HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Capt. Sergio Sierra deployed to the Middle East from October 2017 to April 2018 and coded a better way for coalition forces to request intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets on missions, earning a Bronze Star for his innovation and bringing unique experience back to the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate.
The unit he deployed to asked Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines to act “flat and fast,” prioritizing good ideas over formal hierarchy. In this environment, Sierra shined. While supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, his simple script work left such a mark on operations downrange that commanders noticed an uptick in ISR usage, combat effectiveness and increased situational awareness among many units.
“We call him ‘the myth, the legend,’ around here,” said a U.S. Navy intelligence officer in his assigned unit. “Before he arrived, people were actively avoiding this ISR request system. It was slow, and complicated, and not guaranteed to work. Sierra fixed that, and that fix led to more changes in how we operate.”
Success or failure for many operations is decided during the mission planning phase, before anyone leaves their base. The mission-planning process is time-intensive, but designed to outfit a unit with everything they need to succeed.
Working on a shared network, Sierra identified a choke point in that mission planning, where units heading out to the field avoided requesting ISR so they didn’t need to interact with a cumbersome and error-prone request sheet.
“During deployment, I had a lot of autonomy, and as a result, you can make very positive and lasting impacts,” said Sierra. At Hanscom, he is the executive officer for a division of the C3I&N Program Executive Office that acquires and sustains a family of advanced beyond line-of-sight terminals.
While deployed, Sierra was an ISR liaison officer - the single point of contact for forces requesting ISR assets. He needed to be familiar with more than a dozen Air Force and Army platforms and techniques. He automated the request process, shedding repetitive steps customers needed to manually enter before each mission. These entries added up to a lot of time spent managing paperwork, rather than planning missions.
Sierra’s fix gave the customers that time back, and made ISR requests more common and more complete, leading to appropriate aircraft assignments and better support in the field. Sierra also established new ISR assignment techniques, enabling access to more types and more combinations of platforms and assets. According to the decoration narrative, this innovation led to several firsts for ISR coverage during missions.
“Getting a Bronze Star for something like this is humbling,” said Sierra. “When I was deployed, this was just day-to-day work. Sometimes people assume you need to jump on a grenade or something to pick up an award like this. I tried to fix as many issues as I could while deployed. I was always looking for another project to take on, because I had the autonomy to go out and make impacts if I wanted to.”