Marsha Lee Mikulen will never forget her career as a law enforcement specialist in the U.S. Air Force. It broadened her perspective of the world and sharpened her critical thinking skills.
She now makes the most of those skills as a project manager at Northrop Grumman. Although the Air Force veteran wishes she had a longer military career, Mikulen appreciates how Northrop Grumman provides opportunities for her to honor and help active military service members and veterans.
“I feel fortunate to be a part of an organization that supports our warfighters — active, reserve, veterans, civilians —their families and their missions,” she said.
An Impressive Background
Mikulen couldn’t wait to join the Air Force after witnessing how it had defined her father, Lee Mikulen. “I felt driven to follow in his footsteps,” she said. Although she didn’t see combat, Mikulen’s four-year stint in the Air Force introduced the Michigan native to an eye-opening side of human behavior.
Mikulen worked in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on several bases in the U.S., as well as Torrejón Air Base in Madrid, Spain. Her various roles included: desk sergeant; working inside a jail; handling customs on military aircraft returning from Europe; and going undercover on narcotics investigations.
Thirty-two years later, she regrets not reenlisting and instead reentering civilian life in 1986. But she won’t let the regret haunt her, mainly because she believes Northrop Grumman’s mission and its commitment to the military allow her to keep serving her country.
Military Service Shaped a Career
A Northrop Grumman employee for 17 years now, Mikulen is a project manager in technical development at the company’s Space Park facility in Redondo Beach, Calif.
The Air Force strengthened Marsha’s critical thinking and organizational skills, she said. “It taught me how to deal with people day-to-day … It was an opportunity to broaden my perspective on a lot of things and show me diversity of thought. I traveled to different countries and saw different cultures. The Air Force allowed me to do that.”
She coordinates and prepares technical skill programs for Northrop Grumman engineers. The certificate programs, which are aligned with several universities, help engineers have “the latest and greatest skills” in aerospace technology, she said.
Air Force Veteran Supports Other Vets
Veterans comprise 20 percent of Northrop Grumman’s workforce, so it’s no surprise that the company offers several programs that recognize not only the military service of employees but also of those in the community.
For instance, the Navigator program pairs recently hired veterans with employees who are also veterans. The longstanding employees help the new hires transition from military life to the corporate world. “Think of this program as transferring to another station and having a sponsor to depend on to answer your questions,” Mikulen said. Similarly, Operation IMPACT provides career transition support to military service members who have been severely injured.
Mikulen serves as co-chair of Space Park’s chapter of the VERITAS (Veterans, Employees, Reservists, Inspired to Act and Serve) employee resource group at Northrop Grumman. VERITAS holds clothing drives, organizes a charitable 5K run and performs other services for military families and veterans. “I would like to establish a culture where all vets know that they have comrades here to help support them,” she said.
She added: “I feel happy when I am able to help someone or to be a part of an event that has been successful. Although, I do have to say, I’m happy to be a part of those events that are not always what others might deem as successful. Often, the true success has to be measured by watching someone different in the organization get excited and step up to volunteer or to help lead an event or share a story. I feel having the opportunities to meet new people and learning and caring about what is important to them, whether I’m helping them or doing an event, is the success or reward.”
No One Is Forgotten on Veterans Day
During the week of Veterans Day, VERITAS will recognize those who have fallen with a wall of heroes commemoration and the distribution of holiday cards to Blue Star mothers. It will also hold a 22-pushup challenge over 22 days to recognize the efforts of 22Kill, an organization that raises awareness of veterans who commit suicide.
Veterans Day is always a special time for Mikulen. The day reminds her of how ketchup packets were the most requested item from U.S. military members serving in the Vietnam War. “I remember as a child going to restaurants with my mom to ask for ketchup packets to send in care packages,” she recalled. One time, they “hit the jackpot” at a restaurant and received a box of packets to donate. Years later, when Mikulen was in basic training for the Air Force, she realized the importance of care packages to their recipients.
This Veterans Day, Mikulen will email fellow veterans, reminisce on days past and reflect on VERTIAS’ work leading into the holiday, as she attempts to figure out how to help at least one more veteran in the future. “I love the military, and I love my vets,” she said.