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White House Fellows alum champions program

White House Fellow, Class of 2012-2013, then Maj. Ariel Batungbacal, 25th Intelligence Squadron Director of Operations, delivers a briefing at the Department of Labor on women veterans' economic security. (Courtesy photo)

White House Fellow, Class of 2012-2013, then Maj. Ariel Batungbacal, Joint Staff J2/Director of Intelligence's Deputy Executive Assistant at the Pentagon, delivers a briefing at the Department of Labor on women veterans' economic security. (Courtesy photo)

White House Fellow, Class of 2012-2013, then Maj. Ariel Batungbacal, 25th Intelligence Squadron Director of Operations, greets Commander-In-Chief, President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy photo)

White House Fellow, Class of 2012-2013, then Maj. Ariel Batungbacal, Joint Staff J2/Director of Intelligence's Deputy Executive Assistant at the Pentagon, greets Commander-In-Chief, President Barack Obama on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy photo)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- When it comes to providing its people opportunity, the Air Force is second to none - just ask one of its officers who earned herself a spot among some exclusive company as a member of the prestigious White House Fellows Program. 

In 2012 then Maj. Ariel Batungbacal, Joint Staff J2/Director of Intelligence's Deputy Executive Assistant at the Pentagon, was selected as a White House Fellow. She was one of only 43 Airmen and one of just two from the intelligence community appointed since the program's inception in 1964.

Now, as an alum of the WHF Class of 2012-2013, Lt. Col. Batungbacal, 450th Intelligence Squadron commander at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, reflects enthusiastically about her White House experience and what it could mean for other deserving Airmen.

"It was an amazing journey for me - life changing and I hope others may also have the chance to participate, she said. "My hope is to generate excitement about this program, demonstrate its long history and impact and produce a greater pool of awesome Airmen to apply."

The White House Fellow selection process is highly competitive and based on an individual's record of professional achievement, evidence of their leadership potential and a proven commitment to public service. 

"To this day, I remain truly humbled and honored, Batungbacal said. "Upon notification, I was overwhelmed with gratitude as I did not get here on my own. My family, mentors, supervisors, fellow Airmen, and community teachers all contributed to my ability to grow and serve both in and out of uniform."

President Lyndon B. Johnson created the White House Fellows Program 51 years ago to give promising American leaders first hand, high-level experience with the workings of the federal government, and to increase their sense of participation in national affairs. It's designed to encourage active citizenship and a lifelong commitment to service, broaden leadership knowledge, policy formulation, approach issues of current affairs and involvement in community service.  President Johnson hoped that the Fellows would contribute to the nation as future leaders.

Selected individuals typically spend one year working as a full-time, paid Fellow to senior White House staff, cabinet secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. Fellows also participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with renowned leaders from the private and public sectors plus take trips to study U.S. policy in action both domestically and internationally. Fellowships are awarded on a strictly non-partisan basis.

"I was assigned as the White House Fellow for the Secretary of Labor, and sat in executive-level meetings, including the Secretary's small senior staff meetings," Batungbacal said. "The first Secretary I served, Hilda Solis, tasked me to lead the initiative to develop, plan and build the Department of Labor's program to support women veterans' economic security. With no other dedicated resources, the department's senior leadership was very supportive about convening a tiger team which spanned across several agencies.

"I am incredibly grateful to the leadership at the DoL, who entrusted me with a challenging portfolio and provided outstanding mentorship," she continued. "This was one of my most unique leadership challenges to date. I had no background on the problem set, domestic policy issues or experience with the U.S. Department of Labor.  I have so much respect for the work they do, and was honored to serve two secretaries, Hilda Solis and her successor, Thomas Perez." 

According to the WHF website, there are three primary components to the program:  

Education: This important aspect of the Fellowship experience increases the Fellows' exposure to renowned leaders from the private and public sectors. Each class meets with dozens of individuals including Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Secretaries, senior White House officials, Members of Congress, military leaders, journalists, historians, business executives, leaders from non-government organizations and foreign heads of state. These sessions generally take place during the week, and are off-the-record, lively and frank.

Placement: Engagement in the work of the federal government lies at the heart of a White House Fellowship. Work assignments can offer unparalleled experience working with senior administration officials on ever changing issues and challenges. This work often requires long hours and, at times, unglamorous duties that require as much perseverance as ability on the Fellows' part.

Service/Fellowship: A strong theme throughout the year is public service, with a "pay it forward" focus.  Classes convene at least twice a week, and often more. 

"We planned monthly community projects, for example, writing notes on poetry written by D.C.'s young incarcerated, as well as gleaning unsold vegetables from a local farm to donate to the homeless," Batungbacal said.

Her 15-member WHF class also contributed to several events for young professionals and students for organizations such as The Washington Center, Rumsfeld Foundation's Central Asia-Caucasus Young Leaders Fellows and the GEAR UP Alumni Leadership Academy, as mentorship for the next generation of leaders. 

The White House Fellows is a community where applicants compete in a large pool with PhDs, lawyers, doctors, business leaders and social entrepreneurs. There is no guarantee an Airman will be selected each year; however, two Fellows, Majors Kari Fleming and Mario Ramirez are in the current class of 2014-2015. 

"I am thankful for the opportunity to take a year to significantly broaden my perspective, learn about federal policy making and execution, and invest in leadership growth, not in the classroom, but in the driver's seat," Batungbacal said. "This experience enabled me to learn from outstanding, thought-provoking leaders across diverse sectors, and have the chance to contribute to a priority initiative.

It taught me how to navigate a large government department, advocate and find resources and build a strategic communications plan. I'm humbled, honored, and obliged to pay it forward for future Fellows and Airmen, and to repay the investment in us as individuals, through action and impact." 

Interested Airmen must apply with Air Force Personnel Center/Functional, via the 3849 to be released from duty. Once released, they can apply directly to the White House Fellows Program.  Selection as a White House Fellow is based on:
· A record of professional achievement early in one's career;
· Evidence of leadership skills and the potential for further growth;
· A demonstrated commitment to public service;
· The skills to succeed at the highest levels of the Federal government, and the ability to work effectively as part of a team.

These qualifications, combined with the strength of one's character, a positive attitude and the ability to work well with others, are considered when selecting a class of White House Fellows.

To apply, click: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/fellows/applications

"Exposing Airmen to a variety of experiences encourages growth of the force by enabling and cultivating a diverse set of perspectives," Batungbacal said. "These perspectives fuel what the Air Force is best at: innovation. I encourage all Airmen to consider this program by learning more about it and look at biographies of other Fellows to get inspired."