For the past three years, Army Maj. Nkechi Paytonia Iheme (’03) has been working behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., helping to guide national and international policies.
As an Army Congressional Fellow, Iheme has supported members of Congress, the Pentagon and several legislative committees – including Intelligence, Armed Forces and Foreign Relations – through the Army’s Congressional Liaison Program. She worked for a year as a defense fellow for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and is currently the Intelligence, CYBER, and Biometrics Congressional Liaison.
The fellowship, which ends in December, is a milestone in a burgeoning career that includes assisting the U.S. government to help the people of Haiti after a devastating 2010 earthquake and supporting humanitarian efforts in Guyana. Iheme, who graduated summa cum laude from The University of Texas at Arlington with Bachelor of Arts degrees in communication technology and public relations (Department of Communication), said her undergraduate experience contributed greatly to her career.
“Any college experience prepares one for this type of work,” Iheme said. “College forces you to work with little guidance and also to develop your own projects and initiatives if you are a part of extra-curricular activities. That experience is what you need, because no one is going to tell you what to do. You either sink or swim.”
After graduation, Iheme was commissioned in the Army’s Military Intelligence Corps, served as an intelligence officer in Germany and deployed twice to Iraq. She transitioned to work in Army Special Operations as an active duty civil affairs officer, which included service at Fort Bragg, N.C., Haiti, and Guyana, South America. She began the congressional fellowship in May 2011. She also holds a master’s degree in legislative affairs from George Washington University.
Iheme said she benefited significantly from her time in the UT Arlington ROTC program. She also cites a study abroad trip to Mexico City that moved her out of her comfort zone and forced her to rely on her “language ability and interpersonal skills.”
“What I have learned about myself during this role is that it never hurts to ask, there are no dumb questions and be a team player,” she said. “Applying those guidelines each time you are placed in a new scenario will be helpful.”
Prior to college, Iheme enlisted and attended basic training at Fort Hood, where she was awarded a college scholarship. During her service, she has been decorated with several awards, including the Bronze Star medal.
(Story by James Dunning/COLA)