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Service Academy Grads Bond on Capitol Hill

Tim Bertocci and Jakob Johnsen founded the Service Academy Graduate Staff Association in the 114th Congress

Service Academy Graduate Staff Association co-chairmen Jakob Johnsen, left, and Tim Bertocci say group members share similar values and backgrounds. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Service Academy Graduate Staff Association co-chairmen Jakob Johnsen, left, and Tim Bertocci say group members share similar values and backgrounds. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The importance of brotherhood and sisterhood is ingrained as a core value of service academy graduates, which is why two staffers decided to form an association for them. 

The Service Academy Graduate Staff Association was started last Congress by Tim Bertocci, legislative director for Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, and Jakob Johnsen, military legislative assistant for Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young.

Brotherhood drove the launch.

“We use [our friendship] in the professional manner, especially on last year’s [defense spending bill],” Bertocci said. “We worked together on several items, just because I know him, he knows me, and, again, we know where each other is coming from so that makes it easier to work together.”

And the same thing happened when they got the association together.

“We had a meeting last year, it was a 30-minute meeting, where our goal was to talk about legislative priorities that our bosses shared,” Johnsen said. “I think probably 27 of the minutes were just BS’ing about Army sports and the last three minutes, we talked about everything we needed to. All on the same page and same sheet of music. Knew exactly where each of us needed to go to accomplish our bosses’ goals.”

There are currently about 30 people in the association, whose co-sponsors are Walz and Young. The group previously reached out to Kansas’ Mike Pompeo, too, before he left to become CIA director.

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A lot of the members are bonded from their service overseas.

Bertocci, 40, was a West Point presidential nominee while President Bill Clinton was in office as his father was a retired Army officer. He graduated in 1999 and served in Kuwait in 2001, and Iraq in 2005 and 2006.

Johnsen, 29, graduated from West Point in 2009 and received nominations from all three members of the Alaska congressional delegation at the time: former Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Young. He served in Iraq in 2010 and 2011.

“We had, actually, initially met in the House gym,” Johnsen said. They were introduced by another West Point graduate.

“There’s some kind of metaphor in the fact that we met under the guise of the Army, in some way,” Bertocci said, laughing.

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They pooled their resources to compile a list of all the service academy graduates they could think of to send out an initial email to gauge interest in starting the group.

“One of the things about the Hill is you can get stuck behind your cubicle and not go and see what’s out there,” Bertocci said. “That’s one of the main reasons why we started it, just to get out there and meet folks, especially with similar backgrounds.”

Johnsen added, “It doubled and tripled in size very quickly because other people referred their friends, their contacts. While we are by no means the biggest group on the Hill, … a lot of us have shared experiences, shared values, shared backgrounds.”

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The group has the most fun around the traditional Army vs. Navy football game in December.

“It’s just that kind of additional brotherhood and sisterhood that the academies provide that’s hard to recreate at civilian schools,” Johnsen said.

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