GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- An officer with the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota will soon be making his way from the Land of the Sunflake to the Land of the Rising Sun after being accepted for one of the world's most prestigious international fellowship programs.
Capt. John Wright was recently selected to be part of the Mansfield Fellowship Program.
The Mansfield Fellowship Program is named after Mike Mansfield, who served as a U.S. congressman from Montana, U.S. Senate majority leader and U.S. ambassador to Japan, and is regarded by some as one of the most notable statesmen and public service figures in the U.S. political sphere of the last 60 years.
"Especially in an era of partisanship that we now live, the honor of being included in a program named after such a noted moderate and effective statesman is incredible," Wright said. “[Mansfield] is certainly a role model and I look forward to learning what I can from his example."
The Mansfield Fellowship Program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1994 to build a corps of U.S. federal government employees with proficiency in the Japanese language and practical, firsthand knowledge about Japan and its government. Through their placements, fellows develop networks of contacts in Japan and an understanding of the political, economic and strategic dimensions of the U.S.-Japan relationship.
The nine-year Air Force veteran from St. Louis received the official notice of being accepted to the program earlier this month.
"It was a succinct congratulatory message, but it was enough to make me smile ear to ear," Wright said. "My wife and family went crazy -- it's an exciting thing and a life-changing event."
The good news of the captain's selection to the Mansfield Fellowship Program generated positive reactions from around the base.
"This is a tremendous opportunity and speaks volumes about the character and commitment of Capt. Wright," said Col. Paul Bauman, the 319th Air Base Wing commander. "This is yet another example of the Warriors of the North family making their mark!"
Wright said he first heard about the opportunity to be a Mansfield fellow back in 2005 when he was a cadet.
"It was something I've been trying to do ever since, and only recently have I been conveniently aligned in my career to make a realistic attempt," he said.
He said that it was definitely his experience in and around Japan that inspired him to jump at the opportunity.
"I've worked with Japanese counterparts on multiple occasions and have experienced homestay study programs in the country as well, inspiring me to 'go the extra mile' in service to the U.S.-Japan alliance," Wright said.
Each year up to 10 fellowships in various countries around the world are awarded and Wright was selected from a pool of highly competitive applicants, who must be U.S. citizens and federal government employees with at least two years of service among other criteria. The Air Force imposes further restrictions by restricting applicants to certain career fields.
Wright said he had to submit an extensive application package that included a personal statement, a placement plan, a statement confirming an ability to adjust to an international working environment, and a résumé.
"It was a beast of an application," Wright said.
Despite the challenges that were presented with applying for the fellowship, Wright claimed to remain ecstatic.
"It's been a goal of mine for as long as I can remember, so it feels great to have achieved it," he said. "However, the reality of the work ahead also hit me, with the unknown that comes with it."
The Mansfield Fellowship includes a seven-week homestay and intensive Japanese language program in Ishikawa Prefecture and 10 months of professional placements in Tokyo. During the year in Japan, fellows develop an in-depth understanding of the government of Japan and its policymaking process and establish relationships with their Japanese counterpart in government, business and academic communities.
Some former fellowship alumni have gone to serve in important political and social economic positions for the U.S. government.
"I'm simply trying to, first and foremost, understand U.S.-Japan relations in the form of cooperative policy making," Wright said. "I'm interested in learning more about the Japanese perspective in regional cooperative defense and in U.S.-relations. The most important thing to me is to use what we'll learn for the good of the alliance and U.S. government objectives. After those immediate goals, it's anyone's guess what happens next."