Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. posed with a dozen of the 16 Arnold Air Society/Silver Wings cadets who held internships in the Pentagon this summer. Courtesy of Arnold Air Society/Silver Wings
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AFA in Action: Interns at the Pentagon

Oct. 7, 2022

Sixteen Arnold Air Society/Silver Wings members earned coveted Pentagon summer internships in 2022. A few shared their stories in their own words with AFA field leader Gabbe Kearney. 

Second Lt Hannah Olver. AAS/SW

2nd Lt. Hannah Olver was a member of the Andrew Dougherty Silver Wings Chapter at Rochester Institute of Technology, she was the National Development Officer for her senior year, leading the growth of the Silver Wings membership nationwide. Olver earned her commission from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program. She graduated with a nursing degree from Roberts Wesleyan College, N.Y. She received the Silver Valor Award for swift actions to save the life of a fellow cadet who was choking during the annual AFROTC Field Training that took place in May 21 at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. Olver helped a cadet who accidentally swallowed a valve-cap from a water bottle. The Silver Valor Award is given to a cadet for a voluntary act of heroism.

“I am very thankful for Silver Wings and the connections and opportunity to work at the Pentagon under senior leadership. 

This truly was an experience unlike any other. At the Pentagon 

I worked under Space Force S2A Analysis and Production from May to August. I worked Under Brig. Gen. Gregory J. Gagnon, Director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, and Brad Edmonson. 

The primary focus of the work being produced was compiling current intel and threats in regard to Space for senior leadership. 

During this time I was able to largely observe how products are produced, attend different briefings, and begin to write on various topics. 

I found this experience to be extremely rewarding. The people that I worked with on a daily basis created an experience where I was welcomed. There was always an open invitation to learn more, ask questions, and receive feedback to better myself. I felt surrounded by some of the most intelligent and hardworking people I have met to date.

As I prepare to go to Intel School in the fall as an officer in the Space Force, I am excited to bring this experience, knowledge, and abundance of advice with me.”

Cadet Antonio (Tony) Capelo. AAS/SW

Cadet Antonio (Tony) Capelo is a rising fifth-year cadet in the AFROTC program at North Carolina State University. He is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Aerospace Studies. Capelo was the Mission Support Commander and had many achievements in his previous position in the detachment and currently serves as the Training Squadron Commander. In addition, he is also this year’s National Development Officer for the Silver Wings Nation as a member of the Martha Metz Chapter.

“I can confidently start off by saying this internship was the 

most beneficial and rewarding opportunity I have had as a cadet. The chance to work in the Pentagon is amazing enough already, but having opportunities like meeting the CSAF and CSO is the cherry on top. 

During my time at the Pentagon, I primarily worked for Legislative Liaison Correspondence, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force (SAF/LLC), but would occasionally work at Legislative Liaison Strategy. 

My main responsibilities were to receive, coordinate, and respond to congressional correspondence, execution of the Legislative Fellowship and Action Officer Orientation, facilitate communication with Air University regarding the Air Force Immersion and Professional Military Education Program for congressional staff, and finalizing any existing congressional inquiries. 

My goal coming into the internship was to expand my breadth about how the Air Force operated at the departmental level and to learn more about politics since my background was mainly mechanical engineering. 

I easily accomplished these goals within the first few weeks because my assignment gave me additional opportunities outside of the ones provided to all the interns.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Readiness Hearing with all the vices from the service branches and saw them field a variety of questions from the representatives. I got to sit in on a crash course of how Congress works from one of the most reputable, independent defense lobbyist, Jeff Green. 

I was “kidnapped” by Chief Schneider, and she introduced me to Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David D. Thompson and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass. My sponsor, Doug Altrichter, brought me to District Director Fly-Ins so I got to understand how important it was to develop good relations with the representatives’ team back in their home states. On top of that, he and the Division Chief, Colonel Sundstrom, always took me to the weekly division meetings so I experienced the intricacies of Secretary of the Air Force/Legislative Liaison (SAF/LL). 

The most memorable lesson about how the Department of the Air Force operates with Congress was from Maj. Gen. Christopher E. Finerty, Director, Legislative Liaison. I remember him saying in a weekly meeting that ‘Congress can make the NDAA without the input of the DOD and make whatever budget they think is appropriate because they aren’t mandated to include the DOD’s opinion. However, they want the DOD’s opinion because they want to make sure we get what we need. That is exactly why it is necessary for us to have an open line of communication with them and make sure we are giving them exactly what they need in a quick manner.’

Being able to sit in at the HASC-Readiness hearing and sitting down with Gen. Charles Q. Brown and Gen. John “Jay” Raymond were the coolest opportunities while I was there. 

The day I will probably reminisce about the most was my last day where I raced against Lt. Col. Petrash in the morning (I won) and Maj. Gen. Finerty coining me at a farewell party. 

I want to specifically call out Col. Julia Sundstrom, Division Chief of LLC, Mr. Doug Altrichter, Deputy Division Chief of LLC, Lt. Col. Eric Hendrickson, Lt. Col. Donald Petrash, and Dominique Wellons. Everyone I worked with made my internship amazing but these five specific individuals made a massive impact on my time there. 

Needless to say, I had a plethora of opportunities and experiences from SAF/LL and am extremely grateful to them. They trusted me to do actual work. They gave me a treasure-trove of knowledge and went out of their way to show me the cool aspects of the job.”

Cadet Sidney Walters. AAS/SW

Cadet Sidney Walters is a member of the Andrew Turner Arnold Air Society Squadron and is also the Cadet Wing Mission Support Squadron Commander for Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Detachment 130, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

“SAF/IA, also known as Secretary of the Air Force International Affairs, is a department known for its partnership in aiding international trade on behalf of the United States Air Force and Space Force. Housed at the Pentagon, this large department works to continue partnerships around the world. SAF/IA’s aids senior leaders in completing “successful engagements with allies and partners; work with the interagency, foreign governments,  and nongovernmental officials … to advance mission priorities.” Their mission is: Advance U.S. national security by cultivating deep, enduring relationships through security cooperation with our Allies and Partners in support of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force global operations. Under SAF/IA there are two directorates, Policy and Programs (SAF/IAP) and Regional Affairs (SAF/IAR).  

Policy and Programs focuses on the tools used to make security cooperation and other programing possible, they are the logistical side of business. 

Regional Affairs focuses on the emotional side of business. This directorate has FAOs or Foreign Area Officers, Desk Officers, and Country Directors.

 SAF/IA is an “integrator of the Department of the Air Force security cooperation enterprise and the front door for international allies and partners.” This department tries to incorporate most if not all their security collaboration under one single organization, making them very different from other services. This collaboration leads to a lot of the success one sees between the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force and their allies.

This summer I worked in the SAF/IARA division in Regional Affairs. I wanted the opportunity to see business conducted between the USAF and their international partners in the Americas and Africa. SAF/IARA is the biggest division with the most countries to cover. SAF/IARA’s mission is: Integrate Security cooperation, Security Assistance, Pol-Mil Strategy, and Strategic Communication actions with Partner Nations for the United States Air Force.

I learned how SAF/IA builds programs that benefit the USAF, USSF, and U.S. allies. Meeting air chiefs/generals of other militaries is how negotiations flourish and become many of the programs you see today. A lot of their time is spent traveling to conferences, other countries, and air bases to conduct business with allies. Their key functions include facilitating Foreign Military Sales from beginning to end.

I got to experience and witness a lot of things that the average cadet would not. I was able to meet the Air Chief of Chile and converse with him over lunch in Spanish. I spoke with his trusted officials about the future of the Air Force and more importantly the strong partnership that exists between the United States and Chile. I attended classified meetings and was able to meet the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and the Chief of Space Operations. Learning from them and gaining mentorship was monumental. Overall, I accumulated an immense amount of valuable information as well as [gaining] several mentors from different career fields and branches. I would not trade this experience for the