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We All Have a Role, How PA Supports the AF Mission

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lieutenant Tisha Wilkerson
  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs Officer
Every career field in the Air Force in some way contributes to the success of the mission. In some career fields, such as pilots, medics or security forces, it is easier to connect the dots than others. There are some career fields that people may not have even known existed in the military let alone the Air Force, however, that does not diminish the importance of those career fields role. Public affairs stands as one of those sometimes hidden, but essential career fields.

Some may argue that public affairs does not contribute to the Air Force mission because they look at the career field and only see Airmen with cameras. It’s ‘fluff’ that doesn’t push the mission forward in any aspect. If anything it detracts from performing other duties, wastes Air Force funds, and prevents people from taking the armed forces seriously.

According to Air Force Instruction 35-101 section 1.2, the mission of public affairs “advances Air Force priorities and achieves mission objectives through integrated planning, execution, and assessment of communication capabilities. Through strategic and responsive release of accurate and useful information, imagery, and musical products to Air Force, domestic, and international audiences, PA puts operational actions into context; facilitates the development of informed perceptions about Air Force operations; helps undermine adversarial propaganda efforts; and contributes to the achievement of national, strategic, and operational objectives.” In some cases the first glimpse of the military that people see is from public affairs, sometimes inspiring them to later join the Air Force. This inspiration may come from fly overs or air shows facilitated by public affairs for the public. It may come from motivational productions and commercials seen online or on television. Beyond recruiting, public affairs provides documentation of historical events. Public Affairs also promotes the mission of the Air Force to deter enemy forces from attacking. This can be as simple as highlighting the capabilities of an aircraft during an exercise, showing the strength of our forces.

In contrast, some may argue that public affairs does not deter enemy forces but instead leaks sensitive and operational security information, so when documenting Air Force assets they are putting the safety of pilots and security forces at risk. Public affairs opens the door to civilian media who don’t understand the mission and nature of the military. These reporters only care about getting a good story and will leak or misconstrue information for their own benefit.

This is a myth. Members in public affairs are Airmen first and public affairs professionals second. These Airmen understand the importance of operational security and do a thorough review of all work before releasing it to the public. When working with reporters, public affairs personnel lay down the ground rules while escorting reporters throughout their time on a military installation to ensure sensitive information and the safety of fellow Airmen are not put at risk. While reporters do need to get a good story, they don’t want to put personnel in harm’s way and are understanding of the guidelines that are set. It benefits the Air Force to have reporters come onto the base to see what is happening because it helps to reduce the risks of speculation and possibly getting the story wrong. Rumors can be detrimental.

Public affairs is part of wing staff and reports directly to the wing commander. This may lead to the perception by some that the only purpose of the career field is to hide the negative things that occur on the installation or only to show the Air Force in a positive light, which is not true.

It is important to maintain a healthy relationship with reporters and with the public. The best way to maintain that relationship is to establish a reasonable level of trust and transparency. The public needs to trust that when a statement is released by the Air Force, it is not an attempt to lie to make the military look better. Therefore, within the bounds of what is legally releasable public affairs ensures that the truth is heard, whether it is a positive or negative story. In a crisis, public affairs will work with local reporters and use their own avenues of communication such as social media or the base website to inform the public what is happening and provide status updates. The office works with the understanding that the public does not expect an organization to be perfect. However there is an expectation that if something negative occurs they will be informed and positive steps will be made to correct the issue. To maintain public trust in the Air Force it is the part of public affairs’ role to ensure those steps are heard.

Public affairs does so much more than simply take pictures and videos for amusement. Like every career field in the Air Force, there is an integral and important role that must be fulfilled for the mission to succeed. Public affairs core competencies, the four primary ways in which the career field contributes to the overall mission according to AFI 35-101 are: trusted counsel to leaders, Airman morale and readiness, public trust and support, and global influence and deterrence. It may not be the first career field that comes to mind when thinking of the Air Force or the military as a whole, but it is certainly important.