Former DIA Director emphasizes dealing with the ‘When,’ not the ‘If’ of the next threat

Retired Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vincent Stewart certainly has more than enough laurels to rest on. But he’s not sitting down, or spending too much time looking back – he’s still moving forward, with a lot of expertise and insight to give back to the national security community. But he is ready for a bit of celebration – and that’s what many in the intelligence community plan to do at this year’s 2023 William Oliver Baker Award Dinner, taking place June 9.

The Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) noted Stewart’s extensive career and deep commitment to service and sacrifice in announcing Stewart’s selection for the prestigious award. Stewart has been a trailblazer in many of his roles, and was the first Jamaican American and Marine to head-up the DIA. As a first-generation immigrant, he was also the first in his family to join the military.

“I wanted to do something to give back to my newly adopted country,” said Stewart. “When I came here I found that I had significant opportunities…warts and blemishes of this country – there is no other country on this earth where the opportunities are present.”

Stewart describes the unique opportunities and challenges of a 38-year military career. One of his most privileged roles was being chosen as an intelligence offer to run a large combat outpost in Camp Fallujah during the height of the war in Iraq. From managing more than 4,000 personnel and helping ensure they came home safe, to engaging with locals, he notes it was “probably one of my most satisfying accomplishments.”

It was a role that highlighted what has been a critical part of Stewart’s career, and that’s leadership and mentorship.

“I made it a point to reach back,” said Stewart. “One of the things I’m most proud of is the Stewart tree, where I’ve had the opportunity to reach back to some young men and women and mentor and guide them and demand excellence of them.” The Stewart tree is committed to producing fruit, as well – Stewart notes he requires his mentees to read, write, engage and give back. He said he wants them to “present themselves in such a way that when the curtains come up they are ready, they are carrying our reputation as part of this group.”

He said that has been a recipe for success – reaching back, and pulling others up. And it’s particularly important for groups who may not be used to seeing themselves in the nation’s leadership roles.

Stewart’s career progressed from tank commander with USMC, to helping USCYBERCOM with some of the most complex technological challenges and upgrades. Stewart said there were various times in his career when he considered pursuing something different – but new opportunities, and the right mentors, helped advise on which roles were truly the right ones.

Stewart has found great reward in seeing young people he once advised, now in some cases moving into the ranks of general officer as he did. And even following his retirement from military service, Stewart still serves and advises many in the national security space, now often in a role as advisor.

“I’m still trying to process that, because there’s so much more that I think I can and should be doing,” said Stewart. “I’m going to use this, hopefully, as an opportunity to do more. I’m not quite basking in the glory just yet.”

“I’m not ready to rest,” said Stewart. “This may be a springboard for some other opportunities to give back to the community.”

But he said he is willing to stop and celebrate the milestones – and enjoy the party June 9.