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.)