DEF’s New Executive Director | Trish Martinelli
Being the first in a role matters. I will be the first woman, the first Executive Director with an enlisted service background, and the first LatinX to fill this position.
As I step into my new role, serving as the next Executive Director of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) I am humbled by this opportunity to give back to a community that has meant so much to me over the past years. DEF is a group of people who have changed my life for the better, and, looking ahead, I know I will dedicate my tenure to providing that same safe harbor to Innovators that come.
As a woman serving in this role, I find inspiration in fellow women in this field. In a conversation in 2018, Kristen Hajduk saw the Innovator (frustrated Innovator!) in me. At a Federal Innovators Network event, Kristen invited me to speak on Innovation in Denver at the DEF Conference. That was deep validation, and it resonated with me regarding the power of a conversation leading to transformational opportunities, mainly because it unfolded so naturally. It was a conversation that EMPOWERED me where I was at that moment. We cannot underestimate the impact of women building ladders “up and in” for other women is the best of being in this space.
When I served in the Army as an Enlisted/Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO, it would have been a stretch to see myself as the Executive leading this organization. But it shouldn’t be difficult, NCOs “lead the way” after all. There was a line of separation between Commissioned Officers and NCOs where Officers made policy and NCOs carried that out. Learning the NCO skills during my time in uniform, and learning other high level skills since then, has prepared me to create and shape policies at DEF. I believe this opportunity is profound as it may provide inspiration for other Enlisted members of DEF to see themselves in every corner of our beloved Forum. This is what it means to INSPIRE, simply by doing what comes naturally and by being yourself. The freedom and autonomy I have found in DEF is something I wish for all of our members in every corner of their pursuits.
I find inspiration in people too. I am stepping into the ED role in the wake of an amazing predecessor. Much like myself, casual observers could look past our racial identities and not acknowledge us as representatives of minority groups. What does it mean to me to be a LatinaX woman holding this spot? It means there is a way to CONNECT with other members of the LatinX community and become part of a bigger narrative that starts with “If Trish did that, I can do this…….”
Representation matters, and sometimes those connections exist even when people don’t recognize each other in the grocery store because they haven’t met in real life (thanks CoVID). I will also admit to sometimes not feeling “LatinX enough” to claim my heritage. My grandfather came from Chile, and because my father didn’t learn Spanish, I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker. While I sometimes feel guilt, it is the truth of so many first- and second-generation immigrant kids. In that truth, I am again connecting with a wide swath of people in DEF and in National Security and forming important connections.
And with that, it’s time to get to work. I will continue to enjoy my “Christmas morning” feeling knowing that the people around me prepared a gift for me, and now it is my deep and sincere pleasure to make the most of it.