Maj. Wayne Don, an Eagle River resident, is traveling to Europe in February as part of a Marshall Memorial Fellowship. Don, who left active duty in 2005, now serves as director of the Alaska Army National Guard's state partnership program with Mongolia.
PHOTO courtesy alaska army national guard
He's only 38, but already Eagle River resident and Alaska Army National Guard Maj. Wayne Don chairs a native corporation and heads a program linking Guard members with their Mongolian counterparts.
What could be next?
A Marshall Memorial Fellowship a prestigious honor that participants tend to describe as life-changing.
Don is one of 44 "emerging leaders" under 40 from the United States to be selected for the Marshall fellowship this spring, the Guard announced last month.
He will travel to five European cities Brussels, Lubeck, Rome, Macedonia and Bucharest in less than a month in February and March. He hopes to meet with defense ministers and prominent banking officials.
Don said he feels personally honored and is looking forward to the networking opportunities ahead with an eye toward increasing the status of his native corporation, the Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska Corp.
But Don also believes that his selection for the fellowship could change some incorrect cultural perceptions of the Guard as a military path for those not on ambitious college or career tracks.
"In some respects, the message of the Guard changes a little bit with something as prestigious as this," he said.
The Marshall fellowship is a 24-day program that provides a unique opportunity for American and European leaders to explore institutions, politics and culture, according to the Guard. Participants have the opportunity to meet formally and informally with policy makers, prominent community members and local Marshall Memorial Fellowship alumni.
Don is the only current Alaska resident in his group. He said others will include a Port of Seattle commissioner and a senior vice-president with Bank of America, but also a Nikiski native currently stationed in Virginia with the U.S. Air Force.
The participants were culled from a group of 225 nominees. Don was nominated by Sherri Burretta, chairman of the board of Chugach Alaska Corp. Burretta told the Guard that she nominated Don, "because he represents the future of Alaska. He has sacrificed his precious time away from his young family to protect our state and country, while also representing his Native people by heading his village corporation. He is a perfect role model for all Alaskans."
NIMA is a private, for-profit Alaska Native-owned corporation representing the business interests of the Cup'ig Eskimos from Nunivak Island. Don said the corporation's gross revenues rose from just under $1 million to $8 million in six years with income from defense contracting, a store and real estate investments.
Don served in the U.S. Army until 2005.
As part of his interview by the national selection committee, he fielded questions about how this experience would differ from his travel in the military, when he was stationed in Germany though he spent much of that time in Kosovo and in Afghanistan.
He answered that there wasn't exactly a premium placed on personal and professional development, or proximity to "different thought leaders."
Don said he's still working on his list of priorities for the trip. But there are a "couple of real prominent banks in Brussels I'm curious about," he said, as well as defense ministers within those countries with troops contributing to the war in Afghanistan.
He's also looking forward to the kind of offerings any traveler appreciates, such as architecture, art, restaurants.
But he doesn't expect to experience anything like the rancid mare's milk that came his way during a trip to Mongolia.
"There's obviously good food and drink in each one of those cities," he said. "I'm looking forward to sampling all that."
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 5, 2011.