Little did Alec Pourteau know when he ran for exercise on Capitol Hill while assigned as an officer at Marine Barracks Washington that someday he would be working in the renowned buildings—representing the military as a congressional fellow.
Marine Major Pourteau’s first visit to the Capitol complex took place Friday, September 30, when he and 10 of his fellow Department of Defense Fellows were briefed in the majestic Ways and Means Committee Hearing Room by two U.S. Representatives who detailed the ins-and-outs of daily life on the Hill. They also illuminated some of the expectations of congressional fellows.
The Marines in attendance for the talks by Representatives French Hill (R-AR) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) were 11 of the Marine Corps officers that make up the fifth cohort of the Marine Corps Congressional Fellows program, an intensive and competitive fellowship that, when completed, grants the officers a Master’s in Public Policy degree from George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and launches their transitory careers working on the Hill.
For First Lieutenant Bridget Greene, September’s visit to the Hill was not the first, “but it was the first time I have ever met a member of Congress in person,” she said.
The Greenlawn, New York, native is a logistics officer by trade. It was while serving in Hawaii that she had “the opportunity to experience firsthand the evolution of the American military presence in the Indo-Pacific,” she said. “Building a strong relationship with Congress is critical to enhancing the effectiveness of the Marine Corps during this period of transformation.”
The Schar School/Marine Corps program, which began with a blistering summer session, provides the fellows with the skills in policy-making and analysis necessary for understanding and solving critical problems. Those are proficiencies likely to be required while representing military interests with members of Congress.
“Having active-duty members of our armed forces serve in congressional offices helps strengthen relationships between our armed serves and legislators,” said Noah Jacobson, a Schar School adjunct professor and assistant vice president of federal affairs for AT&T. He teaches in the cohort program and arranged the visit to Capitol Hill. “It also provides members with an expertise they would not ordinarily have.”
After a year wearing suits, ties, and dresses in the famed “hallowed halls” of Congress, the officers return to duty in uniform to complete their military obligation. In Houston-native Pourteau’s case, that’s back to the courtroom as a Judge Advocate.
“It was too good of an opportunity to not apply,” he said of the fellowship. “I’m excited to learn more about policy and government, and to get to firsthand experience with our civilian leadership on Capitol Hill next year.”
His motivation, he said, was to work in “any way I can to serve the Marine Corps and the United States at higher levels. My goal with this program is to do that. The day I feel like I’m coasting is the day it’s time to find something else to do.”
As for meeting French and Gallagher, “The members and their staffers are incredibly patriotic and passionate about their work, and they each have their own unique approach to doing what they think is best for the country,” Pourteau said. “I’m excited to get to work with them.”
“I was struck by the emphasis that they placed on fostering the intellectual curiosity of their Defense Fellows,” Greene said. “I am looking forward to learning more about defense policy issues while also expanding my aperture to include a wide range of policy areas while on Capitol Hill.
“I will certainly have a chance to apply the lessons that I am learning as a student at the Schar School,” she added.
As for the future, “I hope to have many years of service ahead of me,” said Greene. “My first instinct is always to ask myself how I can lever opportunities like this fellowship to become a more well-rounded leader and better serve junior Marines and Sailors.
“I am humbled by the chance to represent the Marine Corps as well at the Schar School and on the Hill.”