Weekly Columns

Congress is advancing the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to strengthen defense investment and ensure servicemembers and their families have the tools, resources and training to combat evolving threats to our national security. At the forefront of achieving this legislative milestone is the relationship between Congress and the Department of Defense (DoD). Throughout the year, Members of Congress engage with DoD officials from all services to help establish or continue defense programs, policies, projects and activities. This connection is further strengthened through the DoD’s Legislative Fellowship program.

Servicemembers representing each branch of the military work as personal staff members in congressional offices for one year in this prestigious program, which presents a unique opportunity for military personnel to learn and support the people and institutions shaping defense priorities.

My office, and others in the Arkansas congressional delegation, find this fellowship valuable to our role in supporting our nation’s defense. That’s why for the last eight years I have sponsored a fellow from the Department of the Air Force with most of the participants being from the enlisted corps. Enlisted members make up roughly 80 percent of the military workforce, serving as the backbone of the world’s greatest military. We look forward to welcoming our next enlisted Air Force fellow at the beginning of 2023.

These airmen have shaped policies by offering their life experiences in uniform and identifying areas needing improvement to better support our military members and their families. From adjustments to cost-of-living and dislocation allowances to reducing barriers for military spouses to gain meaningful employment, legislative fellows are crafting and helping advance proposals that improve quality of life.

During the recent graduation for the 2022 Air Force Legislative Fellows Cohort, Major General Christopher Finerty spoke about the importance of the program to the Pentagon. By allowing DoD to place fellows in areas where they can be best utilized to help advance military priorities and share its long-term strategic outlook, it provides benefits now and well into the future.

The Legislative Fellowship is a worthwhile experience for Arkansas and the DoD as we aim to strengthen our state’s role in our nation’s defense. As a co-chairman of the Senate Air Force Caucus, I actively engage with other congressional offices and Air Force leaders to ensure the service has robust support and cooperation within the legislative branch. This partnership has led to increased federal investment at the Little Rock Air Force Base and an expanded mission at Ebbing Air Field in Fort Smith.

Having this opportunity to enhance the development of our nation’s best and brightest airmen is deeply rooted in my own experience as the son of an Air Force Master Sergeant where I witnessed the determination, drive and sacrifices our men and women in uniform make to protect the freedoms we share. Our Air Force fellows have also found the work in an Arkansas congressional office just as rewarding.

The value added experiences and knowledge fellows provide while serving as congressional staffers is one reason why the bipartisan NDAA has successfully passed Congress for the past 62 years. I look forward to approving this legislation when it comes before the Senate in the coming days.