ODNI HR Chief shares stories of resilience, grit during Women’s History Month

ODNI HR Chief shares stories of resilience, grit during Women’s History Month

Thursday, 31 March 2022 09:32

ODNI HR Chief shares stories of resilience, grit during Women’s History Month


By Melanee “Kate” Thomas, ODNI Office of Strategic Communications


Throughout the month of March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence celebrated Women’s History Month through a series of curated events featuring Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, mentorship opportunities and social engagements.


The ODNI Women’s Council selected "resilience” as the theme for this year’s programming to equip, inspire and honor the women of the Intelligence Community, past and present.


This spirit of resilience is embodied by ODNI’s Chief of Human Resource Management, Jennifer Mahony.


Resiliency has been weaved through Mahony’s professional career starting as an Army ROTC cadet in college, serving as an intelligence officer and combat engineer in the U.S. Army, and culminating as a senior civilian leader at both the Defense Intelligence Agency and ODNI.


In many situations throughout her career, serving in a traditionally male dominated field, Mahony has been the only woman in the room.


Air phone
Jennifer Mahony, director of facilities, gives a tour of the Intelligence Community Campus- Bethesda to former PDDNI, Stephanie O’Sullivan and other ODNI leaders during it’s construction July, 2015.


“I graduated in the early 1990s, when females were just coming up in the engineering world,” said Mahony. “[Being the only woman in the room] helped shape where I am.”


Mahony’s drive to succeed in difficult situations is rooted in her commitment to service. Her uncle, an Army Green Beret and prisoner of war in Vietnam, inspired her early understanding of service and sacrifice, she said.


“I will never forget him sitting around the table with my grandparents, my parents and my father’s younger brother, and really talking about his experiences,” said Mahony. “He talked openly about the Army, and talked openly about the mission. I think from there, my love for service, my desire to follow in his footsteps, came about.”




Along with having a passion for service, Mahony encourages others to ground themselves in their defeats and believe in their ability to overcome. She recounted one of the most pivotal personal growing points in her early career.


When she was stationed at her first assignment in South Korea at Camp Red Cloud, she received orders to the 326th Engineer Battalion in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, that had just opened its doors to women.


“I was now the first female going into an all-male combat engineer battalion,” she said.


When she arrived to the unit, jetlagged, on leave, and admittedly out of shape, Mahony was unprepared for the mandatory four-mile division run in the summer heat the next day.


“I tried my best to not go run. I said, ‘I’m just not ready.’ But they said, ‘Nope. The Commander wants to showcase his new female officer – you’re running,’” said Mahony.


Mahony describes it as, “terrible - it was your worst fears and then some.”


“I went from the front of the battalion all the way to the back. I just couldn’t do it, and there was nothing more embarrassing than that.”


Mahony says she was mortified as she heard the comments as her male peers passed her during the run.


“I went home that day completely defeated,” said Mahony. “It was a turning point where I said, ‘I will never ever be in that situation again.’”




The next big challenge Mahony faced was the Army’s Air Assault School.


This is a physically rigorous Army training course that teaches soldiers to rapidly move into a combat zone on helicopters. However, due to her last experience during the mandatory run, Mahony trained relentlessly to match the physical abilities of her male peers.


“I will tell you on that day, adrenaline does kick in and this desire and internal motivation kind of comes from within. I got through the course, I got through the school, and I graduated,” said Mahony.


“I don’t know that I’ve ever been faced with a challenge I couldn’t overcome after that. I go back to that moment. I go back to that absolute feeling of defeat and embarrassment to being able to rise up and overcome and just let it guide you from there. Because once you believe in yourself and believe you can do it, it’s pretty amazing how much more you can do.”




Understanding her own abilities and honing her resilience throughout her career helped Mahony transition from the Army and join DIA in 2011 as an Engineering and Construction Branch Chief.


In 2014, she joined ODNI as the Director of Facilities which ultimately led to her being selected as the Chief of Human Resource Management in 2019.


After a nearly 30-year career in the military and Intelligence Community, Mahony has a wealth of knowledge to share as she continues to build ODNI’s human resource programs and develop dynamic talent and leaders.


“One of my favorite words is grind. Just grind. Put everything you possibly can into building and shaping your current role and mission, your career and being who you want to be" said Mahony.

"But also strike that balance with your personal life; with family, with friends, with hobbies. Always be present. Have an outlet and make sure you are able to complement your own life and lifestyle with the best of both worlds, which is your professional career with your personal life.”