As part of summer training, midshipmen spend time out in the Fleet, my past two summers were spent in Pearl Harbor on a submarine and a destroyer; however, this summer I was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina attached to the II Marine Expeditionary Force Public Communication Team (II MEF PCT).
Marine Corps Public Affairs, the community’s guiding publication, opens with the following quotation from Major General Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps:
“The future success of the Marine Corps depends on two factors: first, an efficient performance of all duties to which its officers and men may be assigned; second, promptly bringing the efficiency to the attention of the proper officials of the Government, and the American people.”
On our first day with the team, MAJ Gilmore, the team’s director, gave us more than an hour and a half of his time to talk about Marine Corps public communication, emphasizing the importance of training Marines to think of communication as a two-way process of information sharing. As no public affairs team can (or wants to) completely control who says what to whom, proper training allows Marines to express themselves more effectively to friends, families, or anyone with whom they communicate.
While public affairs offices are generally perceived as providing information and assistance to the media, the II MEF PCT prefers a different approach. Understanding that the media is another party in the public domain, the II MEF PCT focuses its attention on getting its message to its “key publics,” members of the community who share an interest in II MEF-related issues. For the II MEF PCT, this means Marines, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the main focus of the team is not trying to target or “handle” the media, but establishing dialogue with the key publics.
This dialogue with key publics is central to II MEF PCT. For instance, the PCT responds the same way to questions from MEF family members and friends as it does with civilian media representatives. Furthermore, by calling and informing the interested parties of the press releases, the team builds connections with the community.
Blogging is a trend with some units, such as the 10th Mountain Division. Due to limitations of current policy as well the time and manpower requirements, the II MEF PCT does not operate one. However, the team does engage readers in the discussion section of blogs belonging to other groups including civilian media organizations.
The Marine Corps public affairs community only includes around 150 officers. Capt. Patrick, the team’s deputy director, served as an enlisted infantryman before accepting a commission. Coming out of The Basic School with any MOS open to him, he chose public affairs much to his peers’ surprise. “I had been reading and studying about fourth-generation warfare,” he explained, “and it was apparent that communicating information was incredibly important…Besides just basic leading Marines, I’ve never had such a broad impact.”
The Internet and “new media,” such as blogs, enable readers to draw information from sources outside the traditional media filter. How can the military and public affairs teams better adapt to these developments?
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