Relationship between Air Force Fellows, government agencies proves to be symbiotic

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Torrance Hoeft
  • 30th Space Wing
On July 21, 2009, the United States Senate voted 58-40 to cut $1.75 billion, funding for seven F-22 fighters, out of a military authorization bill. The vote was an important one for the Obama administration; senators remarked after the vote that they had rarely seen the White House lobby as furiously as it did against the continued spending on the fighter. The issue was divisive in Congress; with F-22 parts being manufactured in 44 different states, many senators saw the vote as a threat to jobs in their constituency. When an important and politically charged vote such as the one on F-22 funding nears and congressmen need unbiased information about an Air Force program, policy or weapons system, they trust the research and experience of Air Force Fellows.

Active duty, Reserve and Guard officers, as well as Department of Defense civilians, get opportunities to support the United States' most senior legislators if they are admitted into one of the most competitive Air Force programs: Air Force Fellows. As a Fellow, they spend one year either representing the Air Force at think tanks such as The Brookings Institute or the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), studying at Universities like Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Georgetown, working in Congress members' offices, or serving on House and Senate committees in Washington, DC.

In order to fulfill the varied missions within the Fellows program, the program includes a mix of many different Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSCs) such as pilots, intelligence officers, civil engineers, finance officers and judge advocates. Often, Fellows are matched to their position based on their AFSC or skill set: pilots might work within the weapons or programs division and finance officers might work on the Senate Committee on Appropriations, while working as a Legislative Fellow demands outstanding interpersonal and relationship- building skills. As Lt. Col. Diane Ficke, Director of Air Force Fellows at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., emphasized, despite their varied specialties both in the Air Force and within the program, there is one trait that all Fellows share.

"The officers we see come through have achieved phenomenal feats throughout their career," said Colonel Ficke. "We had the first female Thunderbird pilot as part of the program. We see the cream of the crop come through and we know that once they leave our program they go on to bigger and better things."

One such officer is now the 30th Space Wing Staff judge advocate. Lt. Col. Buquicchio was a Legislative Fellow in the program from 2002-2003 while he was a major. Specifically, he spent six months working for the Air Force from within the House of Representatives. He described the main task of a Legislative Fellow in particular as a conduit of information.

In addition to facilitating communication between Congress and the Air Force, Fellows who work on Capitol Hill might also join their Congress member or their staff on congressional delegation trips. During his time on Capitol Hill, Colonel Buquicchio had the opportunity to travel to thirteen countries with notable individuals such as Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the staff of Sen. Chuck Hagel and even with actor Don Cheadle, who accompanied a congressional delegation to Algiers, Chad and Sudan led by Rep. Ed Royce, then the chairman of the House International Relations Committee's Subcommittee on Africa.

Colonel Buquicchio emphasized that despite the small size of the Fellows program (there were 129 participants in the program in 2009, the largest class of Fellows to date), the impact of the program is threefold: felt by Congress members, who relish the opportunity to have a subject matter expert on Air Force issues on their team; participants, who benefit from the great career broadening; and the Air Force, which benefits from developing senior officers who understand the political process.

With such a sought-after program, it's never too early to start working toward becoming an Air Force Fellow. Officers can be selected simply by listing it as a top choice on their Airman Development Plan, said Colonel Ficke. Having a distinguished record of performance and obtaining a strong endorsement from a senior leader can be a serious coup, and one that is worth the effort of receiving.

"In terms of career broadening assignments I can't think of any better opportunity," said Colonel Buquicchio. "Every Air Force program, weapons system or personnel initiative that requires an appropriation or authorization is considered and debated on Capitol Hill, where Congress creates the law of the land and controls the purse strings. To be on the front lines in the national discussion of those issues gives our officers unparalleled insight into both the way our legislative process works and how Air Force policy is formulated."

To see some examples of the kinds of work which Air Force Fellows are engaged in, please visit:  and  

The Air Force Fellows website is currently under construction, however to learn more about becoming a Fellow, call the program office at: (334) 953-5289.