The real NCIS Hawaii
While its Hollywood version gets the spotlight, the NCIS Hawai‘i Field Office team continues to do what it does best: make the state a safer place for all.
Sure, the latest locally based crime-fighting show, NCIS Hawai‘i, fabricates the truth in some ways — primarily in the agents ability to solve cases in less than 60 minutes. But Special Agent in Charge Nor-man Dominesey, aka the man in the position that actress Vanessa Lachey plays (Jane Tennant) on the CBS series, says it’s not entirely a Hollywood exaggeration.
“I love the teamwork I see displayed on the show,” says Dominesey, who took the helm of the NCIS Hawai‘i Field Office in 2019. “It’s what we see in our field office and throughout our organization. Law enforcement is a profession where teamwork is critical. We’re all on the same team working on the same goals, which is to protect those who can’t protect themselves or to be a voice for a victim who can no longer speak.
“NCIS is a place where your peers … do everything in their power to help one another without you needing to ask them for help — and that’s similar to what I see on the show.”
In fact, Dominesey, along with his fellow agents at NCIS headquarters, are heavily involved in the making of the show, whether that’s by reviewing scenes beforehand, answering questions for accuracy, giving tours of the grounds or, for some agents, even serving as background characters on their days off.
“Most of us, especially at this office, feel a deep connection to NCIS Hawai‘i because we had the opportunity to meet on several occasions with its creators, writers, directors, actors and members of the production team, and their professionalism really stood out,” shares Dominesey. “They were all genuinely interested in getting to know us at NCIS at our Hawai‘i Field Office, and it was also very important to them to be respectful and honor not only our organization, but also the Navy and Marine Corps, in addition to all of the military members they represent on the screen.
“Seeing a television show based on your real-life job is pretty incredible. I am a little worried that Special Agent Tennant might be taking my job one day,” he adds with a laugh.
Along with the fact that Dominesey can catch a reenactment of his 9-to-5 while flipping channels in the living room, there are countless other reasons why he takes great pride in the work he does.
NCIS, which stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service, is the premier law enforcement agency for the U.S. Department of the Navy. In short, its goals are to prevent terrorism, protect national secrets and reduce crime.
“Our primary mission is to support Navy personnel, their family members and our resources. Essentially, to do everything we can to keep them safe,” explains Dominesey.
“We also conduct counterintelligence investigations and operations, counterterrorism investigations and operations, and we employ a robust cyber capability to disrupt, deter and mitigate criminal terrorist and foreign intelligence threats to the Department of the Navy,” he adds.
Contrary to popular belief, NCIS has statutory authority to investigate, arrest and execute warrants for civilians involved with crimes that have a clear nexus to the U.S. Department of the Navy.
Another common misconception is that NCIS agents are in the military and, although there are some active duty personnel in the crew, a large percentage of the unit are 1811 series special agent federal law enforcement officers, aka civilians. The 50-member office is also made up of professional staff (who do a lot of the administrative work behind the scenes and are ones Dominesey calls the “backbone of the operation”), intelligence officers and retired Honolulu Police Department detectives, to name a few. The latter serve as senior operation specialists and are essential when NCIS works with its community partners, such as HPD, FBI, Homeland Security, the City & County of Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, and the state Department of the Attorney General.
“We collaborate with all of our partners on investigations and operations to mitigate threats to the community,” says Dominesey. “For example, in the last few years, our NCIS office here in Hawai‘i has worked really aggressively to target threats posed to children here on O‘ahu by child sexual predators. We’ve unleashed the full spectrum of NCIS capabilities and partnered with multiple agencies here on the island to mitigate some of those threats. We do that under the leadership of the Hawai‘i State Attorney General Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, and we’ve successfully mitigated many threats to children on the island through some of the proactive initiatives.
“A lot of (the collaboration) has to do with the culture here,” he continues. “I find it very welcoming and friendly and, having spent quite a bit of time working in other parts of the world and metropolitan cities, it’s just a different atmosphere here in Hawai‘i. We are 2,000 miles from the mainland. It’s very reminiscent of what we see in overseas field offices where the relationships are a lot tighter between the organizations because, at the end of the day, we all have the same mission and we all need to work together to get the job done.”
Tracking down the bad guys isn’t the only thing on NCIS Hawai‘i Field Office’s hefty list of priorities, though. Integrating itself into the local community is important, as well, which is why the team can be seen throughout the year at a variety of functions.
Some outreach events focus on awareness and education, spanning topics like internet safety, sexual assault prevention and identify theft, while other efforts are simply about lending a helping hand where one is needed. Past examples include volunteering for Special Olympics Hawai‘i, holding a drive for Hawai‘i Foodbank, organizing a beach cleanup at Shark’s Cove and cheering up kūpuna who were isolated during the pandemic.
“We hold great admiration and respect for the culture of Hawai‘i and a lot of our initiatives here in the office are built around trying to honor the people who live here. “This is their home and we want this office to be reflective of what they want to see of their community.”
When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Dominesey replies: “If you were to ask me that several years ago, I would’ve said the mission … And while the mission is still a favorite part of the job, for me, it’s the people that I am fortunate enough to work with every day who truly inspire me to be my best.
“I do feel like it’s a privilege to work with those I work with in the office here and our partners, and just being in the presence of those who demonstrate selfless service on a daily basis.”
So, next time you catch an episode of NCIS Hawai‘i, give a salute to the real-life special agents who make it their everyday mission to keep the community safe.
THE RIGHT MANNLE FOR THE JOB
At the turn of the 21st century, Nayda Mannle, a young Honolulu lawyer who worked at Na Keiki Law Center and Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, sought a position at the NCIS Hawai‘i Field Office, but didn’t land the job.
“During my initial interview, one of the male interviewers asked me, ‘Does your husband know and understand what you are getting yourself into?’ That question certainly sounds outrageous now, but it was a sign of the times,” she says.
Twenty years later, and Mannle is the one sitting behind the big desk, serving as executive assistant director of NCIS Pacific Operations — which spans the North and Southwest of the United States, Hawai‘i, Oceania and Asia — but not before a tour as Special Agent in Charge of the very office that once passed her by.
“I knew the odds were against me; in fact, a supervisor once told me that I might as well be aiming for the moon,” she says about vying for a leadership role in the organization. “This same supervisor also said that he didn’t believe women should be in law enforcement. Statements like these fueled me. Today, women comprise more than 20% (it was just 6% when she joined NCIS) of our Special Agent corps, a significant percentage for any federal law enforcement agency. Things are certainly better, but we still have a long way to go.”
In a similar series of events, NCIS Hawai‘i’s SAC Jane Tennant takes on the responsibility as the first female agent in charge of the NCIS Pearl Harbor Field Office — a story not unlike Mannle’s own journey.
“It means a lot, because when you see it, it’s a lot easier to believe it,” Mannle says of watching the TV show. “I hope it inspires more women to pursue a career in law enforcement and/or other leadership positions. I think that Vanessa Lachey (the actress who plays the lead) is absolutely brilliant. She is also the first female lead in an NCIS TV series. I had the opportunity to meet her and was so impressed with her humility, genuineness, and sincere interest in NCIS, the military and Hawaiian culture.”
“I still think of myself as any other Special Agent who took an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Mannle says. “I am in it for the mission and people that I am charged to lead and support. That said, the weight of the EAD responsibility is always there, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about what I can be doing better to take care of the NCIS team while ensuring we succeed at our vast mission. The sacrifices of others before me helped to clear my path, and I am indebted to them.”
Mannle may be the first woman to walk this path, but if she has anything to do with it, she won’t be the last.