Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

January 31, 2012 at 3:44am

Former commander of the 4th Airlift Squadron at McChord accepted into the class of White House Fellows.

First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are briefed by White House Fellow Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis

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The former commander of the 4th Airlift Squadron at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., is one of four service members to have been accepted into the 15-member 2011-2012 class of White House Fellows.

Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis, a C-17A Globemaster III pilot, began his fellowship in August 2011 when he was assigned to the Office of the First Lady. The program provides those selected with an opportunity to work within the U.S. government, and it is intended to encourage active citizenship and a lifelong commitment to service.

"I think for any Airman to understand how our government works and how you as an Airman fit within the construct of our Constitution is key," Lewis said. "I will have a much better understanding of all three branches of government."

While there, Lewis' primary mission is to help further Michelle Obama's and Jill Biden's Joining Forces program, which is a national initiative that mobilizes all sectors of society to give service members and their families the support they have earned, according to the program's website.

Lewis explained that there are three pillars that make up Joining Forces: employment, education and wellness. The employment pillar focuses on helping veterans and spouses expand employment and career development opportunities, the education pillar helps military children by working with schools to make them more aware of their unique academic needs and the wellness pillar brings attention to critical issues facing veterans and their families.

"We don't work on issues that aren't real. This is about impacting all service members across the board. One of the biggest roles that I play is the understanding of the grassroots level and to put some validity to what we're working on with Joining Forces."

Lewis said one of the highlights of his fellowship was getting the opportunity to meet with a group of business leaders in New York who were interested in finding ways they could employ the talented veterans who are transitioning from the military.

Part of his role during the meeting was "breaking down stereotypes and answering questions about how they could do that," he said. "These individuals have the authority to go out and chart the direction of their companies and say, 'Yes, we are going to hire veterans. That's going to be a part of our strategy.'"

Lewis said he sees similarities between working at the White House and leading Airmen in the Air Force.

"A normal day here is much like being a commander in the Air Force," the lieutenant colonel explained. "I don't think of my day in terms of ending, but being able to create and move forward on the initiatives I'm working on. There are meetings that I will attend on behalf of Joining Forces but really my day is (about) going out and engaging government and private industry to help them understand and shape what the first lady wants to do with Joining Forces."

Lewis was directly responsible for the Defense Department's only prime nuclear airlift force, which handles the nation's most sensitive cargo and provides tactically qualified C-17A crews who stand ready to airdrop combat troops and supplies anywhere in the world.

In 2010, Lewis was awarded the Air Force Association National Medal of Merit for his work supporting children with medical problems in the Pilot for a Day program. He is a native of Oklahoma City, Okla.

The White House Fellows Program was created in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson 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," according to a White House press release.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. contributed to this story.)

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