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White House worker from Fulton Co. reflects on career path

Sharron McClerkin
White House Communications Agency
Sharron McClerkin

Growing up in Hickman, Kentucky, Sharron McClerkin had a choice: He could work on his family’s farm, or he could try something completely different. That something different would lead him down an unexpected road to a job in the White House Communications Agency.

Although his parents and teachers at Fulton County High School provided guidance, he said meeting his uncle — Charles Buntyn, a retired sergeant major — showed him the benefits of joining the military.

“If I didn’t do anything, I should at least give the military a try, because look at the great life that [my uncle] had,” McClerkin said. “The rest has kind of been history. He gave me an opportunity to get out of that region and do things that I never thought I would ever do.”

Now, McClerkin serves as a presidential communications officer for the White House Communications Agency in Washington, D.C., facilitating communications with the president’s office at home and abroad. He assumed this role in 2018.

“For the past 21 years, I haven’t worked a day in my life,” he said. “For me, serving in the military isn’t really work. I enjoy molding young men and women to prepare for whatever’s next on the horizon. I remember, when I was 17 joining the military, an order leader pulled me to the side and helped mentor me and develop me.”

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McClerkin has been decorated by his country on multiple occasions, having been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Presidential Service Badge during his time with the executive and military departments.

He said the Bronze Star Medal — which he earned for helping the locals develop a supply chain network throughout Afghanistan from 2013 to 2014 — was especially rewarding.

“I had to leave the camp that we were on anywhere from five to six days a week, and we would travel in a small amount of vehicles anywhere from two and a half-hour drives, sometimes even three and a half-hour drives all over Afghanistan,” he said. “Nobody’s going to come to you. That’s not how we operate. You have to get out there and put yourself at risk.”

The Defense Meritorious Service Medal resulted from McClerkin’s work in the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency searching for missing service members in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Germany and more from 2014 to 2017. As a logistics director, he ensured the recovery teams had what they needed for missions.

“We met the congressional mandate of identifying 200 missing service members a year throughout our time there — one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had a chance to do in my career,” McClerkin said. “To be able to provide closure to families or missing service members, that is an amazing agency for what they’re doing.”

McClerkin received the Presidential Service Badge after a year of serving the president honorably in his current role as a presidential communications officer..

“I never thought in a million years, growing up from Hickman, Kentucky, that I would have the opportunity to serve the office of the president,” he said.

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Earlier this month, McClerkin spoke during a Veterans’ Day program at Fulton County High School where he expressed his reverence for veterans and his joy to return to the community where he was initially inspired to join the military.

“I want to think that I’m a product of those veterans there, as well as that community, as well as that school, those teachers and administrators that helped me along the way, helped me get where I’m at today,” he said.

Though he doesn’t think of himself as a veteran, McClerkin considers Veterans’ Day one of the “most overlooked holidays on the calendar,” choosing to focus on the veterans whom he said have done a great deal for him.

“The first time I arrived in north north Vietnam for one of the recovery missions, it was surreal,” he said. “When you step back and you think about everything that happened in that country in particular, it humbles you. I can’t believe the things that these veterans went through. It changed my thought process.”

For young people looking for a career, McClerkin said the military is an outlet that will plug them into further opportunities, noting how the military will pay for members’ college tuition and provide a stipend. He also said certain military leaders taught him how to invest in retirement and real estate to prepare for his future.

“Once you get in and you do well, you have an opportunity, for the most part, to control your own career,” he said. “You control how much money you make if that’s what you’re interested in. It’s up to you to get promoted. You’ll have people guide you, but it’s your hard work and dedication that determines that.”

This year, McClerkin will spend Thanksgiving with his family in western Kentucky for the first time since assuming the role of presidential communications officer.

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