Originally published Nov. 29, 2012.
Huntington County native Larry Bell's job is classified information. It's so top-secret that he can't even tell you what he does.
What the 1977 Huntington North grad can tell you is that he works for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) as a civilian employee.
The NRO is one of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
The agency's website explains, "The NRO is the U.S. Government agency in charge of designing, building, launching and maintaining America's intelligence satellites. Formed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the NRO was secretly created on Sept. 6, 1961, with the purpose of overseeing ‘all satellite and over-flight reconnaissance projects whether overt or covert.'"
As director of the Space Systems Program Office, Bell recently received the Dr. Joseph V. Charyk Award for demonstrating exceptional leadership in the Signals Intelligence Systems Acquisition Directorate. He shared the award with co-worker Troy E. Meink, director of Signals Intelligence Systems Acquisition Directorate.
The award also recognized the pair for achieving full operational capability of the Integrated Overhead Signals Architecture, fulfilling long-standing Intelligence Community and National Security Agency (NSA) needs.
"I joined the Air Force in December 1976," Bell says. "That's where it all began."
He adds that he always had an interest in engineering and, as he progressed through the ranks, was first sent to the University of Eastern New Mexico and later Purdue University.
"Although you don't normally get to choose what you go into in the military, I chose the aero/astro division," says Bell. "I enrolled in Purdue in 1980 and earned my engineering degree in 1983."
Bell added that the Air Force has an extensive and progressive training program for all its division and his was no exception.
"I served 25 years in the Air Force and during that time I had to earn certifications," he states. "I earned certifications in engineering development and a commercial program management certification through the Department of Defense (DOD), which licenses me to work in the state of California."
According to its website, the NRO's key customers and mission partners include policy makers, the Armed Services, the Intelligence Community, Departments of State, Justice and Treasury and civil agencies.
All of them depend on the unique capabilities NRO systems provide:
• Monitoring the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
• Tracking international terrorists, drug traffickers and criminal organizations.
• Developing highly accurate military targeting data and bomb damage assessments.
• Supporting international peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.
• Assessing the impact of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires.
Together with other Defense Department satellites, the NRO systems play a crucial role in providing global communications, precision navigation, early warning of missile launches and potential military aggression, signals intelligence and near real-time imagery to U.S. forces to support the war on terrorism and other continuing operations.
The organization also works on the national and local levels as well.
NRO satellites also support civil customers in response to disaster relief and environmental research.
Scientists created a global environment database using NRO imagery to help predict climate change, assess crop production, map habitats of endangered species, track oil spills and study wetlands.
NRO data also forms the basis for products that help depict and assess the devastation in areas affected by natural disasters.
Although unable to talk about the specifics of his job and all it entails, Bell says he enjoys what he does and in his acceptance of the award noted that, "this award truly belongs to the men and women of the Space Systems Programs Office who work each day to ensure the security of our nation."
Bell is the son of Nelson and Marilyn Bell, of Huntington County.