In 2010, I had the privilege of doing a short extension to stay in Iraq after my unit went home. Fortunately, the entire 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team (from Oregon) was in theater and I was able to work with fellow Oregonians as a public affairs NCO. I have always loved to tell the story of others, and this was my opportunity. I would like to share with you the five lessons I learned as a Public Affairs NCO.
#1 All Soldiers Have a Story to Tell
We are used to hearing about what I call the “meat eater” units, as in, the combat arms Soldiers. Most of the glory stories seem to be about the ground combat Soldiers who are engaged in harrowing battles. My first story was about a Brigade Support Battalion that had designed convoy training at the Convoy Academy at Camp Adder, Iraq. This lane was very pertinent to the current operations happening in both theaters, and I was honored to tell their story.
#2 We Have a Responsibility to Protect the Integrity of our Soldiers
As we are all familiar with, the civilian media takes many liberties when reporting on the current operations overseas. Some of the stories are well-written, whereas others make you wonder about the accuracy of what is being told. The civilian populace looks to the news to learn about the military and what we are doing. I learned that I, as well as the other public affairs specialists, had the responsibility to accurately report the facts in order to protect our Soldiers and what they were doing.
#3 People Really Do Look at Your Facebook Page
I’ve been on Facebook since it started. I never thought it would turn into what it would be today. Families look for unit pages to learn information, and Soldiers like to share what they are doing. It is important to consider what information you are putting on your page, and represent the military appropriately if you do choose to share military photos or otherwise identify as a Soldier. There can be real consequences!
#4 Every Soldier is in Public Relations/Public Affairs
I may have had an official position as a Public Affairs NCO, but not much changed for me from before. We are all responsible for representing the Army in a positive way, both on duty and off. I had the fortune to write official stories and interview Soldiers, but we all have the duty to not bring negative light to our profession.
#5 Painting the Big Picture is Rewarding
Having only done medical evacuation before, I thought my mission was the very best. I always told people, we do our job “so that others may live.” It’s an essential tenet of medevac and deserves its own story. However, doing public affairs taught me the big picture. I had to interview all kinds of Soldiers from all MOS and other units. Seeing how the entire puzzle fits together was personally and professionally rewarding, and made me better as I went home and focused on becoming an officer.
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About the Author: 1LT Candace Ginestar is the distribution platoon leader for 1/D (RSTA FSC) 141 BSB, for the 1-82 CAV headquartered in Bend, OR. She has been in the Oregon Army National Guard since 2003, first completing AIT as a 92F specializing in aircraft refueling for C/7-158 AVN (the premier medical evacuation unit in the Army), then reclassing to 15P (aviation operations) prior to her deployment to Balad, Iraq in 2009. She was proud to have served as an NCO before completing accelerated OCS in the summer of 2010 at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. After graduating from Oregon State University, she held a federal technician position as the program analyst for the State Army Aviation Office for four years before moving to Klamath Falls, OR to attend cosmetology school. She is currently enrolled in a Master of Arts program in Military Resiliency at Liberty University.
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3 thoughts on “The 5 Lessons I Learned as an Army Public Affairs NCO”
Candace, you bring an interesting point about the media and the military. What I have found, and this is just my opinion, is that if a soldier does something wrong, the media almost seems to delight in it. There seems to be an Ah-hah! Gotcha! tone that makes me wonder sometimes if they weren’t out looking for expressly for that situation. The military is made up of people, and where you have groups of people, you are going to have issues. It seems to me, however, that when there is a negative story involving a member of the military, the negative light it casts on the rest of the group seems more focused than with other groups (like our politicians?).
Army Public Affairs NCOs have an incredibly important job. People who aren’t in the military don’t know exactly how it works and there needs to be an ambassador to help shed light. Very true about Facebook. In this day and age people have to be extra careful when creating their online persona.
I really enjoyed the lessons you learned as an Army Public Affairs NCO. I always found the PA world interesting and thought I would be a great Public Affairs Officer.
My favorite lesson that you shared with us is that every Soldier is a Public Affairs Specialist. That is so true, especially in today’s social media world. We have to always monitor what information we share with others and how we present ourselves to the public.
Thanks for sharing your story.