By Chris Macleish
Working on the Hill is a pursuit rife with paradox; rewarding and frustrating, meaningful and futile, competitive and social. During my first year on the on the Hill, I met some of the most competent, motivated, and intelligent people with whom I have ever had the opportunity to work. Many of the congressional staffers I encountered during this time were as driven by public service as any member of the armed forces with whom I served – some even more so. And like the military, working on the Hill can be a profoundly rewarding experience. When I came to the Hill as a Legislative Fellow, I initially viewed it as an opportunity to broaden my perspective on government operations before joining the foreign service. By the end of my fellowship I had decided to instead pursue a career on the Hill.
As veterans, we are told that the skills we learn in the military – leadership, organization, critical thinking, etc. make us invaluable to the civilian world and highly sought after by employers. To some extent this is true; some employers do seek out veterans. But the idea that we, as veterans are entitled to start at positions of higher responsibility with higher pay by virtue of our veteran status is insulting to civilian employers and dangerous to veterans seeking employment. All veterans have a great deal to offer, but we must appreciate the come-up in any organization as much as we did in military service.
The Hill is no exception. Veterans are woefully underrepresented and are thus actively sought out by congressional offices. Depending on the way in which a veteran served, their experience and institutional knowledge of military operations can be a tremendous added value to a congressional office with national security, armed services, intelligence, maritime, or foreign affairs portfolios. Educational and personal experiences are similarly valuable – a veteran with a masters in labor relations is a double threat to an office with interests in the labor community. And all veterans, to some degree, have an understanding of one of the largest administrations in the federal government, the VA.
But the Hill is a bizarre working environment with unique rules and procedures that are frequently not written down for benefit of new employees. So, for veterans who have a desire to work on the Hill, serving as a fellow is an ideal way to get started. Fellows, even during a global pandemic, both contribute to substantive policy discussions and have the opportunity to learn the draconian rules of the Hill. This has been a wild year and the dust has not even begun to settle from an even wilder election day. But for me, the chaos, divisiveness, and hate that has seemingly exploded across the country has only fed the bug that led me to seek opportunities on the Hill a little over one year ago. The experience has been rewarding beyond measure and it is my fervent hope that more veterans – the many veterans who are cleverer and more qualified than I am – similarly decide to avail themselves of opportunities to contribute to the work of Congress.