Face of Defense: Airman Serves in First Lady’s Office
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Powell
Defense Media Activity
FORT MEADE, Md., Feb. 1, 2012 A C-17 Globemaster III pilot is helping First Lady Michelle Obama in her effort to rally support around the country for service members and their families.
Air Force Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis briefs First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, before a “Joining Forces” event in Washington, D.C., Oct. 17, 2011. Lewis is assigned to the Office of the First Lady as a White House Fellow. White House photo by Chuck Kennedy
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis, former commander of the 4th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is one of four service members in the 15-member 2011-2012 class of White House Fellows.
Lewis began his fellowship in August and serves in the first lady’s office. President Lyndon B. Johnson created the White House Fellows Program in 1964 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 news release.
"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."
Lewis' primary mission is to help the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, with their “Joining Forces” program, a national initiative to mobilize all sectors of society to support service members and their families.
Three pillars -- employment, education and wellness -- make up Joining Forces, Lewis explained. 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,” Lewis said. “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 veterans 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,'" he noted.
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 received 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.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. of American Forces Press Service contributed to this article.)