Leia’s Leadership

By Betty Rhoades, Executive Director, HillVets Foundation

10 Reasons Why Princess Leia Was Totally Boss - AIM Institute

May 4th is Star Wars Day (“May the fourth be with you” – get it?), so it’s a good day to remind folks that leadership lessons aren’t limited to just real-life people and organizations. If we choose to, we can learn all kinds of things from the fictional characters we admire – and even the ones we don’t.

In my opinion, the greatest leader in Star Wars canon is General Princess Leia Skywalker Organa Solo – and yes, ALL her titles and names are important. Here’s why:

* She was fearless AND empathetic – Leaders are always asked to accept and manage a certain amount of risk. Leia understood this, and she never hesitated to grab a blaster or pilot a speeder through the forests of Endor. But to be effective, leaders can’t be blowing things up (literally or figuratively) 100% of the time – they also have to relate to the people around them, to make those risks more palatable. Leia understood the pain of loss, whether it was her home planet or her son, and she was able to use that to empathize with the people she led. That empathy engendered loyalty and trust among her team, which of course made them more willing to follow her into proverbial battle.

*She was a master communicator, whether she was inspiring her team or sassing her adversaries – Leaders need to be able to convey a variety of messages, both at the individual and team levels. Leia could move seamlessly from strategic discussions to inspirational speeches to one-on-one instruction and guidance. She even communicated deftly with her enemies, distracting and misleading them. No matter the circumstances, Leia was able to craft clear, compelling messages – a skill that effective leaders must master, even if they’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.

* She knew how to delegate and how to motivate – As much as I’d like to believe that Leia could have saved the galaxy all by herself, she was much more self-aware. She often delegated tasks and gave others their chances to shine. Delegation is as much about talent development as it is self-preservation, and Leia was also able to adjust her approach to bring out the best in a variety of colleagues. For instance, Leia’s interactions with her brother Luke focus on tactfully acknowledging his emotions and gracefully pointing the way. In contrast, when she engages with Han Solo, Leia often chooses direct, borderline insulting language – but hey, I guess it worked out okay for her and her favorite stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf-herder (okay, maybe her language in that case was more than borderline insulting).

* She had rock solid belief in her team, her mission, and her badass self – No matter the odds or the plot twists, there was never any question that Leia was dedicated to the greater good. She was laser-focused on her mission, and she exuded confidence that inspired her team, even when the going got tough. Leia was an absolute Jedi master at straddling the line between assurance and arrogance, which then gave the other rebels the confidence that they, too, could make the galaxy a better, safer, more just place. It may seem simple, but this kind of conviction is hard to come by – and she demonstrated it even at the darkest of times.

Pretty impressive, huh? Oh, and Leia did ALL of that while people underestimated her (at best) or actively degraded her because she was a woman. And she did SOME of that while dressed in a supremely uncomfortable gold bikini (don’t even get me started).

Now…will someone get this big walking carpet out of her way?

Who are your favorite fictional leaders?

By |2022-05-04T08:29:26-04:00May 4th, 2022|Blog|0 Comments

Remembering and Reflecting

By Betty Rhoades, Executive Director, HillVets Foundation

On September 11, 2001, I was a senior in college. I was preparing for the next chapter – law school, though at the time I didn’t know where or what I would be studying. I didn’t have any real connection to the military. I was working as a resident assistant in a freshman dormitory for women. It was a Tuesday, which meant my classes started a bit later, so I could have a leisurely start to my day. I wasn’t normally a morning TV watcher, but for some reason I tuned to the Today Show, just as background noise while I got dressed and ready.

Or so I thought.

It was a little bit before 9 AM, and I immediately saw the smoke billowing out of the North tower of the World Trade Center. In the initial moments after the 8:46 AM impact, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer learned on air that a plane crashed into the building. Lauer called it an accident, which was certainly what I assumed. A terrible accident. I was, of course, only right about the terrible part.

At 9:03 AM, we watched live as the second plane hit the South tower. It became all too clear that this was no accident.

I’m from New York originally – on 9/11, most of my family was safe on Long Island, but there were a few who lived and worked in Manhattan. I tried to call and find out if everyone was okay, but the phone lines were already so jammed that it was impossible to get through. I started hearing my residents gathering nervously in the hall, wondering what was going on. I knew I had to tend to them first. They were just kids – scared 18-year-olds who never dreamed they’d watch their country being attacked, live on television.

I walked into campus for my 11 AM class, stopping at the student union on my way. Every TV in the building had a throng of students and faculty staring at it, transfixed by the horror unfolding. We learned that the Pentagon had been hit. We learned that U.S. air space had been shut down. At 9:59 AM, we saw the South tower collapse. The North tower followed at 10:28 AM. I went to my class, because I didn’t know what else to do. It was very clear that neither my classmates nor our professor had seen the news. I filled them in. We were dismissed, walking out of the building in somber silence, not quite sure what should come next.

In the days that followed, we learned more about the attacks. The attackers. The victims. The families. The first responders. On September 12 and beyond, there were examples of unity and national pride. There were also examples of fear, bigotry, and racism. The events of 9/11 catapulted our country into twenty years of heightened security, increased surveillance, and, of course, war. They catapulted millions of men and women into lives and careers of service and sacrifice, including my now husband, Jason, who joined the Air Force.

I’ll be honest – while I was certainly deeply affected by the deadliest foreign assault ever on U.S. soil, it didn’t really change my trajectory. I still graduated and went on to law school. I still had very little interaction with the military community. When I came to DC in 2005 and was offered a position with the Department of Veterans Affairs, I accepted the job not due to some personal connection or sense of patriotic duty, but because I simply wanted to help people.

Little did I know that one decision would completely change my life.

In the 20 years since 9/11, millions of Americans have answered the call and served our country in uniform. They joined the millions more who served prior. Since 2005, I have been privileged to serve many of those individuals and their families. In my experience, they represent some of the best of America – dedicated, determined, and generous, with a commitment to serving others that doesn’t stop when they take off their uniforms.

To my fellow civilians – those who, like younger me, don’t think about the military or veterans more than occasionally, in passing – as you remember and reflect on this monumental anniversary, think about those who stood up in the wake of tragedy and said, “I’m ready to serve.” But I challenge you to think about them not just as they were when they deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Think about them not just in their uniforms, with their weapons. Think about them not as a monolith, and not as whatever cliché comes most quickly to mind. Think about them as complex, unique, whole human beings, with a myriad of hopes and dreams and goals – just like you.

Part of why I take my role at HillVets so seriously is because these incredible people, who put their lives on the line for their fellow Americans, deserve a seat at the table. Policy professionals and elected officials have made countless decisions in the two decades since 9/11, and while we can each choose to agree or disagree with those decisions, I think we can all understand that we want the people making them to truly represent the diversity – in every sense of the word – of the American people. That has to include military-connected individuals.

In my career, I have seen time and time again the incredible good that can come from servicemembers, veterans, and their family members banding together to impact change. We need that now more than ever.

If you are inspired to get involved and help us increase the representation and impact of military-connected individuals working in public policy, I hope you’ll reach out – there is still much work to be done.

We at HillVets wish you peace as you commemorate this anniversary in whatever way is most meaningful to you. Thank you to our wonderful community – we appreciate all you do.

By |2021-09-10T16:00:50-04:00September 10th, 2021|Blog|0 Comments

Update Regarding the HillVets 100 of 2019 Tribute Gala

When the world shut down in March 2020, we hoped we’d be able to reschedule for a later date. We didn’t think “a later date” would be this far into 2021…but here we are, unfortunately, once again looking at rising case numbers and reimposed mask mandates.

In addition to the COVID-19 challenges, our beautiful and iconic venue has had to undergo some additional renovations, rendering it unavailable for the remainder of the year. Given all this, we have decided not to reschedule the HillVets 100 of 2019. We are excited to announce that the HillVets 100 of 2021 will take place on March 23, 2022, in the Hall of Flags at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Nominations will open sometime in late November/early December.

We are disappointed, of course, but we thank you for your understanding as we navigated this difficult situation. Any ticket purchases that haven’t already been refunded will be returned to you immediately (bank timelines for refunds vary greatly, but please reach out to Jena Doyle at jena@hillvets.org if you have questions or concerns).

Please let us know if there’s anything we can do to help. We look forward to making the HillVets 100 of 2021 the most exciting and inspiring event we’ve hosted yet!

By |2021-09-03T13:53:06-04:00September 3rd, 2021|Blog|0 Comments

Figuring it Out

By Patrick Miller

In January of 2020, I had my career trajectory all planned out. I was finishing my Bachelor’s in Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and had accepted a summer internship with a Senate office.  I was also turning my focus to applying for graduate schools to start in the fall. It finally felt, after a few long years of wandering aimlessly, that I had it “figured out.”

Fast forward to April and things had taken a drastic turn, as we all can remember. The COVID-19 pandemic forced courses to become remote, Capitol Hill was either cancelling internships for the summer, or shifting them to also be virtual experiences and no one knew what the summer or fall meant for academic coursework. So, I spent the summer working remotely for Student Veterans of America as a policy intern, assisting with COVID-19 response efforts to help protect GI Bill users and supporting where I could with research in the office.

Fast forward a year into the pandemic. In January of 2021 a work friend suggested I apply for HillVets, as she personally knew someone who had been in the program and felt it was extremely rewarding.  On what could be described as a whim, I applied, with a glimmer of hope that this could resurrect my hopes of going to grad school and finally working on the Hill. Even applying for HillVets reignited my ambition that had been quiet since COVID had shut it all down with quarantines, social distancing, and teleworking. I started hunting for a grad program I would want to participate in, and applying to programs in D.C. And low and behold, in late February I got the email that said I had been accepted into the HillVets House Fellowship Program!

Once again, the trajectory of my life completely shifted. Suddenly I had to work on strengthening my resume, crafting writing samples and emailing offices to build relationships for a potential placement as a fellow. I had to learn a new skillset for contacting offices, interviewing, and asking for a placement in their office. Then George Washington University accepted me into a Political Management Master’s program, and planning for grad school had to start in earnest. I had to get my life packed up and ready to move on short notice and plan two trips across the country in less than a month; one for my best friend’s commission into the United States Air Force in Oregon, and the other for the big move to D.C. to start the HillVets program. To say it was a stressful month would be an understatement.

At the beginning of April, I made the move, driving from Omaha to D.C. over the course of three days. I unloaded all my stuff in D.C. and moved into the HillVets house. I was able to meet Jena and Betty, who run the programs and house. I met the other House fellows over a week or two, and I started working in Congresswoman Susan Wild’s office.

Now it’s almost June 2021, and it feels like we’re rounding the corner of COVID-19, as millions of Americans are vaccinated or are getting vaccinated.  The weather is getting hot again, and restrictions are starting to lift across the country. What’s just as great or even better, is the fact that I’m doing work I love again, in a city I’ve been trying to get to for years, and accomplishing my personal, professional, and academic goals. It feels like I have it “figured out” again.

HillVets has really helped me get back on track, whether it was intentional or not. I was feeling lost and aimless at my last job, with no idea at how I’d get back on my planned trajectory that a year before felt as solid as stone. Within a few months though, that all changed and with it my life, demeanor, and ambition. There’s now a new trajectory for me. I’m learning the core skills necessary to become a legislative assistant, the abilities that will make me competitive for a career on Capitol Hill. HillVets will also give me the network and additional skills to make sure I meet the best people to help me look and find a job when I’ve accumulated enough skills here on the Hill. The end goal with this House Fellowship with HillVets is to be a staffer on a committee, working to make the greatest impact possible and work on substantive legislative policy.

By |2021-05-26T11:50:44-04:00May 26th, 2021|Blog|0 Comments

The Next Level

By Ursula Palmer

“What got you here won’t keep you here and won’t get you there.”

This was one of the first pieces of advice I received at the beginning of my career. I had been at my entry level job for a couple of years and didn’t seem to be able to get the promotion I thought I deserved. Within a couple of months, I was taking a real estate investment class while interning for the school’s CEO. One day, the President of the real estate school said something I’ll never forget: “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”  So, I worked hard, and a few months later, their real estate auction company offered me the position of Director of Marketing. It seemed things we’re finally working out.

Then, when I thought I had it together, my husband was severely injured while on active duty in Afghanistan and died two and a half months later.  In the blink of an eye, I had become a Gold Star Spouse, left behind with a 3-year-old daughter. She became my reason to survive. I knew that regardless of how heartbroken and depressed I felt, I had to figure out a way to show her how to survive, adapt, and move forward.

I worked for a few more years at the Real Estate Auction company, and then I found love again. I married into the military for the second time. I had to move away from a job I loved and had a beautiful baby boy who got severely sick at 18 months old, leading me to put my career on hold to take care of him. During that time, I started to volunteer for two of the organizations that had provided support during my journey as a military widow. I was now in a position to use my experience to help and advocate for others. That was extremely empowering and fulfilling.

The volunteer experience was great, but I knew I had to continue to improve myself if I was to go back to the workforce. So, I decided to get my Project Management Professional certification. Then, as I was participating in a golf program for wounded warriors, disabled veterans and Gold Star families, the organization providing the adaptive golf classes was looking for a program manager. Working with veterans and for veterans was addicting and it provided me with an opportunity to give back to those, who like my two husbands, had given so much to our country.

A few years passed, and I knew I could do more to serve the military community. That’s when I found HillVets. Their website stated that they brought together the veteran community in the National Capital Region and provided fellowship and leadership training to veterans interested in engaging in policy, politics, or government. That sounded great, but I wasn’t a veteran. So, I thought I’d ask if they would consider allowing a Gold Star spouse to participate, and they said yes! I applied to both their HillVets House Fellowship Program and HillVets LEAD program and was accepted to both.

Talk about stepping out of my comfort zone. 95% of the HillVets LEAD participants were veterans, most of them already with experience in policy. In addition, while participating as a fellow, I found that most fellows on Capitol Hill were in their twenties. Having the most important thing to undertake this adventure – my family’s support – I swallowed my pride and went to work. “Work hard, get lucky” resonated again. I kept reminding myself that this was the necessary step to gain the knowledge and experience that would allow me to better serve those I cared about. I finished the HillVets LEAD program and found an opportunity with a great office in the House of Representatives. HillVets also chose me as their fellow to represent them with the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization. I learned a great deal and made wonderful friends. Then, the pandemic hit.

I had two options. Sit down and feel defeated that my Hill experience got cut short or do something about it. I started networking and keeping abreast of military and veterans’ affairs issues, policies, and developments. As I talked to people, I started to realize that others respected and appreciated my knowledge, my desire to continuously improve, and especially my most important goal – to serve. HillVets had proven to be the conduit to take me to the next level.

I am now the Executive Director of Military and Veteran Programs for Cybercrime Support Network, an organization where being a servant leader is the main expectation. And once again I know that I have to work hard because, “what got me here won’t keep me here and won’t get me there.” I will have to continue to learn and to improve. Thanks to HillVets and many other great organizations and leaders who have guided me throughout the years, I am finally at a place where I can directly help and serve the military community. Through my work, I am able to honor the memory of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, like my late husband.

By |2021-01-11T11:02:07-05:00January 11th, 2021|Blog|0 Comments


It’s December 31st, which means that everywhere you look, there are retrospectives and “year in review” pieces, commemorating the dumpster fire that was 2020. Frankly, I’m not interested in looking backwards at this point – this year has left its unwanted mark on all of us, and while I certainly feel grateful for the people who helped HillVets weather the storm, I’d rather turn my gaze to the horizon and think about the opportunities that a new year can bring.

Regardless of your politics – remember, we are a nonpartisan organization – a new administration AND a new Congress present many meaningful opportunities for change. I look forward to placing our new Fellows into offices around the Capitol, ensuring that the voices of veterans and military family members are heard throughout the policymaking process. Despite the fact that there are fewer veterans in the 117th Congress than at any point since WWII, I hope that by continuing to advocate for their staffs to include individuals with military ties, we can increase and expand the representation of veterans on the Hill. Their knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences are supremely valuable to the legislative process!

I am also excited to meet and work with the new leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. Policy work doesn’t just happen in the legislative branch, and HillVets has been fortunate to have access to “top brass” at the agencies most impacted by the decisions that our Fellows and alumni help to make on the Hill. Ideally, there will be a commitment to collaboration between executive and legislative officials, in an effort to truly make the most positive impact on the lives of those who serve and those who support them. I am confident that the HillVets community can be valuable to executive leaders as they work to develop and implement their agenda!

While we don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to gather in person again, I look forward to the return of the HillVets 100 and our monthly networking socials! You can be sure that we won’t host those events (or any of our others) until it is definitely safe to do so, but I am optimistic that 2021 will see the return of in-person networking and celebration. In the meantime, of course, we will continue to provide creative virtual and socially distanced ways for our community to connect, learn, and grow. If you are an alum of one of our programs and you haven’t completed this survey that will help us reach and engage with you better, please consider doing so!

I hope 2021 brings success and good fortune to all of our partners! Just like we saw in 2020, I know that they will work diligently to highlight and support veterans in each of their respective industries. I also look forward to forging NEW partnerships in the new year – HillVets provides tremendous value to our sponsors and supporters, and we are always working on innovative ways to link arms with individuals and organizations who share our values.

Of course, nothing magically changes on 1/1/2021, and we know that there are still difficult times ahead. So, eat that Hoppin’ John, pop those 12 grapes, dump a bucket of water out the window, smash a plate, or do whatever you do to bring luck into the new year – the HillVets team wishes you and your families nothing but peace, prosperity, happiness, and good health in 2021.

By |2020-12-31T13:17:13-05:00December 31st, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

A Military Spouse in Congress

By Karla Langham

As a military spouse, we often put our careers on hold, press pause on finishing our education, and take time to support our spouse’s military career. We endure comments about our dependence on our servicemember and are regularly referred to as “just” a military spouse. We are told to suck it up, that we “signed up” for this, and for that reason it is completely our fault that we did not take the proper amount of time to read the fine print. There are no takebacks and there is definitely no whining.

The aforementioned is mostly true, with the exception of the “no whining.” When it comes to the lack of upward mobility in the careers of military spouses, there is definitely whining. The reality, however, is that I would not trade my experiences for any other.

My path as a military spouse has brought me through numerous entry level career paths and has led me to where I am today: a congressional staffer. It took a year and a half of living in our current duty station, to convince someone to take a chance on hiring me. When I am asked how I was able secure a position in Congress, my response is, “I have no idea. It was purely an accident;” but a happy accident that has been a continual learning curve ever since.

During my first few weeks as a Congressional staffer, I repeatedly heard the phrase “This job is like drinking from a fire hose.” I was bombarded with information every moment of every day. Learning about the district’s issues, stakeholders, friends and foes, and how to address adversity—it was overwhelming, but no different than my life as a military spouse. I was juggling issues, addressing competing needs, and working within the parameters of government entities and policies. I learned quickly that the only way to fully grasp how to do your job, is to learn-by-fire.

Luckily, I was born and bred of the “learn-by-fire” method, which proved useful the first few months of starting my job, but then came 2020. Five months into my amazing “happy accident” job, everything came to a screeching halt. COVID-19 lockdowns commenced, and I was left wondering: How would I learn-by-fire, if there was no actual fire? How would I meet others, build relationships, or grow myself professionally? I was just another face in a sea of Zoom conference calls, and I was struggling to make meaningful professional relationships. In my frustration, I vented to a friend, who introduced me to another friend, and that friend introduced me to HillVets.

When I was introduced to HillVets they had just begun their application process for the HillVets LEAD Program. I initially was hesitant to apply since I am not a veteran and just a spouse. Additionally, HillVets had only previously offered the program to those living and working in the greater Washington, DC, area. While contemplating the application process, I was invited to watch a live broadcast of HillVets LEAD Alumni discussing their experiences with the program. Among those speaking was a military spouse, who encouraged other spouses to apply. Hearing that helped calm my nerves and motivated me to submit my application.  Additionally, the HillVets team announced they would be offering the program virtually, due to the pandemic. This was even more exciting; I would get to participate from San Diego, CA.

The HillVets LEAD Program was exactly what I needed. It was a safe space to ask questions about leadership, share stories, and learn from my peers within the veteran and military community. Our cohort of protégés was able to work collaboratively on a project, pool our networks, and execute our panel for HillVets CAPCON, a leadership and policy forum that culminated the program. Through HillVets, I met people that I otherwise would have never met—which is one of my favorite experiences of the program being virtual. HillVets speakers were always impressive; they were honest and authentic. They spent their evenings speaking on their leadership experiences in D.C. and wholeheartedly believed in building allyship among veterans and veteran advocates. I walked away from the HillVets LEAD Program with lifelong friendships, mentors, invaluable tools to use on the job, and a literal home to walk into should I ever make it to the HillVets House in Washington, D.C.

HillVets has taken the time to build meaningful partnerships with senior policy experts and make them accessible to those who seek to build their skills and grow their careers. I entered the HillVets LEAD program feeling that my experiences as “just” a military spouse would not be welcomed. Instead, I fostered lifelong professional friendships, found the mentorship I was lacking, was able to build on my career and plan next steps. I would encourage anyone working in veteran programs or policy to apply to the HillVets LEAD Program and to take advantage of the program being offered virtually.

By |2020-12-04T12:58:58-05:00December 4th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Put the Giving in Thanksgiving

Generosity and gratitude have more in common than just their first letter. Generosity can certainly inspire gratitude. But does it work in reverse? Does gratitude inspire generosity? Scholarship (and personal experience) suggests that the answer is yes, and that individuals who regularly practice gratitude in their lives are more helpful and supportive. We at HillVets have been striving to make gratitude a part of our routines in a strange and challenging year. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we wanted to share what we’re thankful for AND how you can get in on the gratitude-generosity cycle and help our organization thrive in the coming months.

We are thankful for our incredible HillVets alumni, partners, and supporters. Both in DC and across the country, our community is what makes us so unique and special. Generosity abounds in this group – folks are always willing to lend a helping hand, reach across the aisle, and pay it forward to those who follow in their footsteps. We wouldn’t have been able to survive this very difficult year without the support – financial and otherwise – of our amazing community.

We are so very grateful for our program participants! Whether they are HillVets House Fellows or HillVets LEAD Protégés, they put their trust in us to help them achieve their professional goals – an act of generosity in and of itself! They are at the heart of everything we do at HillVets, and they drive us to be better, more innovative and inclusive, and as effective and supportive as we can possibly be.

We are thankful for our HillVets 100 honorees, from this past year and beyond! These exceptional individuals and groups truly represent the best of what the military and veteran communities have to offer. We cannot wait until we can gather safely again, so we can give them the recognition and celebration they richly deserve – though we’re working on some creative ways to do that in our current reality, so stay tuned for more on that in the coming weeks.

If you are as grateful as we are for HillVets and what it has contributed to your life, you can turn that gratitude into generosity! On December 1, the nonprofit community will celebrate Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement that strives to unleash the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world. Created in 2012, Giving Tuesday was a simple idea – to encourage people to do good – that has grown into a worldwide celebration that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and highlight generosity.

If you are able, we encourage you to make a gift of any size to HillVets, via our Uncommon Giving site: https://uncommongiving.com/np/hillvets-foundation. If you want to take your generosity up a notch, please consider sharing the link – and your personal HillVets story – with your friends and family! All contributions will support our impactful programs and allow us to continue our mission of serving the community of veterans, servicemembers, and supporters in our Nation’s Capitol with opportunity, mentorship, housing, peer support, and training in their pursuit of continued service in government.

From all of us at HillVets, we thank you for being a part of our family, and we wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and meaningful Thanksgiving!

By |2020-11-27T12:18:51-05:00November 27th, 2020|Blog|1 Comment

RBG’s Military Legacy

The HillVets community is well-versed in the politics and policies of both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government. The Judiciary can be a bit more of a mystery, particularly for those who did not study law. As an attorney and a professional woman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg certainly had an impact on my life and career. But did you know that she also made a lasting impact on the military community? In addition to being a military spouse (her husband, Martin, served in the Army Reserves), RBG was involved in a number of cases that involved the military community and its policies. Here are the biggest:

Struck v. Department of Defense – Before RBG was a Supreme Court Justice, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union. In that capacity, she represented Air Force Captain Susan Struck against the Department of Defense. Women in the military at that time were discharged for becoming mothers, which meant that pregnant women in uniform were forced to either leave the military or risk an abortion (which was illegal at that time). Captain Struck got pregnant, but as a Catholic, she would not pursue abortion, so the Air Force recommended an honorable discharge. However, Captain Struck did not want to leave the work she loved. Ginsburg won a stay (a delay, essentially) for Struck’s discharge, arguing that the only conspicuous difference between men and women was their ability to get pregnant. She also argued that no other temporary medical condition resulted in a de facto discharge, and that men in the military did not face an end to their careers when they became parents. Therefore, Struck’s constitutional rights of equal protection, privacy, and free exercise of religion were violated. Neither lower court agreed with Ginsburg’s arguments, but when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the U.S. Solicitor General convinced the Air Force to abandon the policy. The Struck case remains largely unknown because the Supreme Court never actually heard oral arguments.

Frontiero v. Richardson – Once again, RBG’s work at the ACLU brought her to the Supreme Court, this time in a case related to military benefits. Sharron Frontiero was a lieutenant in the Air Force and applied for housing and medical benefits for her husband. While men in the military could claim their wives as dependents and get benefits for them automatically, women who served had to prove that their husbands were dependent on them for more than half their support. Frontiero marked Ginsburg’s first time delivering an actual oral argument in front of the Court. Justices Douglas, White, Marshall, and Brennan found the military’s benefit policy unconstitutional, because there was no reason why military wives needed benefits any more than military husbands. Justice Brennan also dismissed the Air Force’s argument that the policy was meant to save administrative costs by simply assuming that all wives were dependents (but not doing the same for husbands); on the contrary, by automatically granting benefits to wives who might not truly be dependents per the requirements, he said, the Air Force might actually be increasing its costs.

United States v. Virginia – Ginsburg was Justice Ginsburg when this landmark case regarding equal protection in the military reached the Supreme Court. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was Virginia’s only all-male public undergraduate college/university. The United States brought suit against the state of Virginia and VMI, claiming that the school’s admissions policy was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause. In an attempt to avoid further legal challenges, Virginia proposed to create the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) as a comparable program for women. The Court ruled 7-1 (Justice Clarence Thomas’ son attended VMI, so he recused himself) that the admissions policy was unconstitutional, and that the creation of the VWIL was not a legally sufficient way to correct that injustice. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, held, “The VWIL program is a pale shadow of VMI in terms of the range of curricular choices and faculty stature, funding, prestige, alumni support and influence.” The VMI decision then became the benchmark case for any law that “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature — equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society.” VMI toyed with the idea of going private to exempt itself from the 14th Amendment; however, after some back and forth with the Department of Defense, it began to admit women. U.S. v. Virginia continues to be taught in constitutional law courses in law schools across the country.

As you can see, Justice Ginsburg made a significant impact in the military community, particularly where women were concerned. And while the Supreme Court can seem esoteric, it is important for Americans to learn about and understand how our country’s laws are both developed AND challenged. Are there other military-related Supreme Court opinions that you find fascinating? Leave us a comment!

By |2020-11-20T11:50:33-05:00November 20th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

Life on the Hill: Looking Back on a Year of Fellowship

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.

By |2020-11-09T08:41:06-05:00November 9th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments
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