Lt. Cmdr. James “JB” Zorn experienced many interesting assignments throughout his Coast Guard career, including a stint in Rep. Charlie Crist’s office in Washington, D.C.
He started by volunteering for collateral duties within public affairs, which gave him insight into how the Coast Guard works with the government. But Zorn wanted a perspective from the other side, too, so he applied for the Coast Guard congressional fellow position.
“It was a pretty lengthy interview process and it was my top pick,” Zorn shared. “I really wanted to get up here [Congress] and just learn. I wanted to learn so I could take it all back to the Coast Guard and hopefully add some value to our official and unofficial side and grow as a professional.”
Zorn was chosen for the position. Not long after that news, the government went into a partial shutdown, which meant the Coast Guard, and therefore Zorn, wasn’t getting paid.
“That’s flavored my whole recent experience … It became so much more,” he said. “I was so happy to come up to D.C. and learn about how it all works. It was such a life-changing experience as an active-duty coastie. I had no idea how much more there was to the story when it comes to how appropriations and government funding works.”
He learned. Zorn landed an assignment within the office of Rep. Charlie Crist of Florida’s 13th district. With his new boss on the appropriations committee, he had hands-on involvement in staffing, budgeting, and briefings.
Prior to his assignment on the hill, Zorn was in leadership roles for the Coast Guard, so the transition was an adjustment.
“I couldn’t walk in with a certain mentality because I wasn’t going to be in charge of a unit,” he explained. “I came in to grow professionally and personally, to really learn. I was lucky that I was in a great office with great staffers and a great boss.”
A connection started brewing
Zorn says he fit right in. The thing that cemented his presence within the congressional office, though? Beer.
“I started brewing in college when I was 21,” he said. “My dad was my first brew partner. Every tour in the Coast Guard I tried to do more in the homebrewing world.”
The passion was serious. Following graduate school Zorn became a Certified Cicerone, through the Cicerone Certification Program, which made him somewhat of a beer expert.
“My claim to fame is that I was or am the first active-duty Cicerone,” Zorn said with a laugh.
Fast forward to being in his fellowship, when one of Zorn’s coworkers registered their office for a congressional beer competition.
“He didn’t know how to brew or that I knew how and was this crazy beer guy,” he said. “He thought it would be a team-building thing.”
But Zorn took it much further. The entire office ended up at his house for a potluck and created the brew together.
“Then when we won, I was just over the moon,” Zorn said. “It also turned out that the director of the American Homebrewers Association’s father was in the Coast Guard. It’s such a small world.”
Though Zorn definitely made his mark with an award-winning beer for Congress, his role crafting the legislation protecting Coast Guard retirees’ pay from another shutdown is something he’s really proud of.
“I got to work on it from drafting all the way to law,” he said. “For a fellow, that’s something you just rarely get the opportunity to do.”