Written by Anastasia Devlin
Last fall, the White House Fellows program accepted its second Coast Guard reservist in more than 50 years.
Lt. Brian Churchill, a member of Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, moved across the country with his family to Washington, D.C., to begin the 2018-2019 WHF season.
For the last 16 years of his civilian career, Churchill has been a member of the Los Angeles Police Department. There, he’s a sergeant in media relations where he manages the Department’s public video messaging and the release of body camera footage.
His desire to do more for his community inspired him to apply for the WHF program.
“I think it came from a place of frustration,” said Churchill. “When statements were made by federal entities, we’d get people protesting in front of my building. Police issues in Missouri were affecting us in Los Angeles. So, I started researching the things I could do to impact that without leaving the department. The White House fellowship was pretty much one of the best things I could do.”
The White House Fellows program was established in 1964 to give young leaders the opportunity to get first hand, high-level experience with the inner workings of the federal government. Each year, just over a dozen people are chosen in a highly-competitive selection process from more than 1,000 applicants. Each person goes through several multi-day interviews and panels in order to be selected for a one-year appointment.
Only 11 Coast Guardsmen have been accepted to the WHF program, which boasts alums ranging from four-star admirals to congressmen to major corporation CEOs. This year, two of the 14 fellows were Coast Guardsmen, and oddly enough, both were stationed in Los Angeles. In addition to Churchill, the other fellow was Lt. Cmdr. Elizabeth Gillis, comptroller and operations officer for Base Los Angeles-Long Beach.
Churchill said the WHF program provides two major and concurrent avenues of experience.
First, the fellows are constantly offered the chance to pick the brains of noteworthy government leaders, past and present. In his first month, he’d already met with Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and retired Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. The closed door, off-the-record sessions enabled the fellows to ask any questions they liked of the powerful leaders, so they could hear the thought processes, mantras and leadership styles of those making decisions affecting international politics.
“We get to ask some pretty heavy hitting questions [of leaders who are] at critical thinking points,” said Churchill. “We see what we can learn from it, and how we can be better leaders ourselves.”
The other part of being a WHF is being placed in a job where each of the 14 WHFs could both learn from and contribute to the mission of their respective temporary agencies. With his graduate degree from the University of London’s Centre for Financial and Management Studies, Churchill was placed in the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a self-sustaining government agency that helps American businesses invest in emerging markets.
Churchill feels at home in an agency that supports environmentally sustainable production, human rights and labor standards, and helps provide regional and economic stability around the world.
“Before I worked [at OPIC], I didn’t know what it was; there’s a big lack of familiarity. But I believe in the mission, absolutely, it’s amazing.”
Churchill was honored to be selected for the WHF program; among others, the program accepted a neurosurgeon, several Ivy-league graduates, a software CEO and a Rhodes scholar.
“I never thought I’d get picked,” he said, but with a background in military and law enforcement, experience in public relations campaigns, a graduate degree in finance, and the ability to speak multiple languages, Churchill seems to be in the right cohort.
Applications for the 2019-2020 WHF season are being accepted through mid-January. For help with the process, contact Michele Zauche, the Coast Guard liaison to the WHF program.