Public Affairs, now more than ever

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Hamilton B. Underwood
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

“I think of all the things we do right now, as leaders, perhaps the most important thing we do is to communicate, “Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, April 1, 2020, Mitchell Institute podcast.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, there will be a tsunami of editorials and think tank reports, each offering a laundry list of lessons learned and missed opportunities.

Air Force installations re-learned the importance of Public Affairs.

A fully staffed, trained and equipped PA office is the surest way for commanders to effectively communicate during a global pandemic that is uniquely local.

The PA-managed installation homepages and official social media accounts are the primary means for informing internal audiences. Only PA can advise a military community, whether it be in Missouri or Okinawa, of the new commissary hours, if Child Development Center is open or the new drive through procedures to pick up prescriptions. Traditional news outlets only focus on stories for mass populations.

“Communicating effectively among external and internal audiences is a core task of Public Affairs,” said Air Force Reservist, Lt. Col. Tim Lundberg, Director of Public Affairs, Joint Task Force Civil Support, U.S. Northern Command, a two-star, Title 10 response to the pandemic in New York and New Jersey. “During the COVID-19 pandemic this paradigm took on a heightened importance as misinformation can be propagated and negatively impact the ability of a unit to accomplish its mission.“

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of PA offices became benchmarks for timely, concise, and relevant information. The commanders of these installations continued to maintain mission assurance and keep personnel safe while accruing credibility as leaders.

The COVID-19 pandemic brings to mind a well-known cartoon in the PA career field. In it, there is a PA officer behind glass in a commander’s office. Above the glass, a sign reads, “Break in Case of Emergency.”

Most commanders discovered behind that figurative broken glass exactly the capabilities they needed and others found capabilities lacking due to staffing, training or equipment. It is a reminder that PA is a critical career field that often has to defend its relevancy among competing priorities.

It is now the task of leaders across the Air Force to ensure that when crisis strikes; all commanders find the capabilities needed to ensure mission readiness and support for Airmen and their families not behind a glass pane, but seated at the table and part of the conversation.