USGIF’s new working group dedicated to Building Respect, Inclusion, and Diversity for the GEOINT Enterprise (BRIDGE) hosts former DIA Director LtGen Vincent Stewart, USMC (Ret.), as its first guest speaker.
USGIF’s Building Respect, Inclusion, and Diversity for the GEOINT Enterprise (BRIDGE) Working Group held its first official meeting on October 27, and welcomed a very special guest to help get the group underway. Announced as a new working group at the 2022 GEOINT Symposium in Denver, Colorado, the BRIDGE Working Group helps the GEOINT community grow and champion an environment that recognizes diversity as a foundational value.
During this meeting, BRIDGE co-chairs Aaron Kelley of Upslope Advisors and Jennifer Krischer of Maxar Technologies introduced a monthly guest speaker series, “First, But Not Last.” These sessions will be question-and-answer discussions with GEOINT community leaders who have broken ground in the field and will focus on their personal journeys and advice for the community on matters related to diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
LtGen Vincent Stewart, USMC (Ret.), joined the meeting as the inaugural speaker in the series. LtGen Stewart previously served as the 20th Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), where he was the first Black American, first Jamaican American, and first Marine to hold the position. During the meeting, LtGen Stewart spoke about his upbringing—including how his high school football career evolved into his military career—his experience leading in the intelligence community, and his recommended reading list.
LtGen Stewart began his journey as an immigrant at the age of 13 when he moved to America. As he settled into his new country, he learned to play football, first at high school and then at collegiate levels, which led to an approach by military recruiters from the Army and the Marine Corps. He ultimately chose to pursue Officer Candidate School (OCS) in the Marine Corps, noting that while “I got my butt kicked” during OCS, “I was so challenged by the USMC to be part of something bigger than me, it was arguably best in the business.” When asked about his Marine career, he stated, “I joined and served 38 years and have zero regrets.”
His time with the Marines helped prepare him for the challenges he would face in his career, in many cases, as several “firsts” he would hold. He noted he never shied away from seeking opportunities throughout his career: “All I wanted was the opportunity to make my case in an interview.”
Regarding leadership, he shared, “Knowing your profession is an expected part of any job, and the higher you rise in your career, that becomes more apparent.” When asked how he prepared for leadership roles, he mentioned a quote from one of his mentors, “I’ll never be the smartest guy in the room, but I’ll be the most prepared.” He added, “Take the time, study, and think about possible alternatives because when the stage lights come up, you don’t get a second opportunity.”
On the topic of mentorship, LtGen Stewart noted that early in his career, he didn’t have mentors, and it wasn’t until well into his military career that he had people reach out to mentor him. He valued how those people guided him, challenged his assumptions, and suggested things for him to read. As he advanced in his career, he fulfilled a promise to himself to offer others the same mentorship and guidance to individuals in whom he saw promise—whether they were seeking help or not. Stewart shared the kind of advice he provides his mentees: “You better be ready for almost anything. Know your values, stick firm to them, and be prepared.” He added to his sentiment, saying, “If you perform, you will get ahead.”
As for his go-to books, LtGen Stewart highlighted Ron Chernow’s biographies, reaching behind him at one point to pick up the copy of Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton that he keeps in arm’s reach. He also noted The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made A Difference by Theodore Rockwell and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni as books to which he returns for insights. Finally, he recommended the works of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.