WASHINGTON, February 11, 2016 —
Aaron Hughes is a top Defense Department official who says he found success by staying focused on his goals, pursuing education, working hard, and remaining positive when challenges popped up along the way.
His advice for young people: "Focus on your goals, and anything is possible."
Hughes, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy, spoke to DoD News Feb. 5 in support of National Black History Month.
Congress and the president have designated February as a time to celebrate the contributions and honor the sacrifices of generations of African-Americans who fought for freedom and equality.
Education, Hard Work Can Lead to Success
The path to success, Hughes said, can include education, hard work, taking high and low points in stride, and not being afraid to be the first in your family to try something new.
Hughes said he grew up in a supportive environment that placed a high value on education. His mother and father both earned advanced degrees. A grandfather was among the first African-American graduates of Harvard Business School; a grandmother was a physician.
"I was blessed that my parents reinforced education with me, but no one in my family had served in the military before," said Hughes, a member of the Maryland Air National Guard.
He is the Director of Mission Integration for the 175th Cyber Operations Group in the Maryland Air National Guard. He is also a mission commander in one of three Air National Guard Squadrons-tasked to support the National Mission Teams in the Cyber Mission Force.
Hughes said he is proud of his nearly two-decades of military service, saying the military instilled in him the discipline, leadership perspective and focus needed to achieve great things throughout his career.
Hughes said he will be marking National Black History Month through self-reflection of the sacrifices of the African-Americans who have come before him.
He is tremendously proud, he said, to serve under the first African-American U.S. president, Barack Obama.
Hughes said his goals include continually striving to be the best role model possible for not only African-Americans, but for young people of all backgrounds.
Diversity is something to be celebrated, Hughes affirmed. In his view, diversity can come from a range of areas such as diversity of thought, language, race, gender, ethnicity, and education.
"I think that we can all learn from each other," Hughes said. "I think that makes us more intellectually rich and helps you contribute to your community."
It is important to appreciate the diversity in the workplace at the Defense Department and global nature of the mission, he said.
"I think all of those things will help us be a better fighting force," he said.
'Extremely Passionate' About Cyber Mission
Hughes started in his current job in May 2015. He works on developing, coordinating, and overseeing the policy and strategy for cyber related activities across the Department. This includes international engagements, operational planning, and advocacy for cyber capabilities and systems that support the Department’s objectives.
Cyber is such an important domain for the nation, he said.
"This is something I am extremely passionate about," he said, noting how his civilian and military careers complement each other. The Defense Department, he said, is a key component of the whole of government effort to protect US interests in cyberspace.
"The decisions we are making now, in support of the evolution of our cyber forces and capabilities, are really going to have a profound effect five, 10, 15 years down the line," he said.
The opportunity to work for DoD in such an important mission is "something that keeps me excited every single day coming into work," Hughes emphasized.
Hughes received a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Virginia, a Master of Science in Telecommunications and Computers from George Washington University, and a Master of Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)