HOUSTON, TX, UNITED STATES
Story by 1st Lt. Allegra Boutch
100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
In our social media obsessed world, everyone and their pet has a personal brand. It’s the public-facing reputation you make for yourself or what people remember you by. As military service members, we chose our brand when we put on the uniform and promised to live the mission and values of our organization. When we wear the uniform, we should feel pride, but also remember that we were issued it so we could be easily identified.
Military public affairs professionals have an acute awareness of how individuals on-and-off duty affect the military’s public reputation. As a Public Affairs Officer (PAO), my job is to help our leaders make informed decisions and assist the civilian media to document and communicate the actions of the service. In this article, I’ll list some of my own experiences where the actions of service members affected our public standing. It matters, because that character and public reputation can help us win wars, save lives and build morale.
It isn’t optimism, but observation that leads most of us to say we work with the best human-beings in the world. As the Executive Officer for the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, last year I had the privilege of leading a team of incredible soldiers who reported on incredible individuals. We began the year at Camp Williams in Utah, at Cyber Shield 17, an annual exercise that included members of the National Guard from 44 states and territories, the U.S. Army Reserve, state and federal government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private industry.
The two-week exercise was designed to assess participants’ ability to respond to cyber incidents. Over the weeks, we saw civilians, soldiers and government agents work together to ensure that government and civilian infrastructure was safe against cyberattack. While it’s our job to defend our nation, what struck me was most of the guardsmen and reservists on this mission were also members of local law enforcement and civilian emergency response. These citizen-soldiers worked week and weekend in their communities, and when we published our stories their communities noticed.
It figured that my own soldiers did so well at their jobs that we were invited a few months later to provide public affairs support to Saber Strike 17 in Pabrade, Lithuania. While the potential threat during Exercise Cyber Shield 17 was invisible and unknown, in Lithuania, it was very real, and just next door. Exercise Saber Strike 17 was a NATO exercise hosted by four Eastern-European countries, including Lithuania, and designed to promote regional stability and security while strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust in our Baltic allies. The exercise, which combined 20 partnered nations, focused on building interoperability and improving friendships between our allies.
What started as a public affairs mission turned into something larger however when our presence as public affairs soldiers became key to mission success. Just as it was important for us to foster these friendships, it was also important for us to show locals across the participating countries that U.S. support does not waver. During a Field Day hosted for local Lithuanians, the number of ‘thank you’s” and hugs U.S. Soldiers received was enough to win any heart. But it was only with the realization that less than 30 years ago Lithuania was still under Soviet rule that the soldiers really began to understand how much their presence was appreciated.
During the exercise, we were able to bring hope because the U.S. Army and the U.S. Soldier is still seen in the world as a refuge for those in need. So, when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, people stranded by the flood water knew to look for camo. The 100th MPAD helped document soldiers rescuing Houstonians from their homes. My own duties also included embedding members of the media with soldiers, so they could help report the soldier story.
Through tragedy and uncertain times, service members need to be the figures our communities and allies can look to for help. When soldiers defame the uniform and our mission by behaving dishonorably, they are crippling the people we serve. It may be hard to correct a friend’s behavior, or take seriously staunch memos about how to behave, but the United States is still an example to the world, and our members of the military need to be as well.
Live your mission. Make it your brand.