Fellowship takes Marine from Beaufort to Capitol Hill

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comMay 20, 2012 

Marine Master Sgt. Kathryn Denham is heading to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Marine Corps' prestigious Congressional Fellowship Program.

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Reading books, blogs and newspaper articles did little to satiate Marine Master Sgt. Kathryn Denham's appetite for national politics.

"(Politics) fascinates me; the way it works, and sometimes, the way it doesn't work," she said. "There's only so much you're ever going to learn in books, and trust me, I've bought quite a few over the years."

For years, Denham, 39, the airfield operations chief at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, sought a closer look at Congress' machinations.

This fall, she'll get it.

Denham was selected in March to participate in the Corps' prestigious Congressional Fellowship Program, which allows officers and senior noncommissioned officers to work as congressional staffers and get a two- to three-year crash course on life on Capitol Hill.

Typical responsibilities include assisting in the drafting of legislation, preparing for floor debates and serving as a liaison to constituents.

Denham was one of only two senior noncommissioned officers selected this year for the fellowship, which was open only to officers until 1999, when Sgt. Maj. Carlton Kent, then-sergeant major of the Marine Corps, pushed to make enlisted leaders eligible, according to Corps officials.

Denham was surprised to learn she was the only local Marine to apply for the program.

"I think lots of Marines are interested in politics ... but they think you have to have the four-year degree to get accepted," Denham said. "That's not what they're looking for. They're looking for Marines with real-world experience who can ... really carry the Marine Corps to Capitol Hill so that everyone understands what types of people make up the Marine Corps."

Denham will report to Washington in October for a three-month orientation and begin meeting with senior staff members of the representatives and senators with whom she might be paired.

Now in her 20th year in the Corps, Denham said she expects a mix of emotions when she walks up the steps of the Capitol on the first day of her new job.

"I'll probably be extremely excited, anxious and a little nervous," she said. "This is uncharted territory, but I'm going down this path. I don't quite know where it's going to lead, but I'm anxious to start this journey and see where it leads."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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To view the list of requirements for the Congressional Fellowship Program, click here

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