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The Crossroads and the Paths Taken Pt I

Kirk Proctor Jr. is an active-duty Captain in the United States Army, serving as an Army Congressional Fellow to the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. Assigned to Capitol Hill, Kirk focuses on policy issues regarding but not limited to Defense, Foreign Affairs, and judicial authorities. Kirk earned his commission as a Medical Service Corps Officer at the University of Hawaii ROTC in 2015. He has served in various tactical, operational, and strategic positions throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. Kirk is married to his wife, Sabia, and they enjoy sharing their time with their daughter, Amara. This is the first of a multipart reflective series.




Fifteen years ago, an 18-year-old who lacked a strong sense of purpose and unaware of his potential made his way into the local Army recruiter's office on a warm Thursday afternoon. The visit was not his first time stepping into the facility, but it would be his last time as a civilian. What would soon follow would alter the trajectory and social mobility of the young man, who would go on to encounter vast experiences and interact with, learn from, and grow to build loving relationships with people that continue to mold him into the man he currently is. From deploying to Iraq in 2008-09, earning his way to the Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Corps, commissioning as on Officer, and driving the missions of the Army forward while being a leader to Soldiers in multiple global areas would prove fulfilling. The 18-year-old in 2007 could not have dreamed of the experiences gained and the relationships built from stepping into the Army recruiter's office. As the 18-year-old, who is now a Congressional Defense Fellow, I can say with confidence that it is, in fact, the people I have met and the places I have been that made me into who I am. However, my "tipping point" was raising my right hand inside the recruiter's office (1).


Stepping into the recruiter’s office for the last time in 2007 is a prime example of how little things can make a big difference, even at the micro level. To be clear, raising one's right hand to swear an oath to protect the nation and forfeit substantial freedoms all other Americans enjoy and take for granted is no small feat in any of the three Aristotelian modes of persuasion (2). After all, there is a reason why less than one-half of one percent serve in the U.S. Armed Forces (3). However, the decision that led to the act is relatively minute when compared to the challenges, obstacles, and achievements made thereafter. Nevertheless, the initial decision led to the road less traveled, which would later lead to the selection of the many less traveled roads (4). Robert Frost's poem parallels my past by not just choosing to serve, but going from NCO to Commission Officer, vying for combat deployments, and applying for prestigious yet challenging assignments. Without sharing any of Frost’s thoughts of regret of the path not taken, the crossroads and the reoccurring thought of the road not taken is something I have grown accustomed to, as we all face a set of divergences in the road. 


Throughout my Congressional Defense Fellowship, I’m required to submit my preferences of the DoD pre-selected Member of Congress (MOC) office list and utilization assignment. As one may or may not imagine, there are many considerations when preferencing the office of MOC, with decisions from such considerations having subsequent outcomes. My first consideration is to decide between an assignment with a MOC of the House of Representatives or Senate. 


The House of Representatives is the larger of the two chambers, allowing for a more extensive list of members to prefer from, and, as a result, is the chamber where majority of the Department of Defense fellows are assigned. Representatives are up for re-election every two years and utilize their recess and out of session periods to return to their districts for constant and consistent engagement with the constituents within their district. Staff assigned to member offices within the House of Representatives are smaller in number, providing the ability for each staff member to become generalists in several policy areas as each are assigned a wide array of policy issues.   It is common for staffers to shift frequently among positions within the House, as staffers move from MOC offices, committee staffs, the executive branch and to the private sector, yearning for additional experience and leverage.  The aims effective policy crafting, staff building/development and re-election are prioritized in a manner to enable the representatives to legislate effectively for the constituents in the district. The dynamic offers fellows an experience in which the scope of the fellow is “an inch deep and a mile long.” Prior fellows described their House experience as being “alone and unafraid” while exercising their work ethic to thrive in fast paced ambiguous environment. 


Dubbed the “Upper Chamber”, the Senate experience of fellows is rather different from that of the House. The Senate is the smaller chamber, comprising 100 members, leading to fewer preferencing options for fellows resulting in less fellows assigned to the chamber. Senators are up for re-election every six years, enabling a steady yet deliberate approach to policy crafting and garnering influence and building trust throughout their statewide constituency. Senate member staff are larger in terms of members of the team, with each staff member having a certain degree of expertise due to their years of experience crafting legislation and shaping policy on Capitol Hill. The factors create a unique environment, in which policy actions revolve more around deliberating vs. adherence to procedure. With re-election outside of the immediate future, and larger staff to dive into and provide extensive policy issues, the Senate environment allows for in-depth discourse. Fellows assigned to Senate offices detail their experience as “inch wide and a mile deep” scope, receiving precise tasks on narrow yet complex subjects from the many experts existing in the room. 


See more about my experiences and choices in the next piece in this series.



 

  1. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Boston, MA: Back Bay Books, 2013), 12.

  2. Christof Rapp, "Aristotle's Rhetoric," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, 1 February, 2010), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/aristotle-rhetoric/.

  3. CFR.org Editors, "Demographics of the U.S. Military," Council on Foreign Relations (Council on Foreign Relations, 13 July, 2020), https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/demographics-us-military.

  4. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost,” The Road Not Taken (Poetry Foundation, 0AD), https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken.



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