months supporting Dr. Meink directly in the Front Office. Essentially, I’m responsible for keeping him on track, making sure he’s prepared for meetings, and ensuring his success. I do the behind-the-scenes tasks and primarily play the supporting role to make sure he’s good to go on a daily basis. I find this to be the most dynamic position I’ve ever been in, and have learned a ton in this role.
Q: How long have you worked at NRO?
A: This is my fourth position with the NRO. I like to tell folks that this is my second tour at the NRO and that I came back because I liked it so much. I started my first tour at ADF-E in 2014. I supported projects for COMM and MOD, and helped each directorate integrate their projects onto the facility. I then moved to Westfields for about a year and supported the COMM Space Systems Group.
During that time, I applied to a program sponsored by the NRO to obtain my Master’s Degree. I was fortunate enough to be selected for the Air Force Institute for Technology Computer Science program, where I spent approximately two years in Dayton, Ohio. My thesis used Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR)-like data and artificial neural networks to detect objects. This gave me get a head start on my next position in GED.
In GED, I was assigned to the Integrated System Program Office (ISPO) and supported OPIR programs, specifically “OPIR Platform” and “Consolidated OPIR Ground System.” ISPO’s focus is on OPIR data and, since I was familiar with OPIR data, I felt it made my job a lot easier because I knew the phenomenology and the terminology used.
Q: Where has been your favorite place to travel to with Dr. Meink?
A: I’d say it was when we went to INDOPACOM. I had never been to Hawai’i and it’s such a beautiful place. I got to sit with the operational folks who are actively monitoring what’s going on in the Pacific region. We had the chance to visit the command centers and the intelligence shops. Being able to interface and see what they do every day provides a different perspective than what I was used to. Here, we’re on the front end of the intelligence process and out there, you see how our products and tools are being used. We were able to see what they found to be most helpful, what they found to be least helpful, and get that direct feedback from the community.
Q: What made you decide to go into the military?
A: It was really happenstance. Going through college at University of Texas-San Antonio, I had two roommates. One joined Air Force ROTC, the other joined Army ROTC, I’d hear about their days and activities and, out of curiosity, I thought “well let me see what this is about.” I didn’t really know much about the Air Force and what opportunities they had. You have a general idea going through school, and I knew I wanted to do something related to engineering. I decided to join the Air Force ROTC and, from there, it was a smooth transition to get a scholarship from the Air Force. I commissioned in 2011.
Q: What got you interested in space?
A: Growing up in Texas and having lived there my whole life, I wanted to see what it was like on the West Coast. My first assignment was what is now Vandenberg Space Force Base—it was still an Air Force Base when I was there—and I was assigned to a launch squadron. I ended up in the space field by luck and location. My first position was as a responsible engineer, where I provided mission assurance for launch vehicle processing. My squadron took previous intercontinental ballistic missile boosters, like Minuteman and Peacekeepers, and repurposed them into space launch vehicles.
Q: What inspires you to do your best in and out of uniform?
A: Definitely my family. They play a major role in my life. My wife is the most patient person I know. I have two daughters who have huge personalities and it can be a challenge to keep up with them, but she’s able to do it while also allowing them to grow into themselves. Seeing them grow up and how interested my oldest is in what I do keeps me motivated.
Q: May is Military Appreciation Month, and it’s also Asian American Pacific Islander Month. What does the combination mean to you?
A: My parents are first-generation Americans. They each came over with their families when they were in high school and met each other when they got to the U.S. They got married and settled in Texas. In my immediate family, I was the first to complete college and was also the first to join the military, which is really cool. My younger sister also has graduated with her Master’s. My parents have been very motivational for me. It’s hard to think about their path—moving to a new country, starting over, and doing well enough that their kids can be successful.
Q: What makes you proud to work at the NRO?
A: I would say the people. Everyone I work with genuinely cares about what they do and the mission they support. They can see the long-term impacts that they have. I also really like the leadership here. They understand that our people enable the mission and empower them to carry out their part of the program. There is also a cultural difference between the IC and DoD—here I see junior officers assigned to complex programs and given a lot of responsibility.