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Find opportunities everywhere, just take them

By Jean Clavette Graves
Public affairs specialist

Editor’s note: Jean Graves, Public Affairs Office, took a professional development opportunity in Washington, D.C. March 10-14. In the editorial below she writes about a few of here experiences.

FORT POLK, La. — As I found myself heading the wrong direction on the Washington D.C. Metro at 6 p.m. on Mar. 10, I started wondering what I was doing and longing to be home with my husband, son and dogs. After going the wrong direction for fifteen minutes, I decided to get on with it. I jumped off the train at the next stop and got on one heading in the correct direction. After a full day of travel from Fort Polk, to our nations’ Capitol, I arrived at my hotel off DuPont Circle just in time for a complimentary glass of wine.
I was here for a training opportunity, the Congressional Operations Seminar offered by the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University. I would be attending class across the street from the U.S. Capitol in the Rayburn House of Representatives Office building for the week. I was excited for the opportunity to learn more about the legislative process, interact with my elected representative and his staff and improve my understanding of the relationship between the Army, the legislative branch of government — all to improve my role as a public affairs specialist on the community relations team.
Early on in my career I learned the importance of taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Opportunities come in a variety of forms: Training, work or volunteerism. New and challenging assignments on the job or in personal endeavors with continuing educational units, certifications and advanced degree programs are all opportunities I’ve taken advantage of along the way.
Joining the Army was an opportunity I took advantage of, too. After college I discovered a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology was not as valuable as the tuition I paid would suggest. Despite a degree from a prestigious university, I found myself struggling in the real world. In 1996 the Army had a program called student loan repayment, and you best believe that was an opportunity I eagerly took. The Army, to me, was not only a means to pay off my student loan debt, but a way for me to serve my country and gain discipline and direction that I was desperately needing.
Unlike my friends from college, I was an Army veteran and spouse who moved around the country and world with my Soldier. Every move forced me to reinvent myself professionally and sell my skills to my next employer by illustrating how what I did at a previous installation and organization translated to the new organization. Every opportunity filled holes in my resume and showed potential employers that not only do I have what it takes to enhance their organization, I am willing and able to take the necessary steps to improve myself professionally. My resume is long and varied. I’ve worked as a secretary, program operations specialist, human resources supervisor, administrative officer, casualty notification and assistance trainer, an education counselor, program director and transition service specialist. Each job was unique and rewarding, but keeping up-to-date on training was always important because moving was just a few years away. I needed to maintain my marketability and professional credibility.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to have found a valuable and rewarding career with the Department of the Army alongside my Soldier with only two brief periods of unemployment. Not finding a job immediately after a permanent change of station at Fort Riley and at Fort Polk were opportunities for me to stay home with my newborn son, earn a master’s degree, volunteer with Army Family Team Building and the Boy Scouts of America, and earn graduate certificates that have since helped me advance in my career. Both volunteer opportunities enabled me to build my resume. While volunteering at AFTB I became a certified master trainer which led to my job as Department of the Army Casualty Affairs trainer while stationed at Fort Carson, and my time with the BSA gave me the social media training and experience that helped me with my current position.
Two years ago I took a new position at the Fort Polk Public Affairs Office on the community relations team.
My professional and educational background is not journalism, marketing or public relations, but experiences and training I’ve received prior to this assignment made me an attractive candidate and I have proven my ability on this team. I had taken prerequisite courses through the civilian education system for my new career field which allowed me to begin taking advantage classes available to public affairs professionals.
Public Affairs offers a large variety of centrally funded training opportunities for our career program — CP22. During my short tenure here I have taken advantage of two. Last year I completed the Public Affairs Qualification Course which consisted of six months’ worth of online course work followed by two weeks residency at Fort Meade, Maryland. PAQC was challenging and helped me develop the journalism skills I had been lacking.
My most recent opportunity was a trip to Washington D.C. March 10-14 for the Congressional Operations Seminar. Wow. The last time I was in D.C. I was marching in the Cherry Blossom Festival with my high school band thirty years ago. What an amazing and eye-opening look at the inner workings of our government and how challenging it is for our elected leaders to get things done that are in the best interests of their constituents, while setting national policies, providing oversight to governmental agencies and maintaining fiscal responsibly to tax payers.
I witnessed bills being introduce on the Senate floor, visited with my state representative and his staff, sat in on the House Judiciary Committee meeting as well as networked with other federal employees from a variety of agencies from across the country.
The seminar was four days long but felt like four hours. Our instructors were senior fellows with doctorate degrees, former Congressional staffers, journalists, lobbyists and former members of the House of Representatives.
I was one of only two public affairs professionals in attendance. My classmates were budget analysts, grant writers, policy writers, and legislative coordinators for their organizations. I learned with employees from NASA, General Services Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Library of Congress, the Social Security Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Commerce and Education.
After class I took the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space and Natural History museums, I walked the National Mall from the Capitol and visited the Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln memorials. I explored the city and enjoyed delicious food from restaurants frequented by famous chefs I follow on Instagram. I rode the metro and listened to my favorite podcasts each day during my commute and I enjoyed every minute of the experience during my short visit.
Next year I hope to attend the Georgetown STRATCOM Planning in a Social Media World. As a Department of the Army civilian employee I have countless training opportunities and every time I am able, I take advantage of them. Regardless of where you work, who you work for or even if you are not working right now, there are always opportunities out there for self-improvement and professional development.
My advice: Take advantage of each opportunity as it presents itself to you. It may lead to a dream job one day.

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published at the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System Hub (www.didvshub.net). The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

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