Telling the Reserve story, it's what we do

Staff Sgt. Katie Justen, 459th Air Refueling Wing public affairs, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Tech Sgt. Benjamin Mota, 434th Air Refueling Wing public affairs, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, take a look at new Canon technology at the Fourth Air Force Public Affairs Conference held at March Air Reserve Base, California, on Nov. 3-5, 2015. Public Affairs officers, enlisted and civilians from across the numbered Air Force, as well as their Air National Guard counterparts, attended the conference to network, share best practices, and discuss ways to overcome obstacles in the PA career field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

Staff Sgt. Katie Justen, 459th Air Refueling Wing public affairs, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, and Tech Sgt. Benjamin Mota, 434th Air Refueling Wing public affairs, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, take a look at new Canon technology at the Fourth Air Force Public Affairs Conference held at March Air Reserve Base, California, on Nov. 3-5, 2015. Public Affairs officers, enlisted and civilians from across the numbered Air Force, as well as their Air National Guard counterparts, attended the conference to network, share best practices, and discuss ways to overcome obstacles in the PA career field. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Julie Avey)

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- Public Affairs (PA) can partly be defined as issues that affect people. On November 2-4, 2015, PA staff from Fourth Air Force wings around the country came together at the numbered Air Force headquarters here to discuss their own career field for a change. The 4AF PA Conference was a time to improve PA skills, enhance PA processes, network, and share PA-community knowledge. 

"One purpose of the public affairs Airman is to tell the story of the Airmen assigned to their unit and the Air Force," said Staff Sgt. Adam Borgman of the 927th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. "Gen. Flournoy (Maj. Gen. John C. Flournoy Jr., 4 AF commander) giving us his time during the conference allowed us to ask questions and give him feedback on our ability to complete our missions," Borgman said. "With this line of communication, it better allows us all to understand the strategic communication plan from commanders, which helps better tell our unit's story while supporting the big picture."

Building stronger relationships between the Air Force Reserve Command PA office and the wing PA offices to better tell the Air Force Reserve story is the hope of Col. Bruce Bender, AFRC Public Affairs director. "Through these relationships will come greater collaboration and synchronization of communication efforts toward a common goal of greater public support and advocacy for the Air Force Reserve," he said.

Bender added that it is critical for wing commanders to provide leadership and support to their wing PA shops.  "Now more than ever, we need to tell our Air Force Reserve story loud and proud," Bender said. "It is vital that commanders provide the access and expertise as well as leadership to subordinate commanders to enable an effective communication process."

During the conference Flournoy spoke to the public affairs Airmen on several topics to include the need for continuously telling the story of Airmen doing great things in all career fields. He encouraged them to reach out to each other and share their expertise.

"The conference has been very beneficial for the public affairs Airmen," said Borgman. "With PA members from all around the Fourth Air Force in one room, we were able to discuss our best practices."

"Hearing straight from General Flournoy, the two-star here, and hearing what his vision is and the importance of PA," said Maj. Stan Paregien, public affairs chief, 932nd Airlift Wing, Scott AFB, Illinois. "He understands the importance of communications through PA. He is putting his money where his mouth is and bringing us all out here to be a part of this," Paregien continued. "This will help us go back to our units and push the key messages from Fourth Air Force down to the bottom."

In addition to communication, the public affairs professionals were provided the opportunity to learn new techniques to do their jobs and also network to continue community-building amongst their strong public affairs teams throughout the country.

"I wasn't sure what to expect when I was gearing up to come here, to be honest," said Capt. Bernie Kale, public affairs chief, 512th Airlift Wing, Dover AFB, Delaware, and former journalist for ABC and CBS News. "I knew it would be beneficial, but now that I'm here I am realizing you can't put a price on having face-to-face interaction with other PA's. That alone is more than worth the trip across the country."

The conference included training on scripting and production of short video clips to highlight Airmen and missions in order to share internal and external information to several different audiences. They also discussed the Unit Public Affairs Representative program as a means of reaching out to every Airman to help tell the Air Force Reserve story. Other topics of discussion were developing communication plans, and crisis communication.

Networking and sharing processes were reoccurring themes throughout the training. Social media was discussed as far as metrics, numbers, and facts on how quickly and globally information travels.

"I have learned that kindness and gratefulness go a very long way in life, and in our career field. If I find any photo or story of our reservists on an active duty or civilian website, I will reach out to them and thank them for mentioning us in their story," said Kale. "After a few times of that, those same people will start to send me photos or stories of my reservists on their own to let me use it for our website and social media. It's that nice little positive feedback that lets them know that we truly appreciate the effort they put into mentioning us in their story content." 

Participants learned to be more involved in improvement initiatives, training courses, strategic planning, and the strategic planning review council referred to as "SPARK," to keep all initiatives visible and moving, allowing PA members the ability to help reservists understand the messages, as well as inform them of wing initiatives.

"Currently, Career Development Courses (CDCs) for public affairs are seven volumes and include one test for all seven volumes cumulatively," said Chief Master Sgt. Bill Goben, functional manager, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs. "The PA enlisted CDCs for broadcaster and photojournalist are currently under revision and are projected to be released in early 2016."

The CDCs, on-the-job-training and training courses were discussed. Ideas were shared on training for new Airmen, and those who have had to merge from still photography to photojournalist (without formal journalistic training) or videography to broadcasting (without formal broadcast training).

Bender spoke about future "Force Mix Options" and the plans to align the needs of each career field within Reserve, Guard and regular Air Force. He said it is being worked at the Pentagon in all career fields by The Total Force Continuum office there. The Secretary of the Air Force and Chief of Staff (of the Air Force are tasked with reviewing every career field in the Air Force for potential efficiencies and cost savings that may be gained from a greater use of the Guard and Reserve enterprise, said Bender. The TFC office is required to finish the tasker by the end of 2015, then the TFC leadership will brief the Secretary with the results, he said. The Secretary will then make a determination on what is the best "Force Mix Option" for the Air Force.

"I took every opportunity to tell our Air Force Reserve story to the internal audience during my assignment in the Pentagon," Bender said. "The Air Force Reserve is often misunderstood and also confused with the Guard. As a result, it is key to reach the internal audience, which in turn facilitated greater exposure to the external audience."

Public Affairs Guidance provided by Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon, through AFRC, and the personal interaction we have with the AFRC is beneficial, said Paregien. That personal interaction helps Reserve PA officers, enlisted and civilians know what is coming down from the Pentagon so they can craft the message to their own offices and wings. "We can also be able to tell our reservists what is coming up and how to plan for the future," Paregien said.

Chances to deploy, support active duty missions stateside, and overall career opportunities were shared by Bender and Goben. They also shared public affairs trends, tactics, and future operations.

It is so important to gather together with Air Force Reserve PA leaders to learn from each other, foster greater collaboration and build relationships, Bender said. "This is a magical experience not duplicated or emulated with the use of video teleconference or phone conference. We must look each other in the eyes and express our interest in each other's perspective and expertise to gain the most benefit from the collaboration process."