Fort Polk PAO hosts DINFOS course in new collaboration, training room
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Students from across Fort Polk took part in a Defense Information School course hosted by the Fort Polk Public Affairs Office. United States Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Williams Jr., DINFOS Public Affairs and Communication Strategy Directorate team lead, instructs the class on the principles of communication. (Photo Credit: Keith Houin) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fort Polk PAO hosts DINFOS course in new collaboration, training room
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – USAF Tech. Sgt. Joseph Pagan, Defense Information School instructor, teaches Fort Polk students about public affairs best practices. (Photo Credit: Angie Thorne) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. — Two instructors from the Defense Information School, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, arrived at Fort Polk to teach the basics of public affairs to 20 representatives from organizations and units across Fort Polk.

Defense Information School is a Department of Defense school, which fulfills the DoD’s need for an internal corps of professional journalist, broadcasters and public affairs professional.

Students taking the class had a wide range of jobs, skills and public affairs experience, with some learning about the foundations of the field for the first time. The class took place May 23-27 at the Fort Polk Public Affairs Office, bldg 4919, in its new collaboration and training room.

United States Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Williams Jr., DINFOS Public Affairs and Communication Strategy Directorate team lead, and USAF Tech. Sgt. Joseph Pagan, Defense Information School instructor, traveled to Fort Polk to teach the class.

Williams said the dynamic aspect of what the Public Affairs mission brings to Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center is key to the mission’s success.

“Everything that is done at Fort Polk from a training perspective needs to be highlighted, so that folks locally, regionally and throughout the services understand what an interesting place Fort Polk is and what an important mission it has,” he said.

He said when you have folks transitioning in and out of Fort Polk, it gives them that starting point to see what that expectation is to train and fight the nation’s wars.

“It’s vitally important to showcase that mission, not only to our audience, but also to let our adversarial forces know we mean business,” said Williams.

Typically, Williams said he teaches public affairs professionals that have a background and a foundation in the field.

He said the great thing about the training at Fort Polk was teaching a cross section of people.

“We weren’t just teaching pubic affairs folks. You had unit public affairs representatives, people from operations and the medical community all coming together to gain a better understanding of public affairs,” he said.

Williams said that allows students to build a team Polk dynamic with cross communication throughout the organization.

“The cross section represented was amazing. The energy that we had throughout the week — in all of our sessions — was a testament to the students’ desire to be better communicators and build mission success,” he said.

Williams said he thinks, above and beyond the lessons they learned, that the class fostered an amazing dynamic.

“Folks showed their willingness to share information and forge new connections,” he said. “I think they realized they have been working in a vacuum when they should be working together. This class gave them the opportunity to collaborate and find a way to get their messaging across, amplify it and make it stronger.”

Aside from the Louisiana cuisine, Pagan said one of the things he enjoyed most while teaching at Fort Polk was the interaction in the classroom.

“We sometimes struggle with people not asking questions in class,” he said. “That wasn’t the case here. The experience level of the students went from very little to a lot and everyone brought something different to the table,” he said.

Pagan said one question prompted another and another.

“The interaction and dialogue was so good that we would sometimes curb lesson plans to keep it going,” he said. “It’s been a really cool environment.”

Students were also enthusiastic about the training.

Gabe Walker, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, said the DINFOS class helped him realize that public affairs is a lot more than just taking pictures and writing stories.

“Many of the skills we have learned mirrors the Army problem-solving process,” he said.

Walker said he didn’t get too far into what the instructors were teaching before he realized he needed to learn more about the effective uses of social media.

“I learned that a social media post has the potential to change hearts and minds and reach the command’s objectives,” he said.

Walker said he appreciated the opportunity to take the class at Fort Polk instead of having to travel somewhere else.

“It made it easier for me to learn and still be productive while doing my job,” he said.

Walker said the learning opportunity seemed like a win-win for Fort Polk.

“It’s cheaper and more effective to bring two DINFOS instructors here than to pay for the 20 people to fly to Fort Mead, Maryland, to take the course,” he said.

Pfc. Payton Townsend, 46th Engineering, is a new unit public affairs representative.

Before walking into class, she had only been doing her job for about three weeks. A big part of what she does includes taking pictures and videos and posting them on social media with a message.

Townsend said she liked taking the class.

“I enjoyed learning about public affairs, but especially social media,” she said. “I think I will be able to take what I learned and use it in my job all the time.”

Townsend said it’s a lot to learn, but the class has given her a better understanding about the fact that UPARs have to take into consideration what they can and can’t say when posting.

“It’s cool to represent our battalion,” she said. “I think I will love telling our story and showing off what we have at Fort Polk by being more engaging with those who follow our page.”

Kayla Moore, Plans, Analysis and Integration Office chief, said she enjoyed taking the class.

Moore said she liked that it gave her a big-picture overview about public affairs and how to incorporate things such as strategic planning, talking points, messaging and more into her job.

“The skills I learned are helping me make sure my bosses are prepared and on point no matter the situation or event,” she said.

Moore said her favorite takeaway from the class is something called the triple nickel. This is a PAO strategy taught in the class that calls for a person to prepare five questions they know media will ask, five questions they hope they will ask and five questions they hope won’t be asked to help prepare the person talking to the media for just about any question that could be thrown at them.

“In many ways, I was already doing the skills I was taught this week and I didn’t realize it,” she said. “I learned that in the public affairs world, there are already foundations and parameters in place to make my endeavors more successful and help achieve the mission.”

Keith Houin, Fort Polk PAO public affairs specialist, helped facilitate the DINFOS training and said he felt the class was a success. He said the PAO team hoped to host many other innovative and invaluable training classes at the facility.

“Public communication is more than just public affairs professionals putting out information. It requires an integrated approach that everyone involved in the process needs to understand. Whether it be for weekly command messaging or large scale issues management, public affairs is everyone’s mission.”

Houin thanked the DINFOS instructors for their hard work.

“The instructors and the team at the Defense Information School put a lot into tailoring this course to the needs of JRTC and Fort Polk while still providing a strong foundation for future learning. The knowledge and experience they passed on provided an opportunity for us to capitalize on our strengths and evaluate our processes for improvement as an installation team.”