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Defense: 10 Staffers to Know

The world of defense encompasses a range of related issues, from procurement to personnel to weapons systems — and their respective price tags. This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee marks up its 2010 defense authorization act; last week, the House Armed Services Committee marked up its 2010 legislation. Here are 10 Hill staffers who play important roles in establishing the nation’s defense policy and priorities.

John Chapla, professional staff, House Armed Services Committee, minority
Age: 62
Birthplace: Cleveland
Education: B.A., Virginia Military Institute; M.A., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Military: Lt. Col., Army (retired)

John Chapla joined the House Armed Services Committee in 1995, and for the past 11 years he has directed the professional staff on the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

Chapla has served three different committee chairmen and has supervised the activities of professional staff to compile language for 12 annual defense authorization bills. Other legislative initiatives he helped push through include military pay and bonus increases for troops, military retirement reform, growth in military personnel strength, and the creation of the TRICARE for Life medical benefit program.

Before coming to the committee, Chapla was director of government and public affairs for the Association of the United States Army. Prior to that, he served for nearly 22 years in the Army.

Chapla is an accomplished military historian, having written the regimental histories of the 42nd, 48th and 50th Virginia infantries, which are part of the Virginia Regimental Histories Series.

Lobbyists describe him as “a true professional.”

The way Chapla sees it: “I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. I see our job as simply teeing up things for the Members to consider.”

Erin Conaton, staff director, House Armed Services Committee, majority
Age: 38
Birthplace: Rutherford, N.J.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service, Georgetown University; M.A., Tufts University

Erin Conaton started working on the House Armed Services Committee in 2001, quickly moving up through the ranks to become staff director in 2006.

She manages nearly 70 employees and works closely with her boss, Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.).

The work is rewarding, she explained, because every year the committee takes up authorization legislation that outlines the country’s military priorities.

“She’s well-respected amongst her peers, and extraordinarily capable of handling not only the administrative duties of the committee but also grasping difficult policy issues,” said a defense industry lobbyist who has worked with her.

Her message to lobbyists: “Do your homework and know your issues.”

“We’re not judging what the lobbyists say in a vacuum. We try to hear from multiple perspectives,” Conaton said.

In the weeks ahead, she said, she will look at how the defense authorization bill performs on the House floor and follow most closely issues related to missile defense and detainee treatment at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention center.

Peter Levine, counsel for Senate Armed Services Committee, majority
Age: 51
Birthplace: Santa Monica, Calif.
Education: B.A., Harvard University; J.D., Harvard

Peter Levine, a top aide to Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), is well-known in defense circles, earning a reputation for his “toughness” and “rigorous thinking” on defense issues.

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