Reflections of an Army Congressional Fellow
November 15, 2012
Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-Bu-udget Cuts. While evaluating squad training as a company commander, I heard one of my machine gunners imitating the sound of firing live rounds during a blank fire run with bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-udget cuts. For some reason, my high speed gunner concluded the reason he was not given more blank rounds was because of budget cuts. I doubt my E-4 machine gunner understood the national budgeting process, the formulation of the President's Budget, Congressional scrutiny of the budget, and the Congressional vote on the amount of taxpayer dollars the Nation will allocate to the military; but in his mind, budget cuts were to blame.
Serving in the Army as an Infantry Officer is a privilege. Leading Soldiers in combat as a platoon leader and a company commander was the highest professional honor I have yet to be given. Throughout my career I have raised my right hand and sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I never understood the enormity of my oath until now. As a result of my time as a Congressional Fellow, I better understand my oath and the extent of my service to support and defend the authorities and rights listed in the Constitution.
One of the Founding Fathers' marquee accomplishments in the Constitution was the establishment of the U.S. Congress. In Article 1, the Founding Fathers delegated "all legislative Powers" to Congress. Although I previously read the Constitution, my impression of Congress was mostly negative. At the company command level my sole exposure to Congress was through short suspense "congressionals" that respond to inquiries submitted by an unhappy Soldier or Family member.
The Army Congressional Fellowship Program changed my perception of Congress and my views on my role as a Soldier. The program is a 43 month assignment that includes the pursuit of a Master's degree in Legislative Affairs from George Washington University, a one year assignment as a staff member for a Member of Congress, and a two-year utilization tour working in a congressionally related billet as an Army legislative liaison officer or NCO.
The fellowship experience begins with the academic phase. Fellows enroll in George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and pursue a master's degree in Legislative Affairs. The experience provided me with the theoretical framework I needed to succeed on the Hill and extended an opportunity to interact with Congressional staffers also pursuing the advanced degree. The professors facilitated discussions and assigned readings that were both informative and thought-provoking.
The fellows, the GWU student body, and the Legislative Affairs professors benefit from the fellows involvement. "The addition of Army fellows who have served our nation in a wide range of assignments and locations adds a tremendous advantage to our program. The students in this program are taught to be sophisticated political thinkers," said Dr. Steven Billet, Director of GWU's Legislative Affairs program. "The combined student population of Army Fellows, congressional staffers, and aspiring political professionals creates an atmosphere that challenges our students to think beyond their personal experiences; adding depth and breadth to their political understanding."
The fellowship phase is the highlight of the program. I was assigned as a staff member for Congressman Larry Kissell from North Carolina and was fully integrated into his staff. My portfolio included defense and non-defense related issues. During my year in his office, I was privileged to witness Congressman Kissell embody the intent of the Founding Fathers by serving his constituents as their local representative and serving the United States of America as a national legislator. Also, his position on the Armed Services Committee gave me ample opportunities to become involved in the full spectrum of defense issues and the national security strategy.
When asked about the program Congressman Kissell noted, "Without question this program helps make outstanding officers and NCOs even stronger leaders by giving them a first-hand view of the process that provides the military with the resources and oversight needed to succeed. Additionally, Members and staff see the high caliber of Soldiers serving in today's Army."
My experience in the Congressional Fellowship Program provided me with greater clarity on my role as an American and a Soldier in America's Army. I not only serve to "provide for the common defense" but also to reinforce authorities given in the Constitution. The program provided me an opportunity to witness Congress develop legislation for our nation, oversee the development of our nation's security strategy, resource of our nation's military, and engage in a deliberate process that results in machine gunners having ammunition for a training exercise. The program also afforded me an opportunity to tell the Army's story and model the Army's values to Members of Congress and Congressional staffers.
The Army offers a number of different broadening opportunities, like the Congressional Fellowship, for Officers and NCOs. If you would like to pursue a master's degree from a first-rate academic institution, operate in a challenging environment, and use your experience to help better the Army, I encourage you to apply to the Army Congressional Fellowship Program. Although I am an Infantryman and made multiple references to my experiences in the Infantry, the Congressional Fellowship is open to all branches and MOS's. The program is administered by the Army's Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison and accepts applications from Active Duty, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard officers and senior NCOs. Officers in year groups 1998-2008 may apply. NCOs must be an E-8 or above and have completed the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy as of May 2013. DA Civilians may also apply and must hold the grade of GS-11 through GS-14. Please see MILPER Message 12-325 or visit the OCLL website at http://ocll.hqda.pentagon.mil/confellowship.aspx for information about applying for the program.
MAJ Tim Meadors served as an Army Congressional Fellow in 2010. He is now in the second year of his two-year utilization and was chosen to serve as the program's manager. MAJ Meadors' previous assignments include the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).