Strategic communication applies to every Airman
By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein, Air Force Print News
/ Published September 20, 2006
WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- All Airmen have within themselves the ability to be strategic communicators and share the Air Force story with the public, said the Air Force's director of strategic communication at the Pentagon.
"Airmen should be proud of who they are and what they do, and they should be proud to share that with others," said Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel III, who leads the Secretary of the Air Force's Office of Strategic Communication.
"But by nature, we are quiet warriors," said General Lessel. "We do not beat our chests and talk about what we do. It's going to take a culture change, but it helps the public better understand the Air Force when they hear from the Airmen themselves."
In an era of technology and 24-hour news cycles, the public has come to expect a continual flow of information, especially from its military. Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, along with Air Force Chief of Staff General T. Michael Moseley, realized a new office had to be created to specifically focus on strategic communication.
"Our strategic communication efforts will build better relationships with key audiences and the support that is critical to operational success, force modernization and the development of our most precious resource: Airmen," wrote Secretary Wynne in a recent Letter to Airmen.
The new Office of Strategic Communications merges various career fields that focus on providing information: public affairs, videography, photography and broadcasting. But General Lessel said a common misconception is that his office alone is responsible for sharing the Air Force story with the public.
"The whole idea of strategic communications is to use every opportunity to get our messages out there," he said. "This can include recruiting, in speeches, contacts with the media, papers, blogs and the Internet. Every Airman can become an Air Force spokesperson at any time."
He said his office's goal is to teach Airmen how to effectively communicate with the public.
"First and foremost, we want to educate Airmen so that the information they do have is accurate and appropriate," he said. "There is a difference between wanting to inform people or influence them, and there are appropriate ways to do both."
An Airman's card has been created containing information about strategic communications and has been delivered to all Airmen. It contains many of the things most Airmen already know, such as the need to coordinate with public affairs before any public engagement, and "staying in your lane" by speaking from experience. But, the card also contains useful statistics and facts.
"The most important thing is that all information needs to be truth-based," General Lessel said. "Our credibility only comes from telling the truth. By educating all Airmen on the service's key messages, we speak about one Air Force and one vision."
Some Airmen in the field already have taken strategic communication to heart and have used its principles effectively.
"The wing commander at Fairchild (Air Force Base, Wash.) received authorization to allow Airmen who just returned from deployment to wear their desert uniform to the base open house," he said. "This allowed the public to recognize these Airmen and they could interact with each other. The Airmen were able share with them their deployment stories."
Secretary Wynne agreed in his letter that such interaction is valuable to both Airmen and the public alike.
"Your stories resonate the most with local newspapers, schools and rotary clubs," he wrote. "The American public looks up to you as a model of integrity, and by sharing your experiences, you are the best spokesperson for the Air Force."