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Presidential Fellows Program Develops Future DoD Leaders

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2008 – Motivated individuals who want a fast track to executive careers within the Defense Department or at other federal agencies might investigate the Presidential Management Fellows Program.

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Ylber Bajraktari visits Iraqi children in the city of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. Bajraktari, a participant in the Presidential Management Fellows Program, served a year with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus’ staff in Baghdad. Courtesy photo

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The program’s purpose “is to attract to the federal service outstanding men and women from a variety of academic disciplines and career paths who have a clear interest in, and commitment to, excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs,” President Bush said in a statement on the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site explaining the program.

The program was created by Executive Order in 1977, when it was known as the Presidential Management Internship program. The program’s name was changed a few years ago.

The Defense Department is among several federal agencies that participate in the PMF program, said Washington Headquarters Services manager Ken Rauch, PMF coordinator. Successful applicants, he said, serve on paid, two-year assignments.

WHS received 148 applicants for the seven fellowship positions that were available this year, Rauch said. WHS maintains 14 total positions as part of the program. The fellows receive training and other administrative program support.

After completing the program, most participants join the federal civil service in functional areas that reflect their expertise, Rauch said, and most stay in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. "The fellowship journeys here at OSD are simply extraordinary, to include direct support to the global war on terrorism," he said.

Some DoD participants, like Ylber Bajraktari and Natalie Howley, volunteer for overseas duty in Iraq or Afghanistan as part of their two years of service.

Bajraktari, 30, obtained his graduate degree at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. A member of the PMF program’s class of 2006, he served in Baghdad from February 2007 to February 2008 on the staff of then-Multinational Force Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus.

“I cannot say enough good things about the program,” said the Kosovo-born Bajraktari, who became a U.S. citizen in 2004. The program, he said, offers challenging assignments, as well as plentiful training opportunities.

Bajraktari was a member of a 20-person joint strategic assessment team during his duty tour in Baghdad. The team, he said, studied how military, economic, political and diplomatic assets could be best employed to effect stability in and around Baghdad during the surge.

Surge-fortified U.S. and Iraqi security operations helped to reduce insurgent-committed violence in Baghdad and were a key component that contributed to the surge’s success, Bajraktari said. Iraq today “is in a better place” than it was prior to the surge, Bajraktari said. However, he added, the situation in Iraq is still fragile.

Bajraktari earned the Defense Superior Civilian Service Award for his service in Iraq. He plans to join the Middle East section of the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s policy shop to put his training and experience to good use.

“I wanted to do public service, and I wanted to work for the government,” Bajraktari said in explaining why he applied for the PMF program. And, international affairs “never gets boring,” he said.

Howley, 27, began the Pentagon’s PMF program a year after Bajraktari. Like Bajrakatari, she also obtained her graduate degree at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Now about halfway through the program, Howley said she’s still deciding where she’d like to work in the Defense Department.

Howley also performed overseas service, having served with the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, from February to May of this year. She received the Global War on Terrorism Medal for her service there. While in Kabul, she worked with Afghan federal officials on Afghan local governance, elections and other issues.

“You do try to connect with the people and make their lives better,” Howley, a Frankfort, Ky., native, said of her tour in Afghanistan. Her work in Kabul, she said, was conducted in a balanced way, with the view that Afghanistan is a sovereign nation with its own policies and priorities.

“I really enjoyed it, and would go back,” Howley said of her assignment in Afghanistan.

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Related Sites:
Presidential Management Fellows Program
DoD Presidential Management Fellows Program

Click photo for screen-resolution imageWearing his Defense Superior Civilian Service Award, Ylber Bajraktari (center) is flanked by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker. Courtesy photo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePresidential Management Fellows Program participant Natalie Howley receives a gift at a ceremony marking the completion in May 2008 of her four-month tour of duty at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo  
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