It used to be that only military officers and civilians were given the opportunity to be assigned as a congressional aide. Times are changing. For those that aren’t aware, the Army has declared 2009 as “Year of the NCO”. Of the many changes occurring to commemorate this event, Senior NCOs can participate in the Army Congressional Fellowship Program and the Army Congressional Orientation Program.
The fellowship program is a year-long program to help Soldiers and civilians learn how Congress works. ACOP is an 89-day program to familiarize members of the Army staff with Congress and both programs expose congressmen and senators to the Army.
Maj. Gen. Bernie Champoux announced that in honor of the Year of the NCO, two senior NCOs have been selected to take part in the year-long fellows program and work in Congressional and Senate offices as part of their staffs.
“The intent of the program is to expose members of the uniformed services in active, Guard and Reserve (positions), and certain civilians, to allow them to have an opportunity to understand how Congress works and bring that appreciation and understanding back to the Army,” said Champoux.
“It’s not just in recognition of the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, because this program will extend beyond the year … But in conjunction with that, part of what we do is that we’re the face of America’s Army in Congress. We can’t think of a better opportunity than to have those noncommissioned officers (help Congress) understand Soldiers, Soldier-family issues,” he continued.
This is great news because we all know that NCOs are the backbone of the Army. For the most part, we are not shaped by political pressure. NCOs are “tell it like it is” people who sift through the crap and get right to the point. Senior NCOs are intimately involved (or should be) in the lives of their troops. We serve as advocates for Soldiers to our commanders on enlisted issues.
The year-long program involves a competitive selection and board process and rates a permanent change of station to Washington. Soldiers incur a service obligation and a two-year utilization assignment. Officials at the Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison are still trying to determine the best follow-on assignments for NCOs, but say they are also adding senior NCO positions to their House and Senate Liaison Divisions, which would be good options.
In contrast, ACOP lasts only for 89 days and is primarily to familiarize Soldiers and civilians on the Army staff in the National Capital Region with how Congress works. Soldiers don’t incur additional requirements, and return to their regular duties at the end of the three months. Two senior NCOs can participate in this program each quarter.
In both cases, Soldiers must participate in an orientation — months for the fellows program; just a week for ACOP. They must prepare civilian resumes and actually interview with congressmen and senators before joining a member’s staff.
From that point until the end of the fellowship, Soldiers work for those members. They wear civilian clothes and may do anything from writing legislation to attending hearings to responding to constituents’ concerns. They may even act as a military expert for the member.
Senior NCOs who are interested in the fellows program should contact their assignments noncommissioned officer at Human Resources Command. According to Col. John Leggieri, the program’s manager, HRC will send out a message announcing the fiscal year 2011 program in March. Interested Soldiers can forward their packets and a board will meet in October to make selections. Right now, there are two NCO slots out of 25 positions, but Champoux said he hopes to expand this number.