Recipient Named for MSG Triggs Award

The Army Public Affairs Association has selected SFC Tanya C. Green as the 2016 recipient of the MSG Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence. The award recognizes outstanding leadership and devotion to excellence and great potential for increased responsibility.

Green currently serves as a Drill Sergeant Leader at the United States Army Drill Sergeant Academy at Fort Jackson, SC.

She will be honored at the APAA annual dinner, June 2, at the Hilton at Mark Center, Alexandria, VA.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, we are delighted to recognize SFC Green as the recipient of our 2016 MSG Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence," said Doug Coffey, APAA president. “Her accomplishments to date and the respect and confidence her peers and leaders have in her future potential make her the ideal NCO to represent the standard of excellence MSG Triggs established.”

“Selected as the first DSL in public affairs’ history, SFC Green has set an incredibly high bar for any PA NCO that follows her on the trail,” wrote SGM Mike Lavigne who nominated her. “Responsible for training the drill sergeant – widely recognized as the toughest job in the Army – SFC Green is heads and shoulders above her peers in both knowledge and experience.

“As a DSL, she has trained 80 future drill sergeants in the techniques that will make them effective trainers, leaders, and an unforgettable presence in their Soldiers’ lives. After only 5 months as a DSL, she was selected above all of her other DSLs to serve as a trainer for the Fire Department of New York City’s (FDNY) drill instructors, providing the baseline instruction on military discipline and physical training for prospective FDNY recruits. This additional duty not only leverages her experience as a trainer of trainers, but also exercises her community engagement skills as a PAO, strengthening the bonds and partnership between two venerable institutions.”

The Army Public Affairs Association recognizes one senior NCO each year since 2011. Triggs was an Army print journalist and public affairs noncommissioned officer, who remained on active duty until her death.  She deployed to Iraq twice with the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, and was working at the Office of Chief of Public Affairs at the Pentagon on 9/11, the day terrorists attacked the United States.

 

Early Bird Pricing for Junior Soldiers Extended

Early Bird ticket prices for junior soldiers and guests have been extended to May 11. All other ticket specials end May 1. 

To purchase your ticket: http://armypublicaffairsassndinner.eventbrite.com

The guest speaker at this year’s Army Public Affairs Association Annual Recognition Dinner is Brig. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, chief of Army public affairs. This year’s event is June 2 at the Hilton Alexandria at Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bio on BG Frost: http://www.army.mil/info/institution/publicAffairs/chief/

This year’s dinner will happen in conjunction with the Office of Chief of Public Affairs Leadership Development Forum. 

At the dinner we will announce this year’s recipients of the Joe Galloway

Lifetime Achievement Award and the Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence.  We will also celebrate the Chief of Public Affairs announcement of this year’s Public Affairs Hall of Fame.

Dinner Guest Speaker Announced

The guest speaker at this year’s Army Public Affairs Association Annual Recognition Dinner is Brig. Gen. Malcolm B. Frost, chief of Army public affairs. This year’s event is June 2 at the Hilton Alexandria at Mark Center in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bio on BG Frost: http://www.army.mil/info/institution/publicAffairs/chief/

Tickets are on sale now, with early bird prices ending May 1. Beginning May 2, ticket prices rise to $65 for all members and $70 for non-members. Early bird pricing represents $5 to $25 savings per ticket.

To purchase your ticket: http://armypublicaffairsassndinner.eventbrite.com

This year’s dinner will happen in conjunction with the Office of Chief of Public Affairs Leadership Development Forum. 

At the dinner we will announce this year’s recipients of the Joe Galloway

Lifetime Achievement Award and the Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence.  We will also celebrate the Chief of Public Affairs announcement of this year’s Public Affairs Hall of Fame.

New benefit to current members

As we complete another quarter in our business calendar, it’s appropriate to update you on some of our recent activities

For the past couple of months, we have been posting a monthly update on topics of interest and concern to the Army.  This monthly posting to our members with the Army’s current talking points can provide up-to-date details for any speeches they may have planned, especially as we look forward to Memorial Day.  These postings also provide our members with an update on what is happening in the Army today.

If you are a life member of the association then you have received a communication from me with your access code. If you have not received a message from me, it could be that your dues have lapsed.  Annual dues are $35.  You may want to consider becoming a life member for $300 and not have to think about when your dues payments should be made.  You can pay your dues on our web site by going to the Membership page and clicking on the Application form.  You can pay your dues and update your contact information at the same time.

Our plans for this year’s awards dinner are well on the way.  This year, we are holding our dinner in conjunction with OCPA’s leader development forum, 2 June 2016 at the Hilton at Mark Center, Alexandria, VA from 6pm to 9:30pm.  We will be recognizing this year’s recipients of the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and the MSG Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence.  We will also honor this year’s inductees into the Army Public Affairs Hall of Fame and celebrate the Army’s 241st birthday.

We are expecting a large crowd this year so if you plan to attend, don’t delay.  Tickets are limited to first come, first served.  There are only about two weeks left to take advantage of Early Bird prices until 1 May.  If you go to the electronic invite we have set up, http://armypublicaffairsassndinner.eventbrite.com, you can reserve your seat at the table, make your meal choice, see who else is coming and pay for the evening.

Get your reservation in now.  I’ll look forward to seeing you there.

 

Doug 

Letter From the President

Subject: SAVE THE DATE June 2 for the Army Public Affairs Association Annual Dinner

Dear friends and colleagues,

Plans are underway for this year’s recognition dinner June 2 in conjunction with the Office of Chief of Public Affairs Leadership Development Forum. 

At the dinner we will be announcing this year’s recipients of the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award and the Marcia Triggs Award of Excellence.  We will also be celebrating the Chief of Public Affairs announcement of this year’s Public Affairs Hall of Fame inductees. 

If all goes as planned, this year you will be part of “the greatest event ever, believe me” as one of our presidential candidates would say.  There will be more details posted in the coming weeks on this web site, our Facebook page and in followup emails. 

One last item: We are looking for volunteers who can help plan the dinner, track reservations and do other tasks to help make it a huge success. If you can help, please let me know at president@armypaa.org. Your volunteer service will be highly rewarded. 

Thanks in advance.   

Doug Coffey

Peace on Earth, good will toward men

During this holiday season, those seven words resonate with all Soldiers, no matter what religious persuasion. 

And those words take on added impact for us when our news is all about terrorist threats, refugees trying to find a safe harbor, racial and religious hatred erupting in places never expected, and politicians filling the media space with opinions they may or may not believe but which resonate with disenfranchised citizens receptive to their angry words. It’s enough to make one want to turn off and tune out.  And maybe that is the solution.

But for Soldiers serving our Nation, we don’t have the option of turning off or tuning out.  We are in harms way to protect and defend, a calling for which we volunteered.  In doing our duty, many of us are posted to dangerous places and asked to undertake dangerous missions.  We men and women, we Soldiers, have taken up arms and willingly go into harm’s way even though we would rather be home with family and friends.  

If you are fortunate to be able to spend this season of hope and thanksgiving with your loved ones, enjoy that time together. Disconnect from the electronic noise and connect with the joys of being with family and friends.  And if you know a Soldier who is deployed, maybe you can find a way to bring him or her a little joy too.

For some of us however, this is a difficult time of year.  It reminds us of painful experiences, estrangement and loss.  Our coping mechanisms are weakened and we often feel alone. 

At times like this, I’m reminded of the story shared with me* of a struggling man, fallen on hard times and filled with despair.  It was 1741, and jealous rivalries, ill health, and a series of devastating misfortunes had left him feeling utterly hopeless. A cerebral hemorrhage had caused him partial paralysis and significant vision loss. He was a composer, but his creativity had all but disappeared in the cloud of troubles that enveloped his life. He was unhappy with himself, at odds with his friends, and distanced from God. He was nearing sixty, his income was gone, his health was shattered, and he felt like his life was coming to a miserable end.

It was under these sad circumstances that he returned to his shabby home in London one night and found a large package at his door. He clawed open the seal and, inside the package, found the words for a new piece of sacred music along with a letter asking him to write music for the lyrics.

Still in despair, the musician began to leaf carelessly through the pages. Suddenly his eyes fell on a passage that captivated him; it read: "He was despised and rejected…He looked for someone to have pity on him, but there was no one…" The musician resonated with those words.

The words, originally about Jesus, described what the musician was feeling at that very moment: "despised, rejected" and very alone. With a growing sense of kinship, the musician read on and found these words: "He trusted in God and God did not leave him…Rejoice, rejoice. Hallelujah!" The words warmed his heart and stirred his soul. He could feel the creative forces resurrecting and surging in him once again. Wondrous, incredible melodies—straight from heaven—tumbled rapidly into his mind. He grabbed pen and paper and began to fill page after page with amazing confidence and swiftness. Day after day, the musician worked into the wee hours of the morning. He was riveted to his work. Sometimes he became so moved by what he was writing that he wept aloud.

When he finished, he fell exhausted onto his bed and slept peacefully for 17 hours while, on his desk, rested the musical score of one of the greatest and most beloved pieces of sacred music ever written: "The Messiah."

The musician was George Frederic Handel.

May you be strengthened by every good endeavor.    Doug Coffey, President

*Thank you to Rev. Wayne Alloway, Lincoln, NE

A T-Day Message: On Walking Dogs and Fighting Bad Guys

So Thanksgiving 2015 arrived this morning with this wonderful note in my email inbox. This was written by retired Army Colonel Dick Horvath. Dick is 81-years old, enjoying the good life in Florida. He was the commander and editor-in-chief of European Stars and Stripes from 1985 to 1987.

He is also a board member of the Army Public Affairs Association.

His message is good for us today.

Fellow Colleagues:
I have just come back from walking my hound, Brodie, our English Pringer Spaniel who just turned ten last week, on the beach. One would think he is more like five as fast as he is because he can beat me running down our street with me chasing him in my golf cart. He just likes to run, run and run some more.
Wish I had that kind of energy, but at 81 the old legs after chasing bad guys in 'Nam and Korea just do not have that stamina any more. 
May you and your families and loved ones have a great Turkey Day.
And yes, I am about to make a pitcher of Pina Coladas and will toast you all this afternoon after I carve up anice and tender small Tom. This is our first Turkey Day by ourselves and Brodie as the kids all decided to stay in Michigan, California and North Carolina for T-Day. ...
Again Happy Turkey Day -- GOBBLE, GOBBLE GOBBLE (or is it WHOAH, WHOAH, WHOAH?).

Dick's note just seems a wonderful reminder for all of us on this Thanksgiving.  I saw so many posts today on FaceBook showing our Soldiers working today defending our freedom as we relax with family and friends. I also saw notes of Army civilian and military public affairs folk escorting news media or Army leaders involved in community events today. And mostly, I saw similar comments wishing everyone and great holiday.

So with the Paris attacks just a few short days away and all of us in our country concerned about safety from the "bad guys" as Dick puts it, we have much for which to be grateful.

Mike Howard, communications director

News Item: Judges Needed

NGB Public Affairs seeks judges with expertise in print, broadcast, photography, and/or community relations. Volunteers will assist with judging the 2015 National Guard Bureau Media Contest in February 2016 (tentative judging dates: 8-12 February). Judging is conducted remotely via the NGB media website.

Interested volunteers should provide name, email, and contact number, category NLT 19 November 2015. Contact Mike Howard at info@armypaa.org

A Veterans Day Salute

Since the 11th hour of the 11th day of the the 11th month of 1918, we have recognized what was originally called Armistice Day. Following the Korean War, November 11th became Veterans Day dedicated to veterans of all wars.  

We veterans, some of us members of the Army Public Affairs Association going back 50 years to Vietnam, can all be proud of our service and the oath we took to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic.  In the past 14 years, there has been a huge increase of veterans from a new generation who volunteered to take up arms and serve our Nation in harm's way.  

The majority of Americans don't understand that kind of commitment to selfless service.  There is also a lack of understanding and appreciation of the needs of too many veterans who continue to need our help and support.  

We recently posted a 3-part blog on PTSD and public affairs professionals.  Their stories are only a small tip of the iceberg.  I'm reminded of a young man, panhandling on a street right in the middle of offices of defense industries and government in the national capitol region.  He was obviously unbathed and unwell.  I stopped partly because I recognized a fellow soldier and I noticed that he had a high tech leg prosthesis.  After a short conversation, I learned that he was a veteran from Iraq, discharged from Walter Reed, "lost" and addicted to pain killers.  He wanted to get home to West Virginia where his discharge papers and military records were but he needed money and didn't seem to know how to get there.  

I contacted a team of business execs, many veterans themselves, who were on a mission to hire and help wounded warriors.  It didn't work out in this case because the young man disappeared before help could reach him.  But it made me think about the many veterans who do need help, from someone who understands the culture they came from, their motivation for service and the enormous challenges facing them now that they have been medically retired or discharged.  

Suzanne's blog postings point to some of the challenges many veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan carry with them, some visible, but many not so. On this Veterans Day, I salute you for your service and I hope you will find a way to reach out and lend a hand or an understanding ear to those veterans who may be lost.

Hooah!

It is also appropriate to remember the significance of Veterans Day for the 21.8 million veterans in the U. S. Armed Forces.  What better way than to post this poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian surgeon who learned that his friend had been killed in battle.

Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
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
In Flanders fields.

The words are poignant for any soldier no matter what generation. 

Doug Coffey, APAA President

 

Part Three: 'Culture of Disbelief'

This is part three of a four-part series. This blog entry today completes part three of Suzanne Nagel's observations from her graduate research into PAO practitioners encountering PTSD symptoms from the work they do. On November 9, we will wrap up the series with advice on where to find help.

Thanks for hanging in with me over the last several weeks. In my previous two posts, I introduced my research of the possible adverse effects routine exposure to trauma can have on people working in the public affairs profession. I also provided a synopsis of some of the data I found while doing my thesis research paper: Public Affairs, Private Lives: A Study on the Effect of Combat Exposure on Public Affairs Soldiers.

This week, I will focus on the emotional component to facing you may have PTSD from working in public affairs.

The heart of my study focused on PTSD and public affairs. I asked the soldiers if they had been diagnosed with PTSD, believe they have PTSD or experience any symptoms. Five of the soldiers interviewed said they have been officially diagnosed with PTSD. Nine said they believe they have PTSD or other trauma-based illnesses. 

I started all my interviews with a survey that included a standard list of 15 symptoms associated with PTSD or combat trauma. Every soldier said they had at least one symptom. More than half said they had at least eight symptoms – the number of symptoms correlated to official diagnoses or assumed diagnosis as expected. The most common symptoms were having a heightened sense of alert and reactions to loud noises such as fireworks or loud engines, especially if they could not immediately identify the source of the noise.

About half the soldiers said they don’t talk about their experiences with family members or friends.  And, generally, they don’t talk to each other either. The reason? They fear others will judge them. They majority said they thought others would think they were faking PTSD or that they just didn’t deserve to have it – that their experiences were not that traumatic.

“There is a culture of disbelief in public affairs, that the experiences we have couldn't possibly lead to PTSD,” one soldier said. 

Public affairs Soldiers said they feel a stigma associated with PTSD. The stigma is based on both perceived and actual reactions and it seems to be stronger within the public affairs career field than in the Army overall. Public affairs soldiers in leadership roles also tended to believe they had more to lose if word got out they had PTSD more than junior soldiers. 

Those who have revealed having combat trauma believe it hurt their careers. Those who did not report having trauma believed it would have an adverse impact had they done so. Even those who suggested their colleagues would not treat them differently if they were diagnosed with PTSD said they would not want their colleagues to know. 

One soldier summed it up this way:

“I think there's a stigma behind public affairs because we are not combat arms, because how can someone not directly related to combat have it? Of course, there are times when we put down our camera and pick up weapons if needed, but there's that whole stigma behind it still. How can we have PTSD? How can we be upset by something when we're not actually involved in it? We're just filming it.”

So, that’s just a sample of information from my research. Admittedly, there are limitations to my study.  The manner in which I solicited input, restrictions from my institutional review board on questioning and maybe my own personal bias could have affected the findings. But, I have to believe that the similarities in responses from the 22 soldiers I interviewed suggest some kind of pattern.  

I’ve been sitting on this research since May unsure what to do with it. Speaking about it now in this blog and publishing it on the Army public affairs website is the first public exposure.  But what should I do with it? What would you do? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

Suzanne Spitzfaden Nagel

Suzanne is the deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She began her civil service career with the Army in 1998 in what was then known as the 7th Army Training Center in Grafenwoer, Germany. Prior to joining Army public affairs, she was a print journalist in the civilian media market in North Carolina. 

Part Two: Synopsis of PTSD Data

This is part two of a four-part series. Look for part three of Suzanne Nagel's observations from her graduate research into the topic on November 2. On November 9, we will wrap up the series with expert advice on where to find help.

Well, here goes. Last week introduced my research of the possible adverse effects routine exposure to trauma can have on people working in the public affairs profession. I promised you a synopsis of some of the data I found while doing my thesis research paper: Public Affairs, Private Lives: A Study on the Effect of Combat Exposure on Public Affairs Soldiers.

It’s difficult to condense 78 pages to a couple 500-word blogs, so I’ll cover the deployment experiences and thoughts on training this week. Next week, I will focus on PTSD and attitudes within public affairs that surround this illness.

I asked the soldiers in my study to characterize their deployment experiences. I wanted to know what was going through their minds when they were exposed to something difficult. The soldiers characterized their experiences as stressful, traumatic and life-changing. They saw and experienced events that they sometimes cannot process or put into a proper context.

“It’s traumatic. It’s very surreal. It’s something you can never really explain or compartmentalize,” one Soldier said, describing his first encounter with an IED. “No matter how many times I would tell myself over and over again, it was something I couldn’t place, it didn’t happen.”

Some described daily firefights and mortar attacks. Others described collecting very graphic historical footage of U.S. operations for classified Army archives. They planned memorial services and wrote death announcements for fallen comrades, documented fatal crashes and helped recover bodies after earthquakes.

One Soldier said she is still haunted by one assignment documenting evacuations of wounded children in Afghanistan to be treated at U.S. clinics.

“Some children clung to me. Some children spit at me. Some children posed for me for photographs and some family members embraced me, but the look in the eyes of the Afghan people, whose lives we were completely flipping up-side-down, whether anyone was emotionally attached to it or not, that trauma, that terror, that fear and that way that those people looked at us.

“I’m haunted by the tears.”

One of the most stressful jobs, however, is preparing death packets and memorial services for soldiers killed in action.

“There was a lot of loss. You meet guys along the way and I was assigned to write about people,” one Soldier said. “A month later, I was covering their memorial services. You are preparing the death packets for press and you see their smiling faces in the photos. You think about the families. The memorials are very difficult.”

To make matters more difficult, they also feel like they have to prove their worth in a combat unit to overcome misperceptions. They don’t want to appear weak or be perceived as a liability. Building rapport can be challenging, too.

Training, they said, does not prepare them for the experiences.

Most said that nothing could prepare them for the unique aspects of combat. While the Defense Information School focuses on making them technically proficient in core PA tasks, participants said the combat environment cannot be replicated in a school setting and they are not emotionally ready for what they see and experience.

Next week, I’ll talk about that emotional component and PTSD.

Suzanne Spitzfaden Nagel

Suzanne is the deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She began her civil service career with the Army in 1998 in what was then known as the 7th Army Training Center in Grafenwoer, Germany. Prior to joining Army public affairs, she was a print journalist in the civilian media market in North Carolina. 

Part One: Study of PTSD among PAOs

This is a four-part series on possible effects of trauma exposure on Army public affairs professionals in combat. Look for part two of Suzanne Nagel's observations from her graduate research into the topic on October 26 and part three on November 2. On November 9, we will wrap up the series with expert advice on where to find help.

Four years ago, I met a young public affairs officer with serious problems. He was having a hard time coping with normal things. And worse, it appeared that his command either didn’t or wouldn’t empathize with his situation. Turns out, he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, brought on by multiple combat deployments.

That encounter with this officer, and other Army public affairs professionals over the past 17 years, led to what I consider my life’s work. And that is my Study on the Effect of Combat Exposure on Army Public Affairs Soldiers.

In combat, public affairs soldiers are called upon to document war, memorialize the fallen and to educate the American public. My study aimed to provide a glimpse of what these soldiers experience during deployment and explore some of attitudes that surround them. PTSD and stigma were at the center of the study.

It’s hard to believe that my life’s work can be summed up in a 78-page master’s thesis for the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Hopefully, the words will have meaning to someone. My greatest hope is that it might encourage public affairs soldiers to seek help and to have empathy for and encourage those who also need help.

About this time last year, I interviewed 22 current and former public affairs soldiers of all ranks, both active duty and Army Reserve. Candidates for the study had to have deployed at least once in support of combat or humanitarian missions. I started each interview with a PTSD checklist, then asked the soldiers about their deployment experiences, training, attitudes about PTSD, and the relationship between public affairs and combat units during deployment. 

The interviews were both provocative and insightful. The soldiers, as I expected, were intelligent and articulate. I felt guilty asking them questions that brought up unpleasant memories. Some told me the interview was cathartic because they were talking about their experiences for the first time. Some – both men and women – wept as they talked. It was hard for me not to cry along with them.

My thesis committee described their stories as fascinating, heartbreaking and disturbing. You can judge for yourself. Over the next couple days, I will share some of the results of my study. A link to the full paper will also be posted online for those who can tolerate scholarly-style writing. Keep in mind that the study is in no way scientific. Qualitative studies are not intended to be. It was intended to gather some insight, perhaps for future exploration of the topic. 

I know that some of you will disagree with the thoughts expressed in this study, particularly thoughts about the stigma that many respondents suggest exists within the public affairs ranks. I reported on the clear patterns I found in my interviews and ask that you keep an open mind.

Put yourself in their shoes, and then ask yourself, what can you do to help?

Suzanne Spitzfaden Nagel

Suzanne is the deputy public affairs officer for U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She began her civil service career with the Army in 1998 in what was then known as the 7th Army Training Center in Grafenwoer, Germany. Prior to joining Army public affairs, she was a print journalist in the civilian media market in North Carolina. 

A Tribute to Vision

The 2015 AUSA annual meeting may well be the last one for its president, General Gordon R. Sullivan, my boss during one of my last assignments in the Army.  

General Sullivan, the 32nd Chief of Staff, was a thinker and sought out innovative thinkers as he grappled with changing a Cold War Army into an Information Age Army. 

There are many memories I have of a time when the Army was focused on debate about a Peace Dividend, downsizing, technology, and change, but as a public affairs practitioner there are two of many aphorisms I remember from Sullivan’s speeches and comments as chief that have stuck with me.  One became the title of a book and the other was one of many idiosyncratic observations General Sullivan would share during his meetings, speeches and unit visits.

Both continue to be relevant to me as a communicator and as president of an association of communicators.

The first is rather ironic, especially in today’s high tech and fast paced communications environment.  “Don’t let technology get in the way of progress.”  It seemed funny to me at the time as we waited for the computer to reboot though I don’t remember the staff officer responsible for a botched powerpoint briefing finding it as amusing. 

Today, we get so caught up in the technology of communication; Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, Reddit, DDC Public Affairs, LinkedIn and a plethora of new social media technologies that we end up focusing too much on the medium and not enough on the message. 

Recent research has shown that our proficiency at communicating face-to-face has diminished significantly since the advent of social media.  Young people growing up today have lost a valuable skill in the art of conversation.  Instead, they embrace the less personal more controlled and anonymous texting though even that comes with some risk (Hitting the send button before thinking?  “Auto correct” creating an opposite meaning?).  So have we let technology get in the way of progress?  Have we forgotten that part of credibility, part of personal engagement is actual face-to-face communication?

Another adage from General Sullivan that has resonated with me many times over since it became the title of his book, “Hope is Not a Method” seems particularly relevant today.

While the book’s focus for corporate leaders and executives was about how to maintain an effective, flexible, well-trained and productive work force during times of change, budget cuts, downsizing, and restructuring, the message has relevance even for us in the Army Public Affairs Association.

As an association, we have grappled with change, restructuring, budget constraints and many other birthing challenges of a new organization.  But we can be a better learning organization that deals with the growing pains, and continually seeks to be effective, flexible and relevant (productive) as we look toward the next decade.  Improvement and growth and change into a more relevant association does not happen because we hope it will.  All of us have a role to play in growing, financing and energizing this association.  We don’t have to let technology get in the way of progress.  And we can do better than hope the association will succeed.  I look forward to your engagement.  May you be strengthened by every good endeavor.

And thank you to General Gordon R. Sullivan for his leadership, his insights into changing organizations and his more than five decades of service to our Nation.   Hooah! 

Doug Coffey

Doug is the APAA president and longtime member of our community. We appreciate his leadership.

Some Things Never Change (and They Should)

Much discussion lately on our Army Public Affairs Association Facebook page about two stories concerning the Army and its relationship with the media. One is a Sept. 25 People magazine article about female Soldiers undergoing Ranger training, and response to it from the Army’s Chief of Public Affairs. The other concerns a New York Times article Sept. 29 reporting that, “Two top Army generals recently discussed trying to kill an article in The New York Times on concussions at West Point by withholding information … ” 

Both cases present much opportunity to learn very old lessons. I have seen this kind of thing happen time and again over the 40-plus years I have been around the business. Somebody produces a story somewhere that makes the Army look bad, and leadership’s first, gut reaction is to go on the defensive. Most every time we see that response rolled into the media’s coverage. The media will always have the upper hand as the righteous indignation of a senior Army leader ducks the media or hedges his answers to straightforward questions. That, in turn, lends still more doubt about what the Army says the facts are about the original story in the first place.

We all have our own issues with how the two articles read, and with how the Army is responding. Personally, I think the response is overall reactive, not proactive. It comes off sounding defensive, and is now part of the stories, which otherwise might well have begun to wane by now. All that is being discussed at length on Facebook. It’s not my purpose here to rehash those “military and the media relationship” prognostications. 

Instead, and apart from that, I wonder what effect all this has on our most important audience, the Soldiers, employees, families, retirees, and, others of the internal audience. What effect do things like this do to their perception of the Army's credibility? What do they think when they read that the Ranger course is rigged so women can complete it, or that Army medics are fudging facts on head injuries? Most important, how are they answering questions about that from their families, friends and neighbors who read those articles?

 The Soldier, Army employee, even retirees carry a lot of source credibility with the people they know. It’s one thing to read about something on a website or hear about it on CNN. But, human nature being what it is, most people can be expected to base judgement and opinion of the Army on what the Soldier they know tells them. To that end, how good a job does the Army do in keeping its people – who are its chief spokespersons, after all – informed about the issues of the day?

With that in mind, as a student at Army Management Staff College, I wrote a paper many years ago entitled, “Tell Soldiers First.” I took as my premise what then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer used as his E-Mail sign-off: “Soldiers Are Our Credentials.”

In that paper, I wrote that one of the best ways to preclude misinformation and misperceptions in situations like this is to keep your internal audiences informed as a matter of habit. This needs to be done early about incidents that may affect them. Whenever possible, this should be done prior to informing the news media and general public. 

Why? 

Because, soldiers, employees, family members and other internal audiences are your best messengers.

I quoted in my paper from the “Crisis Communications Guide” published by the Army in January 1999. In addition to informing internal audiences first, the guide suggested other steps leaders can take to empower their people. I believe these are more relevant today with the prevalence of social media platforms available now.

- Encourage your internal audiences to participate in communication efforts and to act as advocates by informing them early in the information sharing process.

- Capitalize on the trust and credibility our internal audiences have with their friends, family and the American public. For example, as their friends and neighbors learn about the crisis, they will naturally ask soldiers and employees for more information. Keep in the mind that these questions will come up at church, sports practice and the grocery store.

- Encourage soldiers, retirees and employees to be your command’s spokespersons at meetings and at organizations with which they are affiliated or other outreach efforts. Provide these employees with the appropriate tools to be effective – such as key messages, information and training.

I have to smile every time something happens that makes me realize the thrust of this guide remains as current today as ever: We must do a better job of proactively telling the Army story in our own internal media. 

Don Carr

Don is a retired Army Public Affairs professional who served more than 40 years as a Soldier and Army civilian in positions from unit and installation level to the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs.

Once a PAO, Always a PAO

If you asked me why I joined the Army Public Affairs Association – after all, I’m fully retired - I would tell you that PAOs, old and new, are my peeps.  I like hanging out with creative types, keeping in touch with my old colleagues and meeting the folks now manning the ramparts.  Together, we share an unbroken line that fades into history and each of us has been in the thick of that somewhere along the way.

Yogi Berra’s sad passing last week reminded me I was still acting like a PAO, retired or not.  Telling stories never gets old.  Maybe that’s another reason for hanging around. One of Yogi’s famous quotes inspired my blog where I write about the Appalachian Trail: “A FORK IN THE ROAD”.

It seems Yogi told his pal Joe Garagiola how to get to his house.  Garagiola is a former major league baseball player, “Today Show” co-host and sportscaster.

“When you get to the fork in the road, take it,” Yogi explained.

Apparently, either direction ultimately led to Yogi’s place.

And that is pretty much what happened to me.

When I quit working for good in 2012, I was glad to know it was my time to go.

No one wants to be a fossil hanging on past the “sell-by date.”  Plus, retirement is a lot like death and taxes: It is very unusual to successfully escape and evade the inevitable. Anyhow, I’d been in the media relations racket almost continuously since I was a first lieutenant at Fort Carson, Colorado in 1971.  That stressful track continued on in industry, higher education and the federal government following 28 years in uniform.  

Work had become boring and it was time for a change. But retirement challenges are hard to appreciate until you are actually in it.  In retirement, you need a direction because the ‘honey do’ list quickly exhausts itself.  About a month before my last day on the job, I was making lists and realized thru-hiking the 2,200 mile AT had been rusting at the bottom of my bucket list since the early ‘70s. 

“Six months in the woods.  What a way to figure out what I wanted to do next,” I thought.  “I’m there!” Along the way I fell in love with the Appalachian Trail. Although it enjoys excellent name recognition – you sound like an expert by calling it the AT – few people understand what it really is or what it takes to keep this 90-year-old national treasure alive.

I’d found my calling – a niche to fill.

My blog chronicles my hopes and doubts as I prepared, followed by what happened as this five-million-step-journey unfolded as I marched across 14 states.  Armchair hikers can ride along from the beginning in the backyard of the Army Ranger School in north Georgia to its termination atop Mount Katahdin in central Maine.

Since then, I’ve used my blog and social media to help educate the hiking world about what happens to the AT behind the scenes.  In that sense, I’m still acting like the PAO I always was and always will be, at least until like Yogi, I reach my final “fork in the road.”

Oh, and for those of you who aren’t thinking ahead or are in denial, Yogi’s wisdom applies to that too.  “It gets late early out there.” 

Happy trails!

-30-

Jim Fetig

Jim is a longtime member of our Army public affairs family. He entered the Army as a private and retired as a colonel. We appreciate his words of wisdom.

A Matter of Legacy

I spoke with Doug Coffey on the phone this week. I think the last time we spoke was when I was a young Soldier working as a reporter for Stars and Stripes in Seoul, South Korea and he was the PAO at 2nd Infantry Division in the 1980s. He, of course, is now the president of the Army Public Affairs Association. I am still a journalist at heart, although I have a few grey hairs. One thing was very clear in our most recent conversation; we both share a passion about the value and potential of the association he now leads.

A few years ago two individuals I consider my mentors – Jim Fetig and Carol Sobel – approached me about becoming a charter member. As I have done with many opportunities in my life, I let it slip. I felt it was a good initiative and definitely supported the idea of having a sense of belonging that comes with a professional association. I live in Colorado Springs, Colorado, away from the activity in and around the National Capitol Region. So being able to really take advantage of the opportunity seemed like a stretch at the time.

In any case, I finally took the plunge a year or so ago. I am not a charter member (sorry Jim and Carol), but I am proud to be part of this professional association. Mainly, I guess, because it is a community that is more needed today than ever before. And it is not limited to the boundaries of the NCR, especially with the potential that social media tools provide us today. But anyone who looks around the landscape today knows these same tools contribute to the very complicated and difficult communication environment we live and operate in today.

So as Doug and I spoke about accomplishments the association has made since it formed in 2009, I realized there is no better time than now for a late-bloomer like me is to roll up the sleeves and get to work.  I guess the bottom line is that through Doug's and all the other charter member's hard work during the initial years, we have a vibrant association today that has great untapped potential. Another aspect that is helpful toward building a healthy organization is that the association can accept corporate members.

This blog was another way to say I was thrilled to accept Doug's offer for me to become the association's communication chair. So let's get going. I mean, think of the mixing pot of experience in an association that all Army public affairs professionals today and yesterday can join. We need new members. We need existing members to re-engage. We need to spark the discussion. What better time than now? Join the discussion as our website, FaceBook and LinkedIn pages all develop in the coming weeks and months.

Mike Howard

Welcome to APAA

Welcome to the Army Public Affairs Association Blog.  We have redesigned and upgraded our web site to offer you an opportunity to be a part of a community of public affairs thought leaders.

We are beginning this blog as an experiment in crowd sourced content.  In other words, I’m inviting you to contribute thoughts and commentary on topics and issues of the day.  It doesn’t have to be long.  It just has to be relevant.  The usual rules against profanity and political rants apply - not as an infringement on your freedom of speech, but as a way for us all to stay true to our association mission.

In the past, we’ve had a spirited discussion about the Rolling Stone coverage of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and whether this was a failure of not listening to or not receiving public affairs counsel.  There have been, and will continue to be, other examples of public affairs guidance gone awry or being non existent that will give us more than enough fodder for discussion. 

This is also an opportunity to present “mini” case studies about a public affairs issue or problem and how it was handled successfully.  After all, while we can or should learn from mistakes, it also helps us improve as communicators when we see examples of excellence.  So if you have examples of best practices, I encourage you to use this forum to share your lessons learned with others through this medium.

I look forward to your input that can be emailed to president@armypaa.org.