By Karen Gilbert
National Reconnaissance Office
During National Hispanic Heritage Month (NHHM), I chatted with Ledia Rivera, the Principal Deputy of the Communications System Directorate (COMM) and senior champion for the NRO Hispanic Advisory Network (NHAN) and Jessenia Merced-Gonzalez, COMM’s Chief of Staff and Chair of the NHAN.
Karen: Ledia and Jessenia, first, thank you both for taking time from your busy schedules to talk to me.
Ledia: My pleasure, thank you.
Jessenia: You are most welcome.
Karen: We are having this conversation during National Hispanic Heritage Month, what does this month mean to you both?
Jessenia: For me it is a time to reflect on my history and heritage. I think of the pioneers that lead the path for us, the challenges that we face, and how we can make a better future.
Ledia: I agree. Growing up I admired the contributions of Hispanics such as Cezar Chavez and Roberto Clemente. English is my second language and my mom did not speak English, so I contribute the improvement of my English to watching Rita Moreno on Sesame Street. During this month I encourage everyone to learn more about our struggles, our history and our contributions to this great Nation.
Karen: This year’s theme is “be proud of the past and embrace the future” how has each of you done this in your lives and careers at NRO?
Ledia: I am very proud of my Puerto Rican heritage. My achievements are based on my strong cultural foundation. Family is always first - honoring family traditions and special moments, encouraging each other, and listening to Latin music after a busy day to lift my spirits. My colleagues are like my extended family. When I look around me I am very encouraged by the talent that we have working at NRO such as Jessenia. I often tell these young officers you are the future leaders and life’s challenges make you stronger.
Jessenia: Thank you Ledia. I am also proud of being born and raised in Puerto Rico. It was blessing and honor to experience growing up on a small island with limited resources, but yet so rich in culture and family oriented. Our culture has many traditions and cooking is one of them. I remember my mom made wonderful dishes like arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice with pigeon’s peas), pernil (slow roasted pork) and pasteles (taro root and plantain pork pockets).. Sometimes we would go to my abuelita’s (grandmother) house to drink Puerto Rican coffee in the afternoon even on a hot summer afternoon.
Besides cultural traditions, my Hispanic heritage provides me with the foundation of hard work. I work hard every day to ensure that I contribute my best to the NRO mission. I embrace the future with great hopes that our current efforts will continue to improve our Hispanic legacy. To that end, I am mentoring and leading my Hispanic workforce so that they, too, are ready for the future.
Ledia: Jessenia, that is so very true. My family also instilled the principals of hard work, personal dedication, and the spirit to never give up. They would often say “Si se puede,” meaning “Yes you can,” which I adopted in my life and use to encourage others.
Karen: Ledia, What is a senior champion for the NHAN?
Ledia: In this role I open doors to more junior officers, hear their concerns, and provide guidance. It is a great way to see the new generation in action. Our employees get an opportunity to network, and develop new skills. Being a senior champion is also my way to pay it forward to the next generation just as I benefited in my career from others investing their time encouraging and guiding me.
Jessenia: Being Chair of the NHAN enriched my time at NRO in numerous ways. The NHAN provides activities such as leadership training, mentoring sessions, or just simply “get together” to learn about our different cultures. In previous years, during NHHM we brought Hispanic singers, and dancers to promote our culture. We also offered a diverse Hispanic Menu in the cafeteria. Activities like these help strengthen our NRO workforce and promote diversity.
Karen: Jessenia, you are part of the new CADRE workforce at NRO, why did you choose to work at NRO?
Jessenia: I have supported the NRO since 2008 as a contractor and loved the NRO mission. After a few years, I decided that I wanted to be in the decision making chain, so in 2015 I became NRO CADRE.
Karen: Ledia, as a senior leader at the NRO, what is your advice for those thinking of applying here?
Ledia: As a young girl from a small town in Puerto Rico raised in Bronx, NY, I could never imagine the wonderful career I have had here. Each day I get the honor of working side by side with outstanding men and women from all walks of life. The work environment is great and the mission is critical to the safety of our Nation. This is my invitation to come and join us.
Karen: Ledia and Jessenia, it has been a pleasure speaking with both of you and thank you for your service to the Nation.