We learned to be Public Affairs specialists. Military public affairs is, by nature, crisis public affairs. The best practice is to be ready for every contingency. So when a real crisis befell DINFOS, why did the center of public affairs not have a plan that put students first?
Our instructor said before the shutdown that having the same journalism instructor grade their students throughout the course was a priority at DINFOS. Clearly not enough of a priority to keep the civilian journalism instructors here.
Features is considered the most difficult part of the BPASC course. Anyone paying attention to the news knew weeks in advance that the Republicans were going to shut the government down. So why were the journalism instructors furloughed?
In just one week we lost four students. One of them was an otherwise strong student, a woman named student captain in the detachment, who got contradictory coaching from two new instructors and failed. If students were really a priority, how could there be no provision to keep two instructors during the most difficult week? Since it is clear the current Congress could shut down the government a half dozen more times before the next election, is there a plan to put students ahead when federal tantrums occur?
In public affairs, we had a contradiction that would have been funny if the participants were conscious of it. One morning early on we were told how important it is to maintain our commitment to the DINFOS motto “Strength through Truth.” The morning instructors told us that all we have in our relationship with the media is our own credibility. If we lose it, it is difficult or impossible to recover.
Then in the afternoon, two Air Force instructors who are married to each other recounted how they handled the media the day after Osama Bin Laden was killed. The story went on for a while with the two sergeants enthusiastically handing it back and forth. But the important thing was the command message. The fact that Fairchild AFB was on high alert and everyone was backed up at the gate for miles trying to get to work had NOTHING to do with Bin Laden’s death.
The sergeants knew the message was BS. But they told us with glee that they met the media at the gate, they stayed on message, and were successful because none of the media at the gate reported that the high level of security on base was linked to events in Pakistan.
I work in PR as a civilian. I understand their glee at getting a difficult command message through. But most of the students are new to the field. The message the students were murmuring at break: “Wow. They lied their asses off.”
Everyone in crisis PR knows a time will come when they must stay on a ludicrous message. But this part of Public Affairs is not something the best practitioners take lightly. In my own media relations experience, I know how difficult it is to make and keep relationships with reporters. I would not use an example like this with basic course students.
Linking this incident back to the shutdown, the sergeants who stayed on command message at the Fairchild gate came up with a plan and executed it overnight. So if two teachers in training could do that, I have to assume the whole of DINFOS could come up with a plan to benefit students in a month and execute it flawlessly. The other alternative is that protecting the students from the shutdown was not a priority.