COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
In the past nine months of being a public affairs officer the biggest thing that has taken me by surprise is how other military personnel think we are spies for external media. My Airmen and I have received comments from peers such as
“PA is useless”
“Well, you guys are always talking to the media so I don’t want to give you that information…”
“…it’s usually dangerous to talk to public affairs…”
“I don’t trust public affairs”
“And one last thing, don’t talk to public affairs”
Guys! Seriously!? Like, seriously? What can we do to convince you we are not selling our military's secrets to the media? We love the military as much as you do. We want to protect our deployed brothers and sisters as much as you do. We need the mission to succeed as much as you do.
Do you know what's critical to a mission’s success? Public support. How do we get public support? Through telling our story to the American people. That doesn’t mean we tell them everything, but enough so they can understand, be inspired and then support what we do. You see, if we don’t write our own narrative someone else will write it for us and we might not like how that story is written.
Let me show you what I am talking about … In World War II media was on our side. Everything the American media printed was pro-war and pro-military. To write or broadcast against the war was seen as unpatriotic. So the narrative the media created was immensely positive, however it was arguably more propaganda than informative. There was little freedom on what the media could say in opposition to the military.
Fast forward some years later and we have the Vietnam War. Media was uncensored and unregulated. All a photojournalist had to do was convince a helicopter pilot to let him or her to tag along, take some photos of a battle, then print and release to the public. No oversight from a military representative. As we know, what was being released did not paint a positive image of our beloved military. And though only a handful of soldiers committed despicable crimes, the few represented the many and when our troops came home from Vietnam they were jeered and sneered at because they wore our nation’s uniform. All because we let someone else write our narrative.
Vietnam media was uncensored, it discredited our government and diminished support of our military.
Because of that, the “Reagan” and “Bush” administrations put reins on press coverage within military conflicts. Media was only allowed to join a military operation after critical parts of the mission were accomplished which inhibited journalists from relaying timely and accurate experiences to the American public. Basically, media coverage was useless. Recognizing the issue of not relaying accurate information to the American public and also seeing value in having information dominance, Ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld highlighted at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003 that “communications would be a top priority should hostilities occur not as a public relations imperative but as a military one. The essence of the communication plan is to flood the zone with information… information dominance.” News reporters, alongside Public Affairs Officers, were embedded into military units involved in armed conflicts which provided an antidote to Saddam Hussein’s propaganda, transparency to American people and ability for the military to maintain credibility.
The American people have a right to know what their military is doing and how their military is doing it. We fight for the people and we should be held accountable by the people. Yes, information should be protected in order to protect our soldiers, sailors and airmen, however, information that does not jeopardize operational security should and needs to be shared. That’s where public affairs comes in.
Information can be twisted to fit any individual’s agenda. So while we can never fully know what a journalist will do with releasable information we provide them, public affairs can release the same information with the military’s best interest at heart. Our overall mission is to plan, coordinate and synchronize U.S. military public information to support the commander’s intent and concept of operations. Basically, we are telling our side of the story to the public. We are fighting our enemies with truth. We are humanizing our military forces while garnering public support.
Do bad things happen within our ranks? Yes. We have cheating scandals, drunk driving incidents and sexual assaults, etc. These are things we are not proud of, however, we release this information because even when we are ashamed of tragic events we do not let them define our forces. The few does not represent the many. We know that while there are things we are ashamed of, we have so much more to be proud of. We have stories like Capt. Hunter Barnhill who fought through a brain tumor and just received a bronze medal at the 2018 DOD Warrior Games, 1st Lt. Hannah Ferrarini who after being told she would never run again has gone on to compete in multiple marathons, and Chief Master Sgt. Bradley Reilly who received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his leadership on the battle field. As Public Affairs Airmen, we understand you have a story that just might inspire, motivate and change another person’s life.
According to the 2017 Gallup poll, the public now rates military professionals as the second most trusted individuals in the country. Serving your country is selfless, sacrificial and noble. And thanks to public affairs writing your narrative, the American people think so too.
One last thing… please talk to your public affairs.
Sincerely yours, THE Columbus AFB Public Affairs team.