Learning effective communications
January 28, 2014
For deployed service members the mission will always come first, while dealing with the media will not be so important.
In the event of a natural disaster or contingency operation, the media may show up to provide on-the-scene coverage. If a reporter asks a random service member about the mission and he or she doesn't know how to properly relay information, then all of his or her hard work may not reach the public's ear.
That is why, as part of Operational Contract Support Joint Exercise 2014's pre-deployment training, almost all of the contract specialists received a block of instruction on public relations.
The indoor class included videotaped interviews with feedback from the instructors afterward. The public relations class was one of many training scenarios military and civilian controlling commands will go through during the annual exercise.
"The public affairs piece is vital to the mission, because we need to teach everyone how to communicate to the external public," said Army Col. Martha K. Brooks, Expeditionary Contracting Command's public affairs officer.
The classroom was quiet as multiple instructors provided good and bad examples of public relations … quiet because most had never taken any type of media relations training before. Brooks helped instruct the class to better prepare military and civilian contracting specialists for effectively telling their story, so the public could know about their contracting mission.
"I've never had formal public affairs training before," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Caryann Thomas, assigned to the 771st Enterprise Sourcing Squadron based out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "I am ready to learn and glad to be working in a joint environment during this exercise, because if we deploy it will probably be a joint environment. I think this exercise is going to give me a lot of knowledge to bring back to my unit."
During OCSJX-14, Thomas will be acting as a contingency contracting officer. She said there are civilian, Air Force, Army and Marines elements as part of her team. The native of West Palm Beach, Fla., added she had never thought about how the media could take what she said on-camera and use it in a negative manner.
Marine Corps Sgt. Jose Gil, Headquarters and Service Battalion, Okinawa, Japan, said OCSJX-14 is a great concept and an excellent training opportunity.
This was Gil's first time training in a joint environment and he said he looked forward to working with other members of the military. He added it was his first time taking part in a public relations class, calling it an "eye-opener."
"It was a great class. In the event that a reporter does come up to me, I will be better prepared to answer their questions," Gil said. "I love my job. Having the opportunity to be a good steward of taxpayer's dollars is something I could be doing in the future and even when I leave the military."
The first year Brooks took part in the annual exercise, she provided a one-hour class on media training. For OCSJX-14, she had four hours to educate the contracting professionals on public relations. This extra time allowed for half of the class to be spent on practical exercises, namely creating command messages for OCSJX-14 and conducting on-camera interviews.
Navy Lt. John Lina, assigned to the Fleet Logistics Center in Jacksonville, Fla., said he took part in the OCSJX predecessor, Operation Joint Dawn, two years ago at Fort Bliss, Texas.
He said this year the class was a great improvement from the last public relations training he took part in. Most notably, the practice interview will help the participants of OCSJX-14 interact with news reporters and know how to conduct themselves confidently and professionally during an interview.
After being behind the camera, the videos were played back so the group could evaluate what they did correctly during the mock interview and what they could improve upon.
"We added role-playing scenarios within the exercise to allow them to see if what they were taught works," said Brooks. "This exercise has evolved into something that nobody can close their eyes to. They know this is an important mission."
The military and civilians taking part in OCSJX-14 are not public affairs specialists, but Brooks said she wants them to be the best subject-matter experts, able to talk about their contracting mission and keep the public informed if the media speaks to someone taking part in OCSJX-14. After the media training, she said she is confident they will be effective communicators.