Lily Kamikihara | A Quiet Authority

GCN IT Leadership Awards 2007 | Kamikihara keeps the Pacific Command's satellite communications on course

Career highlights

1986: Transitioned the Navy and Marine Corps telephone system in Hawaii from a mechanical to a digital switching system with single-line phone service. The project involved more than 120 commands, five switches and more than 20,000 telephones.

1991: Developed and implemented a quickly deployable communications package to support a joint task force headquarters. The package included voice, data, video, and command and control applications.

1999: Led Year 2000 task force teams in tracking compliance of almost 1,000 mission-critical systems for the Defense Department in the Pacific theater and orchestrated tabletop exercises to validate contingency plans.

2001: Collaborated with Australia on a series of interoperability demonstrations and showed that each country's radio terminal could communicate with the other's satellite broadcast system.

2005: Succeeded in getting satellite communications issues at the forefront and addressed in the commander's top 10 priorities and congressional testimony.

Frontline visionaries

Lily Kamikihara will answer readers' questions in an online forum on Thursday, June 21, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT.

Lily Kamikihara

WPN photo by Hugh Gentry

Talk with Lily Kamikihara's supervisors and two words come up repeatedly: selfless and tenacious. It's a powerful combination.

Kamikihara, a GS-13 civilian employee of the Pacific Command at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, is theater satellite communications ground segment manager. She is responsible for a broad array of projects aimed at ensuring the provision and security of satcom for the military in the Pacific region. The Pacific Command is the largest regional command in the military, spanning the Pacific Ocean from California to India and touching 43 countries.

Air Force Maj. James Matney, chief of theater satcom plans and programs at Pacom, describes Kamikihara as the cornerstone of his unit.

'Her leadership and expertise have kept Pacom in the forefront of critical satcom future programs,' Matney wrote in his nomination of Kamikihara for the GCN IT Leadership Award. 'She has built a reputation in the satcom community for providing critical feedback on future satcom program designs, concepts of operations and requirements documents.'

Matney credits Kamikihara with a number of achievements, including:
  • Serving as the command's sole communications planner in developing the first memorandum of understanding between the Australian and U.S. defense departments concerning the mutual exchange of satcom. The agreement provided increased satcom bandwidth and additional voice channels.
  • Planning and facilitating two theaterwide Joint Satellite Architecture Working Groups, which included representatives from the Joint Staff, combatant commands, services and agencies.
  • Pioneering the effort to have electromagnetic interference/radio frequency interference geolocation identified as a base requirement for all Defense Department contracts for commercial satellite services.
  • Recognizing an opportunity to expand the command's extremely high-frequency terminal capability for minimal cost during an upgrade.
  • Single-handedly resolving an equipment issue at headquarters to increase the command's missile defense posture. Although the project was not hers, she quickly researched and located the necessary equipment and secured funding in time to keep the project moving forward on schedule.

Kamikihara gives credit to her team. 'I really have to say that was teamwork,' she said. 'There were four of us in our shop, and we all pull together.'

As far as single-handedly resolving an equipment issue, Kamikihara said the situation arose unexpectedly.

'We had one person out for surgery,' she said. 'Two had to go to the mainland, so I was the only one left in the shop. So I ended up having to pick up this project.' Even then, she shared credit with the budget office. 'We had to quickly understand what was missing and then we had to go get funds.'

Instant credibility

But stepping into the breach is typical of Kamikihara. 'She's one of those quiet workers,' Matney said. 'When I first started here, I always ran everything by her. All I had to say is, 'I ran it by Lily,' and I had instant credibility.'

Along with her expertise, Kamikihara also has a lot of institutional knowledge. 'I've been at Pacom since 1991, so I guess I'm one of the dinosaurs,' she said. 'I've seen this command grow and change. I know the history.'
Kamikihara's role as satcom's anchor is particularly important because the unit has so much turnover.

'With the military, they only stay at most three years, so they have to rely on the civilian population for continuity,' she said. 'But [the military personnel] bring a lot of good things to the unit. They bring a new eye on things. It's a really good mix, having both civilians and military here.'

Kamikihara's supervisors say her contributions aren't limited to providing continuity. 'She's a quiet professional. She's a perfectionist,' said Lt. Col. Lisa Fanelli, chief of Pacom's Communications Systems Plans, Exercises and Contingency Branch. 'She'll take a task and get it done to the utmost degree.'

Marine Col. Mark Kauzlarich, chief of Pacom's Communications Systems Plans and Operations Division, agreed. 'When Lily speaks, everyone listens because it's the voice of authority on how things really are,' he said. 'She has a deep understanding of the issues.'

Matney, Kamikihara's immediate supervisor, describes her as a straight shooter who is passionate about her job. 'She speaks her mind,' Matney said. 'She's passionate. You can tell when she's frustrated.'

Kamikihara said the people in the unit help one another overcome frustrations. 'We all have the same goals because we all know how important satellite communication is to this theater,' she said. 'Because we all share that belief, we all protect each other and we all support each other.'

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