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Profiles in Service: MCC Celebrates Veteran’s Day 2018

November 9, 2018

By Cynthia Huger

U.S. veterans on MCC staff. From left: Dustin Lawson, Christopher Ackerman, Gina Lewis and Jorge Beltran.

Veterans Day has a special meaning for me.

I began working with our military colleagues during my years with the Department of Army, serving in a civilian role as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Management. In a subsequent civilian post, I also served in high-threat conflict areas overseas, alongside our committed soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Back home at the Pentagon, I also worked closely with Army flag officers during Desert Storm to help provide resources to our soldiers, including focusing my staff on improving the effectiveness of resource allocation and the quality of conditions at Army installations worldwide.

And as a Foreign Service Officer in Iraq, I collaborated with our experienced and dedicated military leadership to coordinate post-conflict rehabilitation efforts within major infrastructure sectors like bridges, ports and power—including the repair of 1,200 schools in six months so they could open in time for the start of the 2003/2004 school year.

Throughout all of those experiences, and in all my time working with the military, I have been impressed, and often overwhelmed, by the professionalism, passion and dedication of our troops and their leadership.

Defense, diplomacy and development—including MCC’s work to reduce poverty in fragile regions of the world—form a “strategic triangle” that safeguards our national security throughout the globe. Each of these three activities is essential to the success of the others.

That’s why on this Veterans Day, it is important to pause and appreciate the sacrifice our service members have made and continue to make every day—not only for our country, but also for the people of other nations around the world.

Read their stories below to see how they got into military service, and how they apply their military experiences to their work at MCC.

MCC Staff Veterans

Christopher Ackerman, U.S. Army (1996-2006)

My father served in the army. My older cousin and childhood role model went to West Point. In fact, five of my cousins served in the military. A combination of family tradition, patriotism and a necessity to earn educational benefits drove me to join the army.

In the army, I served in military healthcare engineering and logistics as a Medical Service Corps officer. Basically, I handled design and construction for military hospitals and logistics for medical supplies, kind of like the Amazon for the army doctors and nurses for wherever they were treating casualties. But Amazon probably wouldn’t arrange for an emergency flight from Germany to Bosnia to transport an anthrax vaccine.

After the army, I wanted to continue serving our country, albeit in a different capacity, so I looked for employment in the federal government. I worked in the Department of Energy in the Office of Science, which was an awesome experience. I had never heard of MCC. But, with a little research and a cold call to the Senior Director for Transport and Vertical Structures, I thought this position was for me. As a Director in the Department of Compact Operations, I plan and oversee compact-funded infrastructure in the Transport and Vertical Structures practice unit. Currently, I work on our compacts in Georgia, Morocco and Cote d’Ivoire.

The dedication MCC’s staff have to the mission, the camaraderie and our cultural diversity all remind me of my time in the army. When I was in company command, I had a few soldiers who were originally from countries that MCC partners with. They were serving in the army and wanted to become U.S. citizens. It is like a full circle now going back to work in their countries to help reduce poverty and promote economic growth.

Jorge Beltran Jr., U.S. Coast Guard (1990-2015)

I have always been attracted to the water. In high school, I was a lifeguard and water safety instructor. I remember the Coast Guard commercial with Louis Gossett Jr., which showed a rescue swimmer jumping out of a Coast Guard helicopter with the words “Be a part of the Action.” I wanted to be that rescue swimmer and live by their motto “So that other may live.” Although I didn’t become a rescue swimmer because the wait list for school was over three years long, I did join the U.S. Coast Guard.

I started my military career as an Electronics Technician (ET) and received training as a communications and cryptography technician. During the first four years of my Coast Guard career, I served on a vessel homeported in Key West, Florida, and we conducted a lot of humanitarian missions. I served as a Spanish interpreter and security specialist during rescue operations of Cuban and Haitian migrants out on the high seas. My ability to speak Spanish led to additional duties and training in law enforcement and counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

During my tour in Miami Florida, I became a Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) operator, which gave me the opportunity to move into operations and receive training in Search and Rescue Planning Operations from the National Maritime Search and Rescue School in Yorktown, Virginia, and in numerous Intelligence courses. I switched my specialty again to focus on Intelligence and became a Counterintelligence Agent with the Coast Guard Counterintelligence Service (CGCIS). The counterintelligence field provided many opportunities which included establishing a field office and becoming the first Resident Agent in Charge (RAC). The experience I gained as the RAC provided tremendous value later in my career as a Counterintelligence Instructor at Quantico, VA. I also served as a Communications Aide to the Honorable Tom Ridge at the Executive Office of the President, an intelligence analyst at the Department of Justice Terrorist Screening Center and on a detail assignment with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

My passion is to help others and serve my country. I believe MCC enables me to do both. Currently, I am working with the Domestic and International Security Division, as the Senior Program Officer for Insider Threats and Counterintelligence. I am one of two International Security Specialists supporting 13 of MCC’s 25 current partner countries. As a Security Specialist, I provide MCC staff with the necessary tools and countermeasures to keep them safe and mitigate threats domestically and when they travel abroad. MCC provides many opportunities to change lives globally with our compact and threshold programs in partner countries.

Our agency also reminds me of the team work and comradery I experienced in the military. I find our CLEAR values have the same meaning as the values in the Coast Guard of “Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty.

Dustin Lawson, U.S.Army (2010-2018)

My plan was to go to basic training the summer between my junior and senior year of college in 2005. I wanted to join the military to serve my country, gain leadership experience as an officer, help pay for grad school, have an opportunity to travel and share in the camaraderie. That plan did not work out.

In March of 2005, three months before basic training, I was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery, I went into remission, but a history of cancer is disqualifying for military service. To say I was dejected would be an understatement. But, I did not give up. I approached the military a total of 13 times in over five years and they finally let me in. Earlier this year, I was promoted to captain.

From 2013 to 2018, I served as a public affairs officer with missions in Peru, Kosovo and Puerto Rico. I was deployed to Kosovo from November 2016 to July 2017. Towards the end of the deployment, I heard about an organization called the Millennium Challenge Corporation that was considering partnering with Kosovo in a Threshold Program. This program would help Kosovo implement reforms to reduce poverty and make the economy more attractive to the private sector. When I returned to the U.S. I decided to move back to Washington D.C., and MCC was on the short list of places I wanted to work. I have been here since May 2018 as the speechwriter.

The thing about MCC that reminds me the most of the military is its love of acronyms. In the Army, one of the acronyms every basic training soldier has to memorize is LDRSHIP: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. These are the Army values. They are displayed everywhere and worked into much of the training.

Similarly, MCC is built around its CLEAR values—Embrace Collaboration, Always Learn, Practice Excellence, Be Accountable and Respect Individuals and Ideas. And, like the military, CLEAR isn’t some vague idealistic motto. Literally, the three floors of the headquarters were designed to help create the work environment’s culture around those CLEAR values.

Gina Lewis, U.S. Air Force (1993-1999)

I joined the military because I wanted to be like my father. He was a Marine. Or, I should say, he is a Marine—once a Marine, always a Marine.

I served as a Radiology Technician. At one point, I worked in the clinic that treated new recruits still in basic training. It was incredibly rewarding because I was able to encourage young trainees to keep going and not give up.

I came to MCC in the midst of a career change. Most of my federal service was with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. I wanted to experience federal service from a different perspective. Now, I work in the front office of the Department of Compact Operations assisting with budget execution and supporting the division with contract actions. During my time with other federal agencies, I was focused on a desire to protect others. Being with MCC reminds me of the need to support others, even those outside of your immediate family and community. It is important to the security of us all.

We are fortunate to have veterans of our nation’s armed forces on staff at MCC. They bring a host of expertise and a mission-driven approach that benefit our agency and advance our goals. This Veteran’s Day, we honor all veterans and their sacrifice.

MCC COO Jonathan Nash poses with U.S. veterans on staff at MCC.