For valley veteran participating in Indian Wells program, retirement isn’t in the cards

Only nine cities in the state participate in a program to help military veterans, their spouses, and active duty service members transition to careers in government.
Talon Burgess, Indian Wells’ first veteran fellow, discusses a city project with EMS Coordinator Linda Soto earlier this month. (Photo: Maria Sestito)

Rather than thinking about retirement, 40-year-old Gunnery Sgt. Talon Burgess is ending his 20-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps by spending six months as a fellow with the City of Indian Wells, learning everything he can about city management.

The Cathedral City resident has spent most of his military career leading and managing others – and he’d like to keep doing that in local government. 

“I’m good with connecting different departments – I can create relationships and connect dots,” Burgess said. “I’m just the guy that gets stuff done. It’s what I do.”

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Burgess is the first veteran fellow hosted by the city through the International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA) Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship SkillBridge Program. Indian Wells is among just nine cities in California participating in the program and the only city offering it in the Coachella Valley. 

Because Burgess is interested in city management, he’ll be spending time in each of the city’s departments, learning and getting hands-on experience in each of them. His goal is to become a city manager in the next five to 10 years. 

“I think it’s good to get him exposed to all the different areas of the city because it truly can show that he has that experience in local government,” Peter Castro, Indian Wells deputy city manager, said. “It’s really about getting him as much experience as he can in six months to help him find a great career.”

Having him around also isn’t costing the city any money; Burgess is still being paid by the Department of Defense as he finishes up his final six months of military service. The program is intended to help him transition from military life into a civilian one. 

“It’s a win-win,” Burgess said. “It’s a win for me because I get some experience, but also a win for them because they get another hand around here to help with different projects and whatnot.” 

The program is open to veterans, military spouses and active duty service members within 180 days of leaving the military who are interested in local government. There are other qualifications, too, including some education and leadership experience. 

“It’s really tailored to what the goals are of the participant,” Castro said. “For example, if Talon only had an interest in finance … we could definitely show him all aspects of the city, then have him shadow the finance director.”

Burgess holds a bachelor’s degree in business/military science and a master’s degree in public administration, which he earned while serving in the military. He has completed ICMA’s Emerging Leaders Development Program, is Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Certified (so he knows how to solve problems) and is pursuing a doctorate of education in organizational change and leadership at the University of Southern California. 

For more information about the program and qualification requirements, visit the fellowship website. Cities interested in hosting a fellow can contact the fellowship program manager, Lynn Phillips, at [email protected] or (202) 962-3551.

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