FORT BELVOIR, Virginia -- Few outside the military intelligence (MI) community know what the term "SIGINT" means aside from a possible mention on TV dramas such as NCIS. For the professionals working within the intelligence community, the daily mission isn't fiction at all -- it's a reality requiring 24/7 operations and utmost secrecy, and individual accomplishments and achievements may not be heard of for decades, if ever.

Every once in a while, however, a member of this elite community achieves something important outside of the realm of confidentiality which brings well-deserved attention to the silent professionals who support it.

Sergeant Marina DeVol, a signals intelligence (SIGINT) analyst for Bravo Company, 742nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade, at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, achieved such an accomplishment recently by earning the title of U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. To earn this title, DeVol competed against the best-performing NCOs from INSCOM's 19 worldwide major subordinate commands.

This outstanding feat is even more special considering DeVol's support to other members of the SIGINT Enterprise. Not only is she a member of INSCOM's MI units, DeVol is also an analyst for the National Security Agency supporting INSCOM's Meade Operations Center (MOC). However, DeVol's decision to compete was one which put her leadership skills to an immediate test as she was transitioning from a junior-enlisted Soldier to an NCO.

"Initially, I was competing to be the Soldier of the Year, however once the (promotion) points were released and I realized that I would not be able to compete because I'd be an NCO," DeVol said. "That's when my leadership suggested that I go for NCO of the Year."

The Army's NCO of the year competitions judge leaders on their overall leadership in terms of tactical, technical and professional performance and bearing when measured up against similarly-accomplished individuals. What made DeVol's performance worthy of additional merit was how different her job is from NCOs with whom she was competing due to her work in military intelligence. The challenge was DeVol's work spans across several organizations and agencies -- each with different requirements of her and none of which could reasonably allow for time away.

"Generally, this type of competition results in a decrease in your duties. Due to the nature of what I'm responsible for that wasn't an option for my team," said DeVol. "As a result, I maintained my duties as a squad leader, continued working in a partner office and prepared for a deployment."

Perhaps the biggest challenge most NCO of the Year competitors face is balancing professional and personal requirements of work and family with the additional studying and training that invariably goes along with preparing for a performance against many of the most well-trained and highly performing peers one could hope to meet. In DeVol's case, the nature of her job has prepared her for this kind of challenge.

"With intelligence, there's this fire hose of information and you have to retain as much of it as possible," said DeVol. "I think that really helps out during the competition and, particularly, the board."

To help absorb this deluge of information, DeVol credits the mentorship gained from her peers, superiors and subordinates from the beginning of her SIGINT career to today for her broad-based knowledge of not just her specific job functions within MI, but also basic and advanced Soldiering and leadership tasks. It's this mentorship and training which DeVol feels gave her an edge.

"One of the unique aspects of being in military intelligence is that we get a lot of MOS (military occupational specialty) transfers that come in from outside of MI," said DeVol. "I have a platoon sergeant who was prior infantry and some other NCOs who were weapons aficionados and they sat me down and walked me through what they know."

Due to the important 24/7 nature of the job, SIGINT analysts such as DeVol can often find themselves bound to a desk behind a terminal for the majority of their duty day. DeVol credits her battalion and the 704th MI Brigade's unique set of uniformed professionals for allowing her to accomplish both her job requirements and training at the same time.

"I don't have frame of reference for other units and how they would support an NCO going through this challenge," she said. "I believe that my unit was extremely supportive of me while allowing me to prepare for the competition."

Just as her responsibilities at work did not disappear when she took on the challenge of the NCO of the Year competition, neither did DeVol's personal responsibilities. Though she has become adept at balancing work and home life, DeVol credits her unit command for making the difficult and time-consuming training at work and for the days and weeks in the field much less stressful. With a husband serving as a uniformed member of the U.S. Navy, and two children at home, the command stepped in to support her when competitions took her far from home.

"My company commander's wife made meals for my husband while I was gone and offered to baby-sit," said DeVol. "I don't think I could ask for a better command team than I've had. They call NCOs the backbone of the Army and the support that I received across the spectrum, starting at my company and moving all the way up to INSCOM, was just incredible. It really just showed me the type of family that the Army is and the type of backbone and structure and support the NCO corps really is. It showed me a lot of what it means to take care of one another. It was a very humbling experience."

For those who know DeVol, the decision to support her in balancing her professional, family and participation in the competition wasn't a decision at all. It went without saying that DeVol would get the full support of her unit and the brigade.

"Sergeant DeVol has the leadership, intelligence, and ingenuity that makes her an outstanding non-commissioned officer," said Maj. Jeremy L. Click, DeVol's supervisor. "Her time to train and prepare in no way hindered her mission requirements or the mission of the Special Operations Division."

Click noted that DeVol is a role model to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines that work alongside her in their division.

"She has a tireless work ethic and we are so proud of her accomplishments and know she will excel in an expeditionary environment," Click added. "Sergeant DeVol successfully balanced her analytic training, work, her family, and the rigorous requirements of the competition. She and the teammates that volunteer to help were granted the flexibility to accomplish all of their requirements while ensuring mission accomplishment."

Such approval and appreciation for DeVol as both an Army leader and as an MI professional were also shared by MOC commander, Col. Michael A. Marti.

"Sergeant DeVol is the NCO example you want others following and emulating in our diverse joint, inter-governmental and combined team. The challenges of operating and leading in this diverse environment revealed and unlocked the type of character and capability Sergeant DeVol already had inside her," Marti said. "It was reassuring to watch Army and NSA leaders rally together and behind Sergeant DeVol's efforts while the competition progressed; it reflected a great partnership to sustain."

At the end of the competition season DeVol feels she gave the best performance she had in her and is thankful for all those involved in helping her make it as far as she was able to.

"I wouldn't change anything at all. I love being in the Army and everything that the Army stands for! Why? Because the people that I work for and with inspire me daily," said DeVol. "It's not every day that one gets to do something that they love and get paid for it."