Creating foundation for growth: Airman learns processes of Pentagon decision-making

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Eydie Sakura
  • U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs
I could feel people looking at me. Scanning my uniform and then my face, wondering what a butter bar was doing roaming the halls of the Pentagon.

I definitely was a minority, but it wasn't awkward or intimidating ... it was eye-opening.

I spent two days at Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs office, a field trip I recommend to all new public affairs lieutenants, especially if they're near the Washington, D.C., area.

Nearly a year of training and schooling complete, the thought of actually doing work in public affairs at a major command was, quite honestly, intimidating. Although I spent my last six years as an enlisted public affairs specialist, it didn't prepare me for the level of knowledge and expertise needed to master a headquarters gig.

Meeting the people at SAF/PA and learning the ebb and flow of the communication processes were a major learning point for this bright-eyed lieutenant.

The Big Picture
Day one was a whirlwind of shaking hands and getting to know people who work and manage the SAF/PA divisions. Each director met with me one-on-one and painted the picture of the communications landscape and how each section played a role in the information environment.

The Pentagon always seemed intimidating to me; a black hole of information and knowledge where faceless staffers passed job tasks and provided guidance down the chain of command. However, actually walking around the offices and seeing where people work and witnessing the decision-making process was insightful. It slowly began to click ... the light bulb came on. It helped shed new light on my pre-conceived ideas.

Networking was the most vital take away for me. It gave headquarters public affairs a "face." I could now put a name to a face, and not just receive an e-mail or tasker from "someone" at the "Pentagon." I began seeing the grand scheme of things and how I fit into the puzzle.

I listened and observed. I geared my thoughts on how to use the information I was learning to help manage the myriad of daily public affairs challenges. The experience and knowledge-base of everyone was diverse, and I used their lessons learned and stories from "the field" in gauging my next question or crafting what other mentoring tidbits I wanted to glean.

DoD Media Training
Day two was all about media training. I was blown away by the level of planning and detail that went into this communication tool.

The training assignment was preparing a newly appointed Department of Defense undersecretary for succeeding in communication -- prepping for press conferences, and practicing live and taped on-camera interviews.

This is basic public affairs 101 we learn at the Defense Information School, but honestly, you can never hear or see it too many times. I am a firm believer that repetition is a powerful way of learning and absorbing information. My job that day was to role play a member of the national press corps. It was fun to be on the other side of the podium and to be the evaluator rather than the one being evaluated. This process made me realize how much I know, yet how much I need to learn about effective communication, and that it's an ever-changing skill each military member must hone and practice.

Headquarters public affairs has a toolkit of products and materials for anyone who wishes to succeed as a communicator. To access this toolkit, log onto and on the AF Portal Web page under the blue toolbar, click "Air Force," and then click on "Telling the Air Force Story." This site offers draft scripts, memos, talking points, business cards, presentations, media guidance, speeches and much more. It's a great resource for anyone, especially my peers who are also fledgling public affairs officers.

My take away from this two-day field trip to the Pentagon was the importance of networking and sharing information. It's vital to the success of public affairs, not only amongst one another as peers, but within the operational Air Force. We've been granted access to an interesting and unique job, a career that allows us the opportunity to tell the Air Force's story. It's our obligation as professional communicators to showcase our Airmen doing what they do best, which is to Aim High ... Fly, Fight and Win!

I highly recommend to my public affairs brethren to inquire about a visit to the Pentagon and to participate in media training or a job shadow day. Learning from the top creates a solid foundation to build upon and grow. It can only give you more confidence as a young PAO where you are most often the lowest-ranked person at the table.