In a lot of ways, Aubrey Stuber is your typical Hill staffer. In high school, she was student government president and captained the lacrosse team; in college (American University, natch), she double majored in political science and Latin American studies and was president of her sorority.
Her Twitter feed is mostly a mix of retweets of her boss’s tweets (that she, as Rep. Chrissy Houlahan’s communications director, often wrote), political memes, and idle thoughts about dating in D.C. (“Mom said no more republican bfs in ’23,” she wrote above a screengrab of her mother texting that Stuber’s upcoming date “better be a Democrat!”)
But some of the dating tweets are a little less typical for the Hill. “Pro tip: if a guy tries to hit on you during your 12-mile ruck for Air Assault just speed up until he’s out of breath and gives up,” she wrote last summer.
Stuber is one of the few National Guardsmen working at the Capitol, where spending “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” away from Washington is inconceivable for some political junkies — let alone the real-time commitment Stuber puts in as a second lieutenant in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
Stuber decided to sign up after she started working for Congress. She said Houlahan, a Democrat who served in the Air Force for three years of active duty and another 13 in the reserves before discharging as a captain, was an inspiration, as was her previous boss — Max Della Pia, a retired Air Force colonel who ran unsuccessfully for a House seat in upstate New York in 2018.
Despite her high-flying mentors, Stuber decided to stay grounded. The Army offered her more career opportunities than the Air Force, especially in Pennsylvania, which has one of the largest National Guards in the nation.
And she picked the guard over active duty or the reserves partially because she didn’t want to give up her day job on the Hill just yet, but mostly because “I was born and raised in Pennsylvania — I just feel rooted to the community,” she said. “I liked the idea of being able to be called up by [either] the governor [or] the president.”
Last week, Stuber “packed up my whole life in my truck,” and started driving west to Arizona for a four-month training session. It’ll be her longest stint away since her 10 weeks of basic training at the end of 2019.
Stuber’s office let her spend an extra two weeks at Air Assault School this fall — an optional training that employers aren’t legally required to accommodate, unlike mandatory guard service — even though they knew this other four-month drilling stint, the next step to a first lieutenant promotion, was coming right around the corner.
“Out of the 184 who graduated, there were five women. I was the only female officer,” she said. “When you talk about trying to get us into spaces, sometimes we just need the chance. And [the office] said: ‘We’ll figure it out. It will be tough. But go ahead and do it.’”
‘That year was intense’
That walk-the-walk attitude is what drew Stuber to military service to begin with. While the Hill is hardly hostile territory for the military — nearly 100 members of Congress are veterans or reservists, and Department of Defense congressional fellows fill offices across the Capitol — it’s unusual to find staff juggling the demands of National Guard or reserves duty while working full time, and rarer still that they joined up after landing a congressional staff position.
“We’re going, ‘More women in STEM! More women in the military! We need to diversify our ranks!’” Stuber said. “I was just like, ‘Why don’t I do it?’”
So, she did.
The hardest part was Officer Candidate School, Stuber said, which was basically a part-time job for a year on top of her full-time career. “Sometimes, I was getting done [with] work on a Wednesday or Thursday, hopping in my vehicle, going straight to Harrisburg … drilling, sleeping for like two, three hours a night … and then going back to work the next week,” she said. “That year was intense.”
Her rarity has made Stuber a sounding board for other staffers considering military service, like Francisco Huang Ventura. He asked for some advice over &Pizza while he was an aide in former Rep. Val Demings’ office, and Stuber helped guide him to join a ROTC program while pursuing his master’s degree in international relations at Columbia University.
Ventura was impressed that Stuber managed to juggle OCS while working on the Hill. “I don’t know if I would have ever been able to do that,” he said.
Stuber said she couldn’t have without the help of her boss and coworkers. From her years in the Air Force, Houlahan herself is no stranger to the military’s habit of giving short notice, so she wasn’t surprised when Stuber’s marching orders came just two weeks in advance.
“It is definitely something that requires some flexibility, not just in the part of the management, but also in the part of the entire team,” Houlahan said.
That support goes beyond logistics. When Stuber was commissioned in 2021 — and named her class’s honor graduate — it was Houlahan who pinned on her second lieutenant’s bars. The congresswoman also gave her aide a gift: her own bars, slightly scuffed from years spent on her shoulders.
“It was an awesome day,” Stuber said. “And then I was staffing Chrissy the next morning at, like, a library groundbreaking ceremony. You just go right back to work.”
Outside the bubble
Despite the logistical headaches of periodically losing a key employee, Houlahan has benefitted from having a National Guardsman in the ranks. When the office was having trouble working through official channels to arrange a meeting with guardsmen deployed to Washington after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, Stuber reached out to her old recruiter, who made a call to a buddy stationed at the Capitol, and Houlahan got her meeting. (And that conversation, Stuber said, inspired Houlahan’s Military Moms Matter Act.)
The benefit goes both ways, Stuber said. She shared a story of sitting next to a sergeant in a meeting, who then scooted his seat away. “Sergeant, I just showered,” Stuber joked.
Odor had nothing to do with his shuffle, he assured her — he had lost his sense of smell in Afghanistan after spending too much time next to burn pits. So Stuber asked if he knew about the PACT Act, which expanded veteran health benefits to cover exposure to toxic substances. He didn’t. The people who stood to benefit most from the new law had no clue it existed, Stuber realized, so she texted her boss.
“We wrote a letter to the Secretary of the VA and said, ‘We need a bottom-up approach. We need to get into American Legions, we need to get into VFWs, we need to get to units that are drilling right now,’“ Stuber said.
“These [congressional office] buildings are a bubble in large part, and I think we forget that,” she added.
While Stuber cherishes her time working for Houlahan, she thinks her future lies in the field or at the Pentagon, not on the Hill.
“Just being on the ground those weekends … you feel like you’re really making a difference in people’s lives,” she said.