Coast Guard Students Excel at DHS

By Colin Ellis and Alex Theodotou | AUP Unit Washington

 Theodotou (left) and Ellis (center) speak with Secretary Johnson at a roundtable discussion with DHS interns, 11 July 2016. Photo by PA1 Jetta Disco.

Theodotou (left) and Ellis (center) speak with Secretary Johnson at a roundtable discussion with DHS interns, 11 July 2016. Photo by PA1 Jetta Disco.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program (AUP) allows undergraduate students to pursue various qualifications, serve in leadership positions, and establish connections with active duty service members and public servants to better prepare students for Officer Candidate School after graduation. The AUP program serves as an effective stepping stone between college coursework and careers in the military and government service.
                    
A vital and exciting element of the AUP course of study is the internship component. This summer, two AUP students secured internships with the Department of Homeland Security. Alex Theodotou is a senior at Georgetown University studying Psychology. He interned with the Office of Travel Operations and Advance for the Secretary of Homeland Security. Colin Ellis, a rising sophomore at American University in Washington, DC studying International Relations, interned at the Office of the Military Advisor to the Secretary.
                    
THEODOTOU: Secretary Jeh Johnson’s Advance and Travel Operations staff – the “Advance Team” for short – is responsible for coordinating every detail of the Secretary’s official travel, as well as his engagements within the National Capital Region. The Team secures the Secretary’s transportation and hotel arrangements, and travels to the engagement location in advance of the official delegation’s visit. They also coordinate with the U.S. Secret Service, a DHS component agency whose agents are in charge of the Secretary’s physical security. By the time the Secretary arrives, the Advance Team staff have familiarized themselves with the location and provide subject matter expertise on the specifics of the event.
                    
ELLIS: Rear Admiral Joanna Nunan, USCG, Military Advisor to the Secretary, is the senior military officer tasked with advising the Secretary on matters pertaining to policy and operations involving the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense. This unique office interacts with Liaison Officers from the various Geographic Combatant Commands, among them U.S. Northern and Southern Commands, the National Guard Bureau, and U.S. Special Operations Command. The multiagency aspect of the office meant that I was exposed to a wide range of people and professions, each offering valuable advice on opportunities after graduation.

 Theodotou stands with Secretary Johnson in Philadelphia following the Secretary’s visit to the Democratic National Convention site, 22 July 2016. Photo by Barry Bahler.

Theodotou stands with Secretary Johnson in Philadelphia following the Secretary’s visit to the Democratic National Convention site, 22 July 2016. Photo by Barry Bahler.

THEODOTOU: As a summer intern with Secretary Johnson’s Advance Team, I got to experience all aspects of the Travel and Advance mission. I travelled to Philadelphia for the Secretary’s visit to the Democratic National Convention site. I scoped out locations on walkthroughs with the Secret Service, making note of where the Secretary would enter and which microphone he would use to address the crowd. The Advance Team representative must be ready to answer any question the Secretary has about the event he’s attending, so sizing up the site is like preparing for a pop quiz from the Secretary once he shows up. One of the proudest moments of my internship was when the Secretary asked me to brief him on the run-of-show as he stepped out of his motorcade, and I had the information ready to relay to him.
                    
ELLIS: In the Military Advisor’s Office not only did I collect and combine senior military and civilian liaison officer input on department-level policies, I actually performed editorial review of the policies themselves. As an International Relations student, it is quite a feeling to see your personal impact on policies that have multi-national reach, like the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, a multi-agency effort to combat threats in the Caribbean region.
                    
THEODOTOU: This internship taught me to appreciate all the consideration and hard work on the ground that goes into planning a trip for a government executive. Being anything less than totally prepared simply will not cut it when you are responsible for the logistics of a Cabinet-level Secretary, and the Advance Team exemplifies this standard. I know that I will be successful in my own career if I emulate the degree of preparedness and dedication that I have learned from Secretary Johnson’s Advance Team.
                    
I also appreciated the importance of building courteous relationships with coworkers. My internship experience was all the more valuable because of the respect and consideration that the employees at the Department of Homeland Security showed me. The people there were always willing to take a few minutes out of their day to explain what they do and share nuggets of wisdom. It was clear, too, that the fast operational pace at DHS Headquarters hinged upon the excellent working relationships between the personnel there. I will keep this in mind in my own career, and I will without doubt try to pay the generosity of my mentors at DHS forward by providing the same kinds of opportunities to interns and students when I am an experienced professional.

 Ellis meets with Rear Admiral Nunan, the Military Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security, 08 August 2016. Photo by PA1 Jetta Disco.

Ellis meets with Rear Admiral Nunan, the Military Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security, 08 August 2016. Photo by PA1 Jetta Disco.

ELLIS: The regular interaction and personal facetime with senior leaders during the internship was unmatched. As my internship coordinator put it, it’s not unusual to find yourself saying, “good morning Mr. Secretary.” Indeed that was the case, as I was able to personally meet the Deputy Secretary and the Secretary. Other unique opportunities included attending the Commandant’s Mid-term Report of the Coast Guard, touring Coast Guard Headquarters and the Pentagon, and seeing the Coast Guard Honor Guard in action at a diplomatic arrival ceremony on the White House lawn.
                    
The dedicated people I interacted with daily would bend over backwards to set up a tour or pass along a contact to give me an in-depth look into how our nation defends itself. My colleagues carved out time in their busy schedules to guide me in refining and adding to my resume and connected me with internship programs throughout the government for my sophomore year.
                    
Far from brewing coffee and making copies, I was encouraged and enabled to pursue my interests and make myself competitive for internships and other opportunities in government or military service.
                    
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Alex Theodotou is pursuing an undergraduate research assistantship at the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences this fall. He hopes to pursue a career in military medicine.
                    
Colin Ellis is pursuing further coursework and internships in the Intelligence and Analysis field. He is expected to graduate in 2019.
                    
Undergraduate students interested in exploring careers in military or government service through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary University Programs should visit www.cgauxedu.us