In the age of “fake news,” the only way we have to change the narrative and overcome bias is to vote
Please join us for an award reception Oct. 7 at the Capital Yacht Club to recognize 1st Sgt. Jeremy Bunkley, the recipient of the 2018 Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence, and Don Carr, the recipient of the 2018 Joe Galloway Award for Lifetime Achievement. The reception is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. and is open to all APAA members and their guests. Complimentary heavy hors d'oeuvres provided, and a cash bar is available. Entry is free, but RSVP is required to ensure adequate catering. Only 150 seats are available, so please RSVP soon to reserve your spot. Special guests include Brig. Gen. Omar Jones, the Chief of Army Public Affairs, who will address the membership. Dress is business casual or Class B for those who choose to come in uniform. The Yacht club is located at 800 Wharf Street SW, Washington, DC 20024. The club is a ten minute walk from the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station on the Green Line, and is a ten-minute drive from the convention center where AUSA is being held. Visit our new website to RSVP.
BG Omar Jones announced Jan. 9, 2018, the nomination period for the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame class of 2018.
It’s hard to believe that the end of another year is upon us. Barely does the rhythm of the daily grind slow enough that we have time to reflect. At the same time, during this season of giving, we’re faced with the added challenge of finding the right gift for those we love and care about. It’s enough to make one put another spike in the eggnog.
For some of us, our reflections are on the joys of the year, both personal and professional. In some cases, it may be more melancholy in nature. For the Soldiers and civilians who make up the Army public affairs profession, it is often our job to reflect not just on our lives, but also on the achievements of our units and organizations. Telling the Army story is not just our jobs, it is our privilege. We have the opportunity to frame the conversation about our profession for the American people, and when we do it well, we can impact the future of the force in ways that are often difficult to measure, but impossible to miss.
That responsibility of telling the Army story is more challenging today than I’ve ever seen it before. Pew research released a report in May that discussed the latest data in a long-running study of public trust in government. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that over the past five decades public trust in government has been steadily declining, while public anger and frustration about the government has been steadily increasing.
How do we overcome distrust in our audiences in an era where the traditional media we have learned to navigate is being overcome by social media echo chambers? How do we break audiences of the steady diet of customized news that feeds their individual confirmation biases? How do we tell the Army story to a population that labels anything countering their world view as “fake news” or propaganda?
The truth is that I don’t know that the single best answer has been discovered to respond to those questions. We have several pieces of the answer; increased audience engagement via social media, focus on content creation, strategic outreach to influencers and thought leaders in our target audiences, a willingness to experiment with new channels and tactics, and our own individual and collective integrity to be honest, and forthright, even in the face of bad news.
The strength of the Army Public Affairs profession is that we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to innovative thinkers. The strategies and tactics our Soldiers and civilians are deploying, and the emphasis on measuring outcomes and applying lessons learned, are moving us as a career field toward incredible success.
As you reflect on your past year, I would encourage you consider sharing the professional successes with your peers in the Army Public Affairs Association. We have a website with a blog where you can share your lessons learned from the hard fought information battles of the past 12 months. Or start a conversation on the Association Facebook page and share with your fellow professionals what you found this year that worked (or didn’t).
Consider it your gift to the Army and the profession. The best gift you can give – your knowledge and experience. And come to our website and Facebook page to open your gift from your peers, as they share their knowledge.
I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season and may you be strengthened by every good endeavor.
Doug Coffey, President, Army Public Affairs Association
We hope you'll join us in November for the year's premier Army Public Affairs event! The Annual Army Public Affairs Association Recognition Program and Dinner will be held at the Mark Center Hilton in Alexandria, Virginia, Nov. 15 with a pre-event cash bar reception at 6 p.m. followed by dinner starting at 7 p.m.
This year’s event will feature Chief of Army Public Affairs Brig. Gen. Omar J. Jones IV as the guest speaker and – as in previous years – recognition of the new Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame inductees. We are especially proud that the first award presentations of the prestigious Ancient Order of St. Gabriel will be featured at this year's dinner!
We are looking forward to using this opportunity to share with you our vision for the next year, which includes plans for leadership and best practices panels and networking events at installations outside the Washington, D.C. area, and taking steps to establish chapters at targeted locations.
If you have not done so already, please reserve your tickets here by Nov. 6!
The dinner includes a three-course meal with a choice of one of three entrees for $70 for members and $75 for non-members. Take advantage of the membership and dinner ticket combination offer for $100 and save. Tickets may be purchased using PayPal (login or create a new account at no charge). You may also request to be invoiced and pay by credit card upon receipt of the invoice.
The attire for the event is business/cocktail.
ADDITIONAL UPCOMING EVENT:
Kick off the forum by connecting with your Army Public Affairs colleagues. The Army Public Affairs Leader Forum Networking Reception will be held at Clyde’s at Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 13.
Please join us, hear our vision and share your feedback! I'm looking forward to connecting with many old friends and new colleagues!
Vice President, Army Public Affairs Association
As the birthday of our nation nears, I am reminded of and inspired by the sacrifices and achievements of the citizens from 13 fierce colonies 242 years ago. These brave people formed militias and helped to build our country into a vibrant tapestry of citizens. At their side stood soldiers of the Continental Army who played a vital role in the evolution of our nation.
The history of the United States of America is the history of the U.S. Army. And that history has been told by the men and women who stand ready to fight while reporting from the battlefields – often under fire. Today, we are a dedicated corps of public affairs professionals and while the tactics and technology have changed, our dedication and commitment to tell the Soldier’s story with maximum disclosure and minimal delay remains ever true.
As we reflect on Independence Day, we want to thank you for your willingness to serve, to protect and defend our Nation, and to be the messengers that tell the important story of our Army and its role in protecting our democratic values. On behalf of the Army Public Affairs Association, thank you for your service. Thank you for your efforts to tell the Army story. Happy Fourth of July. Wherever you are serving, be safe. We salute you and your family and loved ones!
-Doug Coffey, President and Amee Roberson, Secretary
To join the association, go to: http://www.armypaa.org/membership
We will soon be launching the Order of St Gabriel as a proper recognition of public affairs professionals who have done exceptional work as recognized by their peers. The recognition, in the form of a medallion with ribbon in the public affairs colors can be worn at dining ins and other formal occasions as approved by the senior public affairs officer in the unit. There is an ancient order, in gold, for sustained excellence over a 15-year career and an honorable order, in silver, for exceptional accomplishment. Details of the program will be published on the association web site soon. In the meantime, I wanted you to see what the medallion for the Ancient Order of St Gabriel will look like.
As we look into the future, the Army Public Affairs Association has refined its vision to be focused on three components: Portfolio, Presence and Profession.
We are intent on strengthening the portfolio of the Army Public Affairs professional. Not only does that mean developing and maintaining a connection to fellow members but, we add connections to other organizations and professionals who share a relevant experience. Whether Active Army, Army Reserve, Army National Guard or Army Civilian, the Association serves Army communicators’ unique and enduring relationship from military assignments to post-Army careers.
We believe in providing an ongoing presence of community engagement throughout the careers of Army communicators and are working to expand our outreach and visibility. Members share a loyalty and fealty to the U.S. Army and to the community of Army public affairs professionals for the entirety of their careers and the Army Public Affairs Association is there to facilitate those connections from DINFOS to post Army career.
We are dedicated to strengthening our profession, providing current, relevant and timely opportunities that offer the latest best practices from a variety of environments. In addition to professional development, the association serves to recognize excellence in the practice of communication as an approach toward improving individual professionalism.
To end 2016 and begin 2017, we asked the association's board members what they want to achieve in the next year. Here are the answers.
Kathy Rhem, Director: Read more -- biographies, professional journals and blogs, personal wellness articles -- the gamut. The broader my knowledge and understanding, the better I'm able to be of value to the association's mission and its members. Happy New Year!
Guy Shields, Director: Increase our presence within the reserve component and continue to move forward supporting the Army public affairs community.
Lew Boone, Director: Seek avenues to incorporate my work within the Veterans Benefits Administration, to useful purposes in support of the public affairs career field and our veteran community.
Jill Mueller, Director: Grow and strengthen the board of directors with new and diverse leadership that can drive forward the goals of the association and fulfill the organizational vision.
Mike Howard, Communications Director: Start an email newsletter for members!
Don Carr, Communicator: Increase association outreach to our civilian practitioners, particularly at the garrisons, who perform so much of the hard work to maintain our installations as the primary gateways between the Army and the American people.
Dick Horvath, Secretary: Encourage those members who are delinquent in association dues to come current.
Amee Roberson, Chairman: Expand the association's footprint beyond the Washington, D.C., area to provide improved access to members and increase diversity of thought and innovation.
Doug Coffey, President: Improve our communication frequency and launch the Order of St Gabriel for public affairs professionals everywhere.
I am one who is inspired by ideas, and, who draws my energy from others. Throughout my career, I have found nothing more enjoyable than to help guide, coach and learn from employees at all levels and stages of their career paths, and, to take the journey with them. It fascinates and thrills me to no end to watch people grow and develop. One of the key things to my approach is to give my team permission to dream and suspend all the trappings and boundaries that might impede their idea turning into a reality. Given budget constraints and various policy limitations, that can be hard to accomplish, but it is worth the effort.
I often start with new employees (or if I am new to the organization) with quality one-on-one conversations to understand and get to know my team. This is, of course, a great leadership practice. I try to take it a step further by probing into what the employee thought their career would be when they started out, or, by asking them to talk about what they dreamt of doing for their career. This kind of conversation quickly establishes where they are, where they wish they would be, and, choices they have made about where they want to head in their development. Obviously, the answers will certainly have a broad range if the employee is a recent graduate with a few years of experience or a seasoned professional. These types of questions help snap the employee out of their current mindset and take a walk down memory lane a bit.
Once we have started this journey together, I probe a bit further on the experiences in their career that they treasure the most. I try to learn more about the details of the circumstances. At this stage, I start to really understand more about how the employee is fulfilled by their work. This is, indeed, where the discussion starts to evolve from their dreams, innovative ideas and desire to grow. I use a few basic questions to help guide this part of the discussion:
· If you could do everything over again, what would your career look like today?
· Is there any one thing you wish you could do?
· If resources/environment were not a factor, what do you wish we could do for the organization?
· Who do you admire in the workplace and why? Are those skills ones you would like to acquire?
I use the answers to these questions to start to make connections to how “dreams” can be possible through new opportunities, shadowing current team members, seeking targeted mentorship from peers and seniors, and what, if any, training could be helpful. Granted, there is not always a one-on-one answer for these elements. But, I have found that starting this level of dialog opens the door to further discussion and promotes empowerment of the employee to take charge of their careers. Even for those employees who have mapped out the next steps in development and advancement, this type of discussion can help to build a realistic roadmap.
For an employee struggling to meet expectations, the discussion can also help to understand where the challenges are and what may be potential ways to address them. I have found that I can quickly assess whether it is a matter of skill or will.
This focus on dreaming acknowledges to the employee that, as the leader, I am empowering them not to let barriers and obstacles get in the way of what will satisfy them. Once this door is open, it is critical for the employee to know you support them and are there for them. It is, however, their journey to drive as fast or slow as they want; it is important to establish that expectation with the employee.
With each discussion, there is a degree of follow through needed on both sides. For me, I usually follow up via phone call and/or email outlining our discussion and next steps on my end. I also ask the employee to take what they vocalized in our discussion and articulate it in writing. This part of the exercise can truly help an employee overcome what may have been perceived barriers by simply putting it in writing. As the leader, this also gives me key points and areas to consider as new opportunities arise and how they might fit into the employee’s overall goals.
Lastly, I make sure these discussions are a compliment to whatever assessment or review process my company follows. This is as much about me connecting with the employee and making the commitment to them as a partner in their development.
If we forget to dream or fail to give others permission to do so in the work environment, it is unfair to then ask them to be creative, innovative and flexible. We as leaders must remove at least some of the barriers that may surround them.
— Amee Roberson
(This is the second in a series of articles by Amee, who is the Chairman of the Army Public Affairs Association. She has 30 years of change management, communications, employee engagement, facilitation and strategic planning experience.)
Over the last 15 years post military service, I have encountered many Army Public Affairs professionals (officer and enlisted) transitioning into a new chapter in their careers. There are a few traits I found in common with those who were most successful, including self-reflection, selflessness and curiosity. I had the good fortune to work alongside a number of former military communications professionals who joined the ranks of the management consulting firm. Those who seem to thrive are those who want to learn new things, be part of a team, and, who sincerely want to improve where they can. However, those too focused on leading teams and managing projects and maintaining their leader status rather than learning how to improve their own techniques will struggle in the often highly matrixed world of consulting.
As a consultant, you are part leader, innovator and technical expert at any given time. It is truly different from corporate or government communications because most of the time your role is not narrowly defined. You may be asked to support a client, write papers on innovative ideas, and, support business operations or development. At times, you may fill a role for six to 12 months or longer, based on your company’s model. My former company mostly hired employees based less on a specific job, and more on how the new employee’s multiple skills and experiences should be used to support various clients.
Over time, I found those candidates who truly know how to hunt down a good story using a well-tooled network and eking out the most juicy bits are often those who are most successful finding balance between guiding a client and setting appropriate expectations, seeking creative solutions, and, using the experience gained to produce quality products. This is not an unusual requirement for a public affairs professional, however. It is those who are people not afraid to ask what they can do differently, who listen one moment, then, roll up their sleeves the next minute to really dig into what the client needs and wants who are the most successful. Of course, the other critical element was their ability to leave their egos and previous rank at the door, the latter often being the most challenging for some.
For example, I worked closely with a former senior officer who made the leap into consulting but struggled to seek or accept feedback. Often their frustration with client decisions brought negativity to the team. No matter the situation, there was rarely any thought given to what they could have done differently. Because of years of following the lead of his military boss, it was hard for him to step back, listen and view the problem and situation holistically. His first reaction was to simply produce whatever the client asked for, without drilling deeper to find out what the actual goals were and how they would know if they had been successful. He was skilled and simply a product of the military culture in many ways. Ultimately, he left consulting within the first year and moved into a government position, which was a better fit. As a peer, I appreciated the experience and true talent this person brought to the organization. But, his inability to be agile and selfless in the new environment was a fatal flaw.
However, one of the greatest success stories I observed over the years was how a 30-year military career retiree quickly adjusted to the management consulting world by actively listening each day, seeking feedback about her performance, and, looking to her peers for perspective and context behind various situations. She sought relationships not just with senior leaders, but, with her peers at all levels of the organization. She probed them for ideas on how to solve client problems, and to learn techniques they used. When asked by her leaders to take on short-term projects that did not appear to showcase all of her talents, she was open and dove into it without hesitating. Her agility and ability to engage employees at all levels of the organization and truly listen to the problem and challenge and think creatively about solutions eased what could have been a challenging transition for such an experienced veteran.
While management consulting is not a fit for everyone, it can be a great place for the experienced public affairs professional to broaden their skill set, use their tactical and strategic thinking skills, and, to be innovative in solving client problems without resource and policy limitations. The most critical element I found for those making the decision post military to pursue a career in consulting is to take a realistic look at who you are, what you want, what you are willing to change in your behavior or approach, and, how agile can you be. If you struggle with self-reflection, need straight-forward hierarchy or are not innovative in nature, consulting may not be a good fit for you or for the potential organization. This is a question only you can answer. As I have said to many candidates over the years, if you struggle living in gray, management consulting can be painful. But if that sounds like an adventure you want to pursue, it may be just be the place for you.
— Amee Roberson
(Amee is the Chairman of the Army Public Affairs Association. She has 30 years of change management, communications, employee engagement, facilitation and strategic planning experience serving in Army Public Affairs in uniform and as a federal civilian for the Department of Veterans Affairs along with working as a management consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton. Currently, she is the director of communications for NextEra Energy’s Nuclear Division.)
Throughout my professional career, especially while in leadership positions, I’ve come to understand leaders require an understanding of the capabilities of their subordinates. However, for many reasons the Army as a whole has little to no understanding of the capabilities of their Public Affairs colleagues, often labeling us as either picture takers, family readiness group informers, or an extension of their admin personnel. This is often perpetuated by a complete lack of understanding among our own kind and the legacy they leave behind. First, we are professional Army officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. Second, we are professional communicators. Third, we are peers and colleagues, not the competition.
We are professional Army officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. This is yet again another simple concept that remains lost among us. Just because we operate can outside the Army doesn’t mean we have the right to ignore our original purpose. In past jobs I’ve allowed myself to act only as a Public Affairs practitioner, choosing to forget I have more to offer my command and unit. I was naïve enough to believe this was normal and expected only to discover it was value lost, not added. The truth is we have a reputation of having poor Army officer, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. Not because of our Public Affairs skills, but because we’ve allowed ourselves to forget we’re also another rifle on the front. This means there are times when our commands and units will require us to step away from our technical profession and embrace a job of a soldier for the betterment of the organization. Don’t fail us, embrace this event and demonstrate you’re value added.
We are professional communicators. We are conversation bridge builders. That’s it, it’s that simple. It’s as simple as identifying all the audiences your command and supporting staff needs to address and then being able to help them determine the appropriate message and method to reach those audiences. In the book “On Deadline: Managing Media Relations” it points out we are more than a conduit between our organizations and the media because our skills can be used to help others across our organization communicate more effectively. Imagine a unit where tasks and orders are no longer lost in translation. How much time, energy and resources could that save a unit? This means if your command sees value in reaching their internal audience through “grip and grin” photos, then so be it. This environment mandates we remain vigilant in building communications plans that address these audiences. Traditional Public Affairs Annex format for OPORDs is not enough anymore. The communications world has grown too complex. This implies we remain relevant and current with the profession’s technology and tactics. You are ineffective if you’ve determined the correct message, medium and timing, but are unable to execute out of a lack of knowledge. You’re there to help your command and unit reach desired audiences. Don’t fail us, stay professional and demonstrate you’re value added.
We are peers and colleagues, not the competition. We are not competition. The Army Public Affairs community is a collective team of professional communicators. We all represent each other. Your performance in your current job shapes the presentation of those who follow in your footsteps at that job. Subordinate unit public affairs practitioners at lower levels and as those adjacent to your level also represent you and our branch. Our collective performance is the largest factor in our branch’s reputation. It’s not about what general you work for, how important you think you are or what your subordinate units can do for you. It’s about what you can do for them and how we take care of our community. In that spirit I implore you all to join me in sharing our collective knowledge and best practices freely. This includes your mistakes. Please share the times you’ve failed with hopes that those who listen will prevent further failures across our community. Admitting you’ve failed is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of humble strength and your ability to share it will help those who come after us for generations to come. For those growing in the field it’s about taking the time to learn these lessons so you don’t repeat them. Don’t fail us; we are your peers, not your competition.
Army Public Affairs has a mountain to climb to reach the level of understanding required. It starts with us understanding who we are. We are professional Army officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. We are professional communicators. We are peers and colleagues, not the competition.
— Major John Landry
(Major Landry is an Army Public Affairs Officer currently completing Advanced Civil Schooling at Georgetown University for a Masters in Professional Studies in Public Relations & Corporate Communications. Prior to ACS he served as the Brigade Public Affairs Officer for 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan.)
It’s all about the people!
First off, I’m deeply honored and humbled by my selection to the Army PA HOF. It only happened because of the people, military and civilian, junior and senior, who took the time to mentor me! I learned at least as much from the folks who worked for me, as those I worked for. Without each and every individual, I never would have survived, let alone reach the HOF!
Learning from others can be very simple. I always tried to learn from other’s mistakes rather than have people learn from mine. However, despite my best efforts, many were able to learn from my mistakes.
Knowing your subject, knowing your craft is very important. As a career field, we’ve morphed from being the spokesman, in front of the camera (80s to mid-90s), to the point now, where we prepare leaders to go on camera…and then “prep the battlefield” to give them the best chance of success. I’ve found that prepping somebody else is much more difficult than doing the briefing or interview myself.
Our career field has become much more complex and demanding over the last 20 years. Technology has advanced at a blinding rate. Staying current with technology and social media is a full-time job, in addition to your full time job! Most of our Army leaders have stepped up to do multiple interviews over the last 15 years of war. This is what the American people expect and deserve. The downside is that we’ve developed a culture of “experts” based solely on one aspect of public affairs.
I am in awe of the quality, capabilities and education of our current crop of PAOs. There is not a finer, more professional career field in the Army…or in the world!
Integrity beyond reproach. That line was mandatory on OERs. If it wasn’t there…you had a problem. As PAOs, we live in a gray area…but you can’t cross that line or you lose your credibility forever.
I was lucky. I only hit that line twice. First, as an infantry battalion BMO, when I was ordered to falsify the readiness report…Second, when I was directed to put out information from the podium that I knew was completely untrue. They were actually very easy split second decisions. How could I look my kids in the eye and tell them to “do what’s right” if I had given in to the pressure. That’s how I personally looked at it. Professionally, if you lie, you will lose all credibility. As a PAO, if you lose your credibility, you have nothing.
Opportunities are different things to different people. Opportunities for me usually meant that my wife would have to raise the kids herself for a few more months. I will admit…for the most part…the deployed environment is where I found the most professional fulfillment. Being on the “first plane in” is what I strived for. I was “lucky” enough to get my wish a number of times over my career. These deployments brought out the best in our Soldiers…and thru osmosis… I believe it brought out the best in me, as well. Each deployment built upon a previous deployment…I began to see what worked and what didn’t. But the common thread throughout each and every deployment was the ability of each and every Public Affairs Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Civilian to do a difficult job in a difficult environment. (throw in some State Department, British, Australian, Kuwaiti, Polish, Danish, Canadian, Italian, as well!) it was all about the people.
People and opportunities. The great people in the public affairs community carried me through the opportunities that were presented. With a bit of luck…I survived, both figuratively, as well as actually! It was a great ride that I wouldn’t trade for any other career path!
— Guy Shields
(Note: Guy is a retired Army colonel who served in public affairs. He is part of the Class of 2016 Hall of Fame. His blog is part of a series we are publishing on our recognition programs.)
The Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame, established in 2000, set out to “provide a prestigious and visible means of recognizing and honoring soldier and civilian public affairs professionals who made lasting, significant contributions to the profession, the history and the traditions of army public affairs.”
Pretty heavy stuff.
When I was first given a hint that my name would be included in this elite gallery of specialists...well, once my mouth closed, I experienced a serious case of hardcore humble.
I mean, take a look at the web page: (http://www.army.mil/info/institution/publicaffairs/halloffame/),
Here you find the names of 50 extraordinary public affairs experts...renowned aces in the field of crafting the message, managing the information, and connecting the world with the news of our nations’ largest military branch. Because of their expertise, we know the tales of our soldiers as they marched through the historical sagas of World War I and II, the emotional conflicts of Vietnam and Korea, the uneasy peace of the Cold War, the costly undertaking in Somalia, the televised military action known as the Gulf War, countless humanitarian responses around the world, and now the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The faces of those in the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame are reflections of enduring individual passion, and commitment to the larger force. They have earned the right to be recognized as some of our nations’ best.
So yes, I am incredibly honored, humbled, and proud to take my place among them. To know that by being inducted into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame, my stories, my passion of reporting on the deeds and achievements of our national warriors, both in peace-time, and in combat, have made a lasting contribution to the ongoing chronicle of our army’s endeavors.
I am privileged to be not only one of the 50, but also only the third woman to take her place in this prestigious register. A recognition, I believe, of the hard work performed by all the women serving our nation, and their ever-expanding role.
I am also thrilled to take my place as a visual storyteller....a practitioner of broadcast journalism, and its impact via the airwaves and the internet.
On the APA web page, it’s noted that the over-arching objective of the Hall of Fame is to serve as a source of inspiration, and as a role model for public affairs practitioners of today and in the future.
I acknowledge this responsibility and strive to put it into action every day. As I take my place among my peers, I pledge to be true to the vision of all those who preceded me...not only as a mentor, and also as a proponent of the profession, the history, and traditions of Army Public Affairs.
— Gail McCabe
(Note: Gail is one of the Class of 2015 Hall of Fame inductees. Her blog is part of a series we are publishing on our recognition programs.)
* * *
President John F. Kennedy said, “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
* * *
In recent weeks the public debate has been dominated by discussions about our Second Amendment rights, fueled by the terror attacks in Orlando where an ISIS-inspired terrorist executed 49 Americans in a cold-blooded and vicious attack on America and our values. The resultant public discourse has unfortunately driven divisions among us rather than unite us against our common enemy. This is what terrorism does. Terrorists measure their success not only in body counts, but in their ability to drive our behaviors, restrict our liberties, and set us against ourselves. By that measure, Mr. Omar Mateen has been wildly successful.
But the bigger threat to our values is not the questioning of our Second Amendment rights. The First Amendment, perhaps the one Article that defines America more than all the others, has been under steady attack for a number of years and is in great jeopardy today. Look at the presidential race. One candidate has kept the media at bay practically from the beginning. No interviews of substance, reporters segregated from the main activity, “white noise” to drown out conversations. While the other candidate openly degrades and bullies the media to the cheers of supporters, and bans reporters from events. News organizations whose credentials have been revoked include the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Politico along with nearly a dozen others.
And in case you missed it, the Society of Professional Journalists, representing a coalition of more than 50 journalism and government accountability organizations, several months ago sent another letter to the White House, outlining their concerns about continued lack of transparency and ever-escalating restrictions on information flow to the public being exercised by the White House and agencies throughout the Administration and government.
In the letter, published on SPJ.org, the coalition argues that the government’s restrictive practices “have surged at all levels of government in the past few decades. Surveys of journalists and public information officers (PIOs) demonstrate that the restraints have become pervasive across the country; that some PIOs admit to blocking certain reporters when they don’t like what is written; and that most Washington reporters say the public is not getting the information it needs because of constraints.”
“President Obama pledged to lead the most transparent administration in history, but we have yet to see this promise fulfilled,” said David Cuillier, chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee.
While on the surface this letter is targeted at President Obama and his White House communications staff, there are lessons for all of us in the public information business.
Since I’ve left the government public affairs world, I’ve heard these same sentiments expressed many times by colleagues in both the news media and public affairs profession. Written responses to questions are replacing interviews; prepared statements are replacing press briefings; background briefings are replacing on-the-record attribution; social media postings are replacing true media engagement. The last four-to-five years have seen a steady retreat by many government agencies away from engagement and transparency, including the Pentagon, which has in my opinion the best blueprint for public information – the DoD Principles of Information and Principles of News Media Coverage.
Those principles are the basis of the DoD Public Affairs doctrine often expressed as “maximum disclosure with minimum delay.” These principles were my charter when I was an Army Public Affairs Officer, they guided my decisions while leading OSDPA, and they remain central to my personal and professional strategy today as I lead a global public affairs practice.
Public Affairs Officers at all levels of government need to take notice. More importantly, their leaders need to take notice. We need to read the studies, listen to the criticism, check our practices, and ask – are we doing our jobs; are we serving the public; are we living up to the principles handed down to us by the framers of the Constitution?
PAO’s can’t change the way presidential candidates behave, but we can affect the way we conduct business ourselves and the way our commands behave.
The Freedom of Information Act has been law for 49 years. But this issue is not about law; it’s about our values and who we are as a people. In a free and democratic society there can be no substitute for maximum disclosure with minimum delay.
Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, was often attacked in and by the press on many occasions. Yet the early American thought leader remained unwavering in his defense of freedom of the press. He wrote, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
– Robert T. Hastings
Like most people, I enjoy a cup of coffee each morning. While my experience with the brewed drink won’t inspire me to write a book about coffee any time soon, it has left a profound impact on me. In some ways, it has shaped me as the military communications professional and leader I am.
Here is my coffee story.
The date was October 1, 2013. The government had shut down for the first time in nearly 20 years. Our command group’s support staff was bare since our secretary had been furloughed, and our military reservists could not get new orders.
My former supervisor and commander’s executive officer recommended me to help fill the gap at the front office. I was a sergeant first class at the time serving as the PAO NCOIC in charge of public affairs operations across Central and South America.
I felt overqualified to be office assistant. I had a bachelor’s degree in communications, working on a master’s in international relations and served as the military affairs consultant for an international documentary. I was not thrilled with my new role, but as a professional I soldiered on.
Ready for duty at 6 a.m. the next morning, my first task was to make the coffee. So I cleaned the coffee pot, placed the filter and added the coffee grounds. When the unit command sergeant major arrived 15 minutes later, he poured himself a cup, took a sip and quickly turned to me and said “El café esta flojo” which translates to “the coffee is weak”.
At this point, it was safe to say that my post-Army career did not involve me working as a barista.
I made a fresh pot and left a mug on the general’s desk. Later on that morning, the general came up to me and asked how I liked working in the front office. I simply told him “it’s a learning experience Sir.”
He then said something that left an impact on me “Anything you do can be a learning experience.”
In the weeks that followed, I learned eight aspects of leadership while working for the commander and brewing the morning coffee.
Here they are:
Mornings are valuable. The morning hours were his time to be effective and plan his day. With meetings most of the day, office calls or preparing to hit the road, those couple of hours in the morning needed to be free of interruptions.
The importance of servant leadership. The concept of servant leadership is an approach when a leader puts the needs of his people before his or her own. The servant-leader values contributions from others and encourages teamwork.
Making a difference in and out of uniform. The commander embraced working with local communities. He even established a military assistance program to help mentor underprivileged and low-income teenagers in a JROTC program at a local high school to teach them the value of citizenship and service.
Trust. He believed in people. Whether the person was a senior officer or a low-ranking troop, the man believed everyone’s intentions were good. Trusting people was key to his leadership style.
Humility. I never met a more humble general officer. As a former enlisted Soldier himself, the commander always gave credit to his troops. He didn’t seek special treatment and took care of his people who he called “his peeps.”
Dealing with Stress. Two things I observed from the commander is that he would take stress breaks. He would either walk around the headquarters building or take a moment to watch the news. It taught me the value of taking a step back.
Loneliness. Sometimes in order to be successful, you have to give yourself up to loneliness. Yes, the commander was surrounded by people all day. Either he was attended meetings and consistently traveling. At the end of the day, however, it was just him alone in his office. It can be isolating at the top.
Bonus lesson. More than anything, the biggest lesson I learned during this experience is never underestimate any job no matter how mundane you think it may be. Doing something outside of your discipline can sometimes be rewarding. For me, doing something as simple as brewing a pot of coffee and working as a commander’s aide became a life-changing experience.
Follow me on Twitter @alexlicea82 (The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.)
– MSG Alex Licea
I just wanted to share few words concerning the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award. Recipients who are so honored carry a huge responsibility – not just to the hero whose name the award bears but the ideals and values he exhibited when the time came to “put up or shut up”.
When I got that call from the Army Public Affairs Association president Doug Coffey, he said, "I asked you to come (to the annual APAA Awards banquet) because you've been selected for the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award." Whaaaatttt? It WAS a total surprise! What immediately came to mind was the narrative of Mr. Joe Galloway’s heroic actions in Vietnam and how living up to that standard appears a daunting challenge.
To get an appreciation for Mr. Galloway’s selfless service as a war correspondent following U.S. military actions, this excerpt says volumes:
“On May 1, 1998, Galloway was decorated with the Bronze Star with V for valor for rescuing wounded Soldiers under fire in the la Drang Valley in November 1965. His is the only medal of valor the U.S. Army awarded to a civilian for actions during the Vietnam War.”
Wow! How does one live up to that level of selfless sacrifice?
For me, it takes on a different but no less committed form of selfless service -- as it should for a number of us.
Foremost is an unwavering and internalized commitment to the ideals and values professed by the shapers of a grand experiment – the United States of America. What a concept! Imperfect but hopeful. Young but maturing. Self-contained but outwardly focused. One can see those qualities in Mr. Joe Galloway's actions.
The essence for me is that in order to get anything worthwhile and lasting accomplished, you have to be part of a team and understand organizational structure (United States) and leadership (shapers), and the impact for the end-user (outward focus). What holds it all together is an informed and committed citizenry – for us, that’s our Soldiers!
There are certain things that are important — focus on the mission and concern for people. Give them what they need to be successful. In Army Public Affairs, it's all about Soldiers – those selfless servants who protect the ideals and values of this great country. Focus on those Soldiers, your efforts will not be in vain.
The functional methods of delivering the powerful elements of public affairs are evolving quickly, just like the Army is changing dramatically. You have to have a vision to show how best to evolve the institutionalized public affairs organization and its people to enable efficient and effective use of those dramatically different delivery means.
But, in embracing those changes do not discard the ideals and values so graciously displayed by a mere mortal – Mr. Joe Galloway. Thank you, kind sir!
(Special thanks and tribute to my friend and colleague, SGM (Ret.) Dan Coberly – a true professional and public affairs warrior! God bless you, my brother.)
Larry Whitley, 2016 Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Honoree
(This article is part of a series of articles from our 2015 and 2016 award recipients we will publish in our Monday Blog in the upcoming weeks. We thank Larry, a retired sergeant major, for his service and taking the time to share his thoughts on the award. – Mike Howard, Communications Chair)
A friend of mine recently told me a story about her new supervisor. “She is like a new mother.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“A new mom, fearing germ contamination, will often snatch the baby’s pacifier off the floor and thrust it into a pot of boiling water, disinfecting it before putting it back in the baby’s mouth. But by the second baby, the three-second rule applies and mom will wipe off the big stuff, clean it in her own mouth and then shove it back in the baby’s mouth.
“Well my boss is like a new mother. She’s still boiling water.”
Sometimes new leaders are like that. Sometimes, even mature leaders can be like that. They think that being in charge means maintaining control over everything. As a result, they smother their subordinates with “supervision” which means depriving others of initiative or the opportunity to innovate and find better ways of accomplishing the mission.
I once was responsible for the Department of Defense public affairs effort during the rebuilding of Kuwait after the Gulf War. It was a high visibility job with both State and Defense Department interest. I had a public affairs specialist working for me who I had given responsibility for all the media activity. But not really. I took on the major national media and the high vis interactions, not because I wanted or needed the attention, but because I wanted to make sure every detail went right. It wasn’t until my teammate came to me one day and said he couldn’t work for me anymore before I realized that I was not leading. First it shocked me. Then there was one of those too rare clarifying moments when I realized I was taking away his initiative and authority to act. There was no doubt that he also had the best interests of the command at heart, but I wasn’t giving him the opportunity or authority to act. I was still boiling water.
When I let go of control, our relationship became much more collegial and we surely accomplished the mission much better than I could have alone.
It is not easy to give up control when you are a perfectionist but it’s important to keep in mind that your role as a leader is not to stifle with supervision but to energize with enough guidance that subordinates are not afraid to take risks, to take action. You may be amazed how much can be accomplished when you stop boiling water.
Doug Coffey, APAA President
We are a week away from the day that is traditionally seen as the start of the summer season. And in the rush to get kids out of school and summer vacations started, we sometimes forget what Memorial Day is all about.
Memorial Day commemorates all men and women, who have died in military service for the United States. Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day. It is especially important to remember and pay tribute to the men and women who gave their full measure of devotion in service to their country.
Even if visiting Arlington National Cemetery is not an option, you can still show your respect by flying the flag of the United States at half staff from dawn until noon and placing a flag at the graveside of a Soldier in a National Cemetery near you.
A close friend of mine always reminded me of the ultimate sacrifices made by men and women in uniform by reprinting each year a poem by a Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Major John McCrae.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
The Army Public Affairs Association has selected SGM (retired) Larry Whitley, Sr., as the 2016 Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. The award recognizes contributions to Army public affairs community specifically and to the Army and public affairs generally during a 20-plus year career.
Whitley currently serves as a public relations contractor.
“Larry has been a friend, mentor and advisor to many of us in public affairs,” said Doug Coffey, president. “From his role of sergeant major to his role as a board director of the Army Public Affairs Association, his advice has always been invaluable.”
He will be honored at the APAA annual awards dinner, June 2, at the Hilton at Mark Center, Alexandria, VA.
“Sergeant Major Whitley’s impact is significant and lasting,” said SGM Dan Coberly. “As the sergeant major of Public Affairs, he made improvements to training, equipment, organization, and effectiveness that helped build a solid foundation for PA soldiers of today affecting all active Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard public affairs soldiers.”
Whitley went on to a successful, high-level civilian career that serves as a positive example and inspiration to all soldiers.
After retirement from the Army in 1996, Whitley led internal and external communications for Boeing Airlift and Tanker Programs. He was the lead communicator for the Operation Homeward Bound project bringing the Reagan-era Air Force One aircraft to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for display in its new Air Force One Pavilion.
As a contractor, he also taught Communications and Negotiations Course to senior command advisors deploying to active war zones following training at the Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.