Why bother with Public Affairs?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jay Delancy
  • 509th Bomb Wing Chief of Public Affairs
"You Public Affairs people shouldn't even be allowed to be in the military!"

That was an outburst that a hot-headed Army Lieutenant Colonel once gave me, a senior Captain, just after I had transitioned out of the world of Operations and into the PA career field.
"Are you kidding?" I replied. And he went on a rant about how we "really work for the media" and not the military. That was the first time I had ever seen that sort of frustration with the Public Affairs mission, but it wasn't the last.

It does beg the bigger question: Why does the military spend so much time and effort doing stuff like communicating with the public and the media? Why can't we just get on with the warfighting and leave the media to itself?

Before I answer that, let's consider the alternative. Let's suppose that we were not allowed to speak with or otherwise communicate with the media under any circumstances. Would our enemies do the same? My guess is that they would seize the opportunity to wage a propaganda war even if we aren't fighting back?

But here is that promised reason. . . . The most revered leader and practitioner of winning wars, Carl Von Clausewitz, actually warned of the importance of morale in the early 1800s and in his 1832 publication, On War. Using the language of his time, he referred to "the moral elements" in military success. He wrote, "they constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole, and at an early stage they establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads the whole mass of force."

So, if the American side of the bargain were never explained to the public, then all they would get is a one-sided barrage of propaganda, designed by our enemies, to undermine the faith of the American people and of the American warfighters.

So, what does that mean to the average Joe Baguhdonuts getting a tour on the flightline? Well, there is a lot more going on than most people realize. First, the attitude of the Airmen giving the tour plays a major role in the public's attitude toward our nation's defense. Many visitors will rest well, knowing that our nation is being defended by the best trained and most disciplined Air Force in the world. Others will decide to join us in this mission in other ways: Some will enlist. Others will tell their friends how great an experience they had.

And on the best days of our lives, people hoping to do us harm will rethink their chances for success and back away from their ideas to destroy us all because of that one impression they got by running into someone like you!

The bottom line is that you may not remember very many of the people you meet outside the gate or during base tours; but I'll guarantee you, a lot of those people will never forget you. So, whether you're giving a tour on base or walking into a store after work, always remember the message you are sending as you carry yourself while in uniform.

Another way that you can help tell the Air Force (and the B-2) story is by achieving success and then submitting a hometown news release to tell others about your accomplishment. Whether you got a perfect score on your upgrade exam or if you won a quarterly award, somebody would be proud to read about it in your hometown newspaper.

While many of us would act modest and stay out of the limelight, I would ask that you consider the bigger picture: THE MISSION, which is deterrence. So, when you go to the www.whiteman.af.mil website and hit the hometown news release link, you are letting the Air Force tell another success story: yours!

The other area that any Airmen can join to tell the Air Force story is that of a writer. We are about to launch a beefed up base paper, starting in mid-April and part of the purpose will be to help more units and clubs tell their stories. The stories will be published both in the base paper and on the website, but we will need more writers in order to succeed. Rather than opinion writers, our goal is to train people in news writing. This will allow more squadron stories to be told to the rest of the community and on the web.

If you survived college English class and have a hankering to write, we may have a spot for you as a Unit Public Affairs Representative (or UPAR). So give us a call if you are interested in helping us tell your unit's story. The training is worth one college credit and another class will be starting in just a few weeks.