Cheryl Barkoczy — St. Augustine, FL
Intelligence, Government Contractor
You started out your career working for the NSA. What brought you to working for the federal government?
While in my 3rd semester of college, I learned from a high school friend that there were language learning opportunities in the United States Air Force (USAF). I did not come from a military family and, therefore, my knowledge of the military came solely from grade school history classes. About a week after speaking with my friend, I walked into the local Air Force recruiter’s office, told him that I was interested in becoming a linguist, took the necessary aptitude tests, and shipped out for basic training a month later. As it turns out, this seemingly impulsive course of action was one of the best decisions I have ever made!
You know both Farsi and Russian – quite a difference! How did you come by learning and understanding these languages and their cultures?
Upon completion of the Air Force Basic Training course, I was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA to learn Russian. This 48-week program was exceedingly intensive and included not only language instruction, but also provided an in-depth look into the Russian culture. Towards the end of my 6-year commitment to the USAF, I decided to reenlist for another 4 years. Under the terms of my reenlistment contract, I was sent back to the Defense Language Institute for another 48-week course, only this time I learned Persian-Farsi.
When you transitioned to the private sector, what obstacles did you experience?
Towards the end of my second enlistment in the USAF, I was deployed to Afghanistan. I ran into former military coworkers of mine who were then working as deployed contractors. These individuals spoke highly of the contracting field and suggested that I put a resume together in the event I decided to separate from the military. A few months later, I had made the decision to leave active duty and got in touch with those same contractor friends. I passed on my resume which soon made it into the hands of the Program Manager for the position I was looking to apply for. The fact that I had friends within the company who were willing and able to vouch for my performance was undoubtedly the reason that my resume was placed towards the top of the potential new-hire list, which resulted in my employment soon thereafter.
Were you prepared for them/were they foreseen, or were you surprised?
Due to the fact that I had friends within the company that I desired to work for, I did not encounter as many obstacles as an individual who was venturing out into the private sector alone. That being said, I was discouraged by how long it took for me to get an interview for the deployed position. After nearly a month, I was brought in for an interview but only after a number of follow up phone calls and persistence on my part.
The fact of the matter is that this is not an isolated incident. Almost 4.5 years have passed since my initial pursuit of employment in the private sector and I am again encountering countless delays and disappointments. I have applied to several positions but the process is still as slow as I remember it being immediately following my separation from the military. There are times when I receive a phone call from a recruiter within a day of applying for a position but, in other cases, I may not even get a confirmation acknowledging my application for weeks. That is the nature of the game. In many ways it reminds me of a common phrase I heard throughout my time in the military: “Hurry up and wait.” This mindset is just as true in the private sector.
Despite these setbacks, I am continuing to remain optimistic and am still giving 110% with my current employer. I believe that the right contracting position is out there for me as long as I remain patient and never stop pursuing my career dreams.
Was your goal always to continue working for the government as a contractor? What was your decision making process?
Originally, I planned on retiring from the USAF but I started to doubt that course of action during the last 6 months of my enlistment. One of the key factors that influenced my decision to join the public sector was my desire to deploy on a more frequent basis. In my 10 years on active duty, I deployed only twice for 3 months each. The limited deployment opportunities were due to the nature of my career field but my strong desire to service my country overseas would not subside. Another reason for leaving the military was my aspiration to experience other aspects of the Intelligence Community. As a linguist in the USAF, my cross-training options were limited. The best chance for me to explore various aspects of intelligence was to try my luck in the private sector.
While deployed I made some lasting friendships and was exposed to a variety of unique situations. I am thankful for the 3 years I spent in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), but I am now looking forward to spending more time in the United States, closer to family and friends. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for contractors to work outside of a hazardous duty area that still allow these individuals to provide direct and indirect support to our troops and fellow contractors working on the front lines. Even so, I understand that, in the intelligence field, deployments are often a necessity. I will not shy away from future deployed assignments but I hope to limit the duration of these deployments to fewer than 6 months whenever possible.
Whats next for you? What types of opportunities are you looking for currently?
I am currently seeking to progress further into the field of Analysis. For over ten years I have been conducting various forms of analysis but strive to expand my experience directly in Intelligence Analysis.
The company I currently work for does not have any opportunities for career enhancement in the field of Intelligence Analysis. This is truly unfortunate because I am a devoted employee who will be saddened to leave such an excellent group of people.
I do not have as much documented analysis experience as many companies would like to have in their candidates, but I am not letting that deter me. In addition to my 10+ years working directly within the Intelligence Community, I am excellent at conducting research, enjoy compiling and filling out required documentation, have excellent typing skills, and am exceptionally organized and hard-working.
I remain optimistic that among the dozens of Analyst positions I have applied for, there is at least one company that will allow me to demonstrate my strong abilities and desire to excel in Analysis. I have no doubt that I will be an excellent Intelligence Analyst who will continue to be an asset to the defense and security of our great nation and global allies.
Any other advice for those thinking about the contracting realm in this field?
One of the best pieces of advice that I can pass along to prospective contractors is that connections are crucial when venturing out into the private sector. In my case, I kept in touch with military friends who separated from active duty and went on to work as contractors. It was the connections I had with these individuals that allowed me to slide somewhat easily into the contracting world. Even if you leave one job and move onto another, I would highly recommend keeping in touch with former coworkers or managers with whom you had a good working relationship.
It is important to remember that, with few exceptions, the private sector does not come with guaranteed job security. Contracts come and go, get extended or go into re-bid. Maintaining open connections from the past and into the present may end up being exactly what you need in the future.
Read more stories about members of our database: Fed Stories