Eric Olendorf: 2011 Congressional Intern
What hasn’t this guy done? NCAA athlete, Naval Academy graduate, submarine officer, 2014 class president; Eric Olendorf’s resume reads like a movie script. He’s not done, though — not by a long shot. An introduction to our next congressional intern.
Eric Olendorf’s CV reads like something out of the latest Tom Clancy novel or James Bond script. Intrigue! Submarines! Russian Treaties! Olendorf, a seasoned Naval officer and first-year dental student at the University of Washington School of Dentistry, was recently tapped to be WSDA’s Congressional Intern in Sen. Patty Murray’s office this summer — but he’s already seen more action than most people do in a lifetime — he spent 40 months aboard a sub in Norfolk, VA., (24 months of that at sea), and time in Russia, leading 14 missions as a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty verification officer. That post’s duties included generating reports on a Presidential level and routinely briefing members of the intelligence community on nuclear weapons. Impressive stuff, that. His previous political experience includes a volunteer stint for a state representative when he was 20, something he characterizes as “mostly opening letters,” so he’s excited about joining Murray on the hill. It’s a good fit — Murray sits on the defense and homeland security sub-committees and chairs the veteran’s affairs committee — big guns for any politician — but especially well-suited to Olendorf’s career path. He says, “I’m most interested in the internship because I have a lot of experience being an operator — the person who enforces policy — but this gives me an experience to witness how policy is created. A lot of times when you’re down in the weeds doing your job you can lose sight of the big picture. I look at this as a “big picture” type of education — a chance to see how everything works together.” As a disabled vet (he’s successfully beaten thyroid cancer), Olendorf is well-versed in the VA process — he’s using the GI Bill to pay for dental school, and has either investigated or is currently using many of the benefits available to vets. As such, he might just bring a fresh, insiders perspective to the hill this summer. Olendorf remarks, “My presence in her office may give her the advantage of a unique sounding board — even though her knowledge of veteran’s issues is likely more vast than mine — simply because I’ve been through the system.” And for his part, what does Olendorf hope to take away from the experience? “I’d like to see how health care works at a national level,” he says, continuing, “And, I’d like to see how Sen. Murray interacts with her staff in terms of getting the information she needs to make educated decisions with her votes.” It’s a smart move from a guy who is eyeing a post as a lobbyist for the ADA somewhere down the road, saying “I am interested in being involved with organized dentistry at the national level, and that’s part of the big picture aspect of my career. Lobbyists look after the interests of the dentists, Patty Murray is looking out for the interests of the citizens of Washington — there are a lot of similarities between the two. Working in Washington, even for a short period of time, will let me see that aspect too.” Olendorf, a graduate of the US Naval Academy, went to Annapolis to be a pilot. There, in addition to excelling academically, he played varsity football, and discovered that his true passion wasn’t flying at all — it was submarines. He notes, “The people you work with in the submarines are by far the best and the brightest in the Navy. The sailors you work with, the type of operations that you do, everything just fit my personality. I have a lot of friends who are pilots, and I don’t think that I would fit in that community as well.” And his decision to become a dentist? With no dentists in his family save for a great uncle he rarely saw, Olendorf characterizes his decision to become a dentist as ‘non-linear,’ explaining “I was getting ready to go back to a submarine for another assignment when a medical exam turned up thyroid cancer. And while my long term health prognosis is great, having that “C” word in your medical record doesn’t sit well with the nuclear Navy. I had to take a new look at what I wanted to do, so I considered my skill set, and looked at what I wanted to accomplish as a husband and a father that would allow me to continue to serve my country. Everything led me to dentistry. I did some research and began to shadow at the base dental clinic, and I decided that it would be a great fit.” After he graduates in 2014, Olendorf anticipates a year as a GPR or an AEGD, followed by the remaining time in a base clinic. And while the Navy is free to place him anywhere, he and his wife are hoping to have a post somewhere on the eastern seaboard, closer to their families. He explains, “I’ve spent a lot of time at sea in my life, and I’d like to go to a base rather than a ship. I know the strains that being on a ship can take on a family. I’ve had a lot of adventure in my life already, as far as traveling. I have been pretty fortunate and had opportunities present themselves to me, and I’ve been able to take the opportunity and exploit them to the fullest.” While in Washington, Olendorf has committed to penning a four-part “Postcards from D.C.” series for the WSDA, talking about his experiences while serving as congressional intern. And while he won’t be able to discuss policy decisions taking place in Sen. Murray’s office, we look forward to hearing his perspective about the way Washington really works.