Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force Chief of Staff, said every Airman has a story. The Airmen in public affairs would like to help tell those stories.
Public affairs Airmen perform a diverse mission, ranging from providing counsel to leaders, to strengthening morale, and enhancing public trust and support. They use their communication skills to inform decision makers and communicate the services’ requirements, capabilities, actions and achievements to the world. At Luke Air Force Base, the programs and operations they manage also serve to increase public understanding of the Luke mission.
“The public affairs mission is to leverage communication capabilities through an integrated approach to advance the commander’s mission priorities,” said Barbara Plante, 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs deputy chief. “This is achieved by providing trusted counsel and communications advice to leadership and Airmen.”
The PA office’s diverse mission is achieved by dividing efforts into several sections: internal information, community relations and media operations. The multimedia center portion of PA falls under the umbrella of internal information but supports all functions.
PA programs help Airmen understand their roles in the mission and recognize individual and team achievements.
“The internal information section ensures a free flow of information to Air Force members and their families,” said 2nd Lt. Candice Dillitte, 56th FW PA internal information chief. “We are responsible for accurately communicating the commander’s messages to Airmen and the Luke community as a whole. This is achieved through publishing the Thunderbolt and managing our official Air Force and social media sites.”
The multimedia section offers photo, video and graphics support and is responsible for telling and preserving the Air Force story. These Airmen provide visual products that act as catalysts for effective communications. During emergencies, these products help commanders visualize situations in order to make decisions.
For example, photojournalists provide support for the 56th Security Forces Squadron, 56th Medical Group and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations with coverage of incidents that can range from damage to government property to homicide.
“These photos are vital to investigations and can help decision makers determine Air Force policy,” Dillitte said.
Finally, they provide photos and broadcast products to the National Archives, allowing those outside the service to view how the Air Force is accomplishing its mission.
The community relations section helps build mutual acceptance, respect, appreciation and cooperation between the Air Force and the local community. This is achieved through the building of two-way communications between Air Force people and the communities in which they live, work and play. COMREL also assists in recruiting efforts and responds to requests for Air Force participation in public events. Lastly, they build trust and support by showcasing the Air Force community as a partner and responsible steward of public resources.
“The strong alliance between the base and the community has made a real impact on successful planning for compatible development and directly contributed to the decision to name Luke as the location of the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II pilot training center, which will ultimately keep our Air Force mission vital and strong,” Plante said.
Media operations ensure information release through news media to the general public. They respond to queries by news media agencies, ensuring that correct information is disseminated in a timely manner and acting as a type of rumor control. During emergencies and natural disasters, media operations act as the focal point for gathering and presenting the Air Force’s response and reaction to the situation, working with internal information to ensure that everyone is notified.
All of this is just the support that is provided at a typical home-station PA office.
While deployed, the public affairs mission can take a broader scope. Working with fewer people to accomplish a lot of the same functions, PA professionals are often tasked with training public affairs officers of friendly nations. PA creates and enacts communications strategies that inform audiences around the world about the Air Force’s impact on global events.
“There are many similar functions of PA at home station and in a deployed environment,” said Capt. Tristan Hinderliter, 56th FW PA chief. Hinderliter is currently deployed to the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. “Here, we’re primarily focused on internal information and media outreach, whereas at Luke, we also have a robust community relations program, as well as a much bigger multimedia capability.”
The deployed PA offices are still responsible for coordinating and hosting civilian media outlets, but inside of the combat areas of operations. Hinderliter said bringing media to see firsthand what the Air Force does is an opportunity to tell the story and show what Airmen bring to the fight. The reactions of world leaders to media reports and public opinion demonstrate the influence PA has on military operations.
Regardless of location, the PA focus remains — truthful communications at all levels.
Telling the Air Force story requires people with dedication and integrity — professionals who can communicate what leaders want to tell their Airmen. The 56th FW PA Airmen are ready to do just that.