Jim Houchens in Hawaii

Engineer Says Aloha from the Pacific to Support National Security

By Nancy Gast Romps

Jim Houchens

Jim Houchens (pronounced HOW-chenz) has described his role as “conductor of MITRE’s 5G symphony.” He brings multiple disciplines, sponsors, and MITRE efforts together, working strategically to accelerate impact on 5G problems. After working out of Bedford, Massachusetts; Fort Meade, Maryland; and McLean, Virginia, he has taken his 5G symphony on the road—and across the Pacific—to a new “podium” in Hawaii as the chief engineer for Indo-Pacific Regional Operations.

This June marked my 34th year at MITRE, mostly supporting our intelligence work programs, and more recently supporting the Department of Defense’s 5G office, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) 5G standards work, MITRE Engenuity’s Open Gen effort, and our internal 5G platform. I’ve been spending much of my time coordinating and guiding our 5G efforts with sponsors and partner companies, such as Ericsson, Nokia, Verizon, AT&T, Intel, IBM, Microsoft, and Qualcomm.

I started at MITRE in Bedford, then spent a couple of years in Fort Meade, and landed in McLean in 2018. But when I saw an opportunity to support the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command from MITRE’s Hawaii site, I jumped at it.

A Strategic Location for Observing Global Challenges

I’ve been following the rise of China since my days supporting the NSA, and I have become increasingly concerned about the threat China poses to our allies in the Pacific. This presents a real danger and could involve the United States.

Having already worked with our Great Power Competition initiative, I felt it was time to return to guiding projects that directly support the warfighters and their missions. I recently relocated to Oahu, splitting my time between supporting the commands and activities on-island and continuing to support sponsors on the East Coast of the mainland.

Returning to Hawaiian Roots

I started my intelligence career while serving in the Army in Hawaii as part of the advance team at Kunia, an underground facility in the pineapple fields.

I have always loved Hawaii and its mix of cultures.  Native Hawaiians represent a small fraction of the population. Among Asian and Pacific Islander cultures in Hawaii, there are large Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Samoan, and Korean communities. That mix of cultures and others gave rise to “Pidgin,” a language of borrowed words and unique grammar that’s informally spoken by many living in Hawaii today.

Probably the biggest cultural acclimation for me is to be less impatient and more laid-back. Life in Hawaii moves at a different pace than Bedford or McLean. Appearing frustrated with the pace or with how things are done may just make things move even more slowly!

Bridging the Distance to Foster Collaboration

I view the most important thing about moving to a site office is maintaining relationships back at our main campuses in Bedford and McLean, and actively nurturing them to help us in our roles. Being part of the company’s culture of collaboration is critical to success at MITRE.

Yes, the six-hour time difference will be an unavoidable challenge—but our new hybrid work culture will help bridge the distance in ways that were hard to do pre-COVID. I’m looking forward to this role, and to giving my family a taste of all Hawaii has to offer, while continuing to support MITRE’s mission.

by Jim Houchens, as told to Nancy G. Romps

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