AF civilian named as ‘service to America’ finalist

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  • By Partners for Public Service Public Affairs
War and sectarian violence in the Middle East and heightened tensions with Russia have put the interests of the United States and our allies at risk. This makes reliable and timely intelligence vital both for the U.S. warfighters who need to make tactical decisions on the front lines, and the top policymakers in Washington and Europe.

At the center of this effort is 33-year-old Cate Pappas, a civilian Air Force intelligence analyst and a 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal finalist.

Stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Pappas works with about 160 Airmen engaged in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and is responsible for providing analysis of these intelligence-gathering operations to the European, African and Central military commands. She has been successful at implementing a process for quickly identifying and communicating unusual activity in these regions to the Pentagon, to local commanders and to our allies.

“She ensures that the right information gets to the right people at the right time,” said Capt. Jason Buell, the director of operations for Pappas' squadron. “She is able to look at the strategic, operational and tactical level of any problem.”

Col. James Lawrence said Pappas has worked to bridge the gap between the active-duty military who collect the data and the national security experts who use the findings to shape U.S. policy.

“She can filter through all the information and tailor it to the level that it needs to go to, and that is truly a unique skill,” he said.

Formerly a crime analyst for a county sheriff's department in California, Pappas quickly made her mark as an Air Force intelligence analyst operating in an important and high-pressure environment.

In January 2015, her team began a European Command intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission that identified intelligence gaps in analyses of adversary air defense capabilities.

Pappas also collected information from reconnaissance missions that confirmed more than 500 international treaty violations by multiple countries. Later in 2015, she led the planning and assessment of more than 50 reconnaissance missions to evaluate a major theater security crisis. 

“I'm basically ensuring that we're getting the best analysis to the decision-makers in the right amount of time,” Pappas said.

Senior personnel have been impressed with Pappas's ability to distill information and understand which components each player in the intelligence effort needs to know.

After putting Pappas in charge of a rehearsal of concept that included 16 organizations in preparation for an operational mission in the Middle East, Lt. Col. Ariel Batungbacal received a glowing review of Pappas’ competence.

“A senior commander called me later to say that was one of the most organized efforts around a really complex and difficult issue that he had ever seen,” said Batungbacal, the commander of the Air Force’s 450th Intelligence Squadron.

Earning this level of respect has been no small feat for someone relatively young in civil service and without a military background. Batungbacal said Pappas has a high standing among her colleagues because she is “an extraordinary analyst” who “really has a global impact.”

Chief Master Sgt. Eric Harriff, the superintendent of the 450th Intelligence Squadron, praised Pappas for being able to “take all these bits and pieces of information, put them together and give a commander a clear picture of their areas of operation, and give them confidence about how they want to move forward.

“That’s what sets her apart,” Harriff said.

Pappas emphasizes the team aspect of her work. “The things I get to do are a result of working with phenomenal Airmen with a variety of backgrounds, and when we are working together to solve problems, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “I know that the work that we do makes an impact on a daily basis. That is a satisfying feeling to have.”