SNCOs encouraged to apply for Congressional Fellowship Program

2 Sep 2011 | Sgt. Bryan A. Peterson

Though the Marine Administrative Message isn’t out yet for the Office of Legislative Affairs Congressional Fellowship Program, the Marine Corps Installations – East Career Retention office is spreading the word about the prestigious program.

On Sept. 15, Marines with the Marine Corps Office of Legislative Affairs will visit the Midway Park Theater aboard the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune housing community to encourage staff noncommissioned officers aboard the base to apply for the program.

Though available for officers, SNCO applications have fallen in past years and Marine officials are ramping up their efforts to reverse that trend.

The Congressional Fellowship Program, a Department of Defense program, is monitored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs and the Marine Corps Office of Legislative Affairs. According to the Corps’ OLA, the program provides a unique opportunity for military members to work alongside senators, representatives and congressional committees.  Fellows learn about Congress through practical application and lend their experiences to Congress.

Prior to 1999, the program was only available to officers, but that changed when Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, the 16th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, said SNCOs neede the same opportunity, according to MGySgt. Franklin Moore, the Marine  Corps OLA enlisted adviser.

Master Sgt. Frazier Trusty, the MCIEAST career retention specialist, said while Marines have been selected already for the 2012 year, now is the time to get started. He added it’s a program not known to many, but very beneficial to those who apply and get accepted.

“This is a program that not many SNCOs know about,” said Trusty. “This program has been around for a long time and packages for calendar year 2013 will be due by November and selectees will know by February.  The visit on Sept. 15 is more or less a ‘hey, this is why we are here and if you are interested, here are the steps.’ There will be two SNCO spots for the 2013 year.”

Trusty added the program, though highly competitive, is a career enhancer and once in a lifetime.

“If a Marine is passionate about politics, then this is the program for them,” said Trusty. “This program has no time restraints. From staff sergeant to master gunnery sergeant, this program is available. This program is more selective than your typical (special duty assignment).”

Seven years ago, Maj. Gabriel Chapin, the I Marine Expeditionary Force public affairs director, joined the year-long program and found its purpose very beneficial to, not only her career, but her character. She worked alongside U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island democrat.

“Through this program, you can totally understand how Congress works with the military,” said Chapin. “I was able to go on delegation trips, have one-on-one talks with staff, write speeches, review legislation and packages for the senator - a big, eye-opening experience for me.”

All political affiliation aside, Chapin added her personal political stance had no direct correlation with her decision making while as a fellow. She added, through a selection process, the OLA will match the selectee with the appropriate office or politician. Being that Chapin is a Marine, she was selected to work alongside Reed in the Senate Armed Services Committee with the emphasis on foreign defense policy.

“My political stance had no impact on the way I worked as a fellow,” said Chapin. “This program is designed to inform you how Congress operates in way, so when you go back to your (military occupational specialty), you can help communicate the needs of the military to Congress.”

Chapin added the program allowed her to make friends and learn from other fellows from different agencies, such as a doctor from the American Medical Association.

“There was a doctor I became friends with who never had any experience with the military,” said Chapin. “I took him to the (National Naval Medical Center) Bethesda (in Bethesda, Md.) and he was focused on mental health. He ended up writing policy about military mental health after that.”

If a SNCO or officer does decide to apply for the program, Marines need to refer to last year’s MARADMIN 519/10 for this year’s requirements, as calendar year 2013 has not been released.

Among the most notable requirements – a minimum of two and a half years on station, the Marine must be willing to reenlist for another three years and have at least one deployment in either Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

“After a Marine is selected, they will spend a month making the transition from where they are stationed to Washington, D.C., and then spend a month at Georgetown University going through the government affairs institute course,” said Trusty. “After that, OLA screens the Marine and sends him or her to their respective staff for the next year. After that year, they go back to their jobs (in a utilization follow-on tour).”

Trusty encourages Marines who are interested to go through their respective career retentions specialists for further guidance.

Chapin said that any time the military offers a course or program, a Marine should never turn away from it.

“Any time the military offers you an opportunity, it’s a type of education, growth through experience [sic],” said Chapin. “It’s a first-hand way to experience a different part of the country.”