Public affairs (military)

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Public Affairs is a term for the formal offices of the branches of the United States Department of Defense whose purpose is to deal with the media and community issues. The term is also used for numerous media relations offices that are created by the U.S. military for more specific limited purposes. Public affairs offices are staffed by a combination of officers, enlisted personnel, civilian officials and contract professionals.

Public Affairs offices play a key role in contingency and deployed operations.

The typical Public Affairs office is led by an officer who is in charge of planning, budgeting for, executing and evaluating the effectiveness of public affairs programs, and provides public affairs advice, counsel and support for commanders and senior staff members.

Duties and responsibilities[edit]

The Public Affairs Officer (PAO) is responsible for developing a working relationship with reporters and other media representatives, maintaining a robust community relations program, keeping contact with other government agencies, and keeping internal and external publics informed on issues that may affect them. Known as "PAO's" for short, they are expected to coordinate with the appropriate agencies prior to contacting and releasing information to the media on conditions that might result in favorable or unfavorable public reaction, including releases and public statements involving local, regional and national news.

PAOs are responsible for preparing information relative to unit participation in military operations, world events, and environmental matters through news releases, special activities, photographs, radio and television, and other informational material. They also review materials such as speeches, news articles, and radio and television shows for security policy review and integration with the objectives of the military, and determine appropriate topics.

PAOs oversee the production of base newspapers, magazines, and internal information produced by enlisted Public Affairs specialists that include coordinating media visits (if possible) and writing stories to share with fellow deployed personnel as well as audiences back home, both military and civilian. They also produce speeches and act as ghost writers for commanders, often completely developing a commander's public persona.

Additionally, PAOs act as a liaison with Hollywood, actively courting Film Studios through Entertainment Liaison Offices based in Los Angeles (as an example, Navy Office of Information West). This ensures the accurate representation of the United States Armed Forces through PAOs trained in understanding the needs and requirements of Film Production, as well as the complex military culture to find an acceptable arrangement that allows the production to get the necessary footage while protecting the taxpayers investment in the Armed Forces.[1]

Tyrese Gibson's character in Michael Bay's Transformers series was a perfect example of the positive results through cooperation between the United States Department of Defense and Hollywood. Bay gained access to USAF bases and assets for the film, while the Air Force was not only able to showcase sophisticated USAF aircraft in the movie, they also helped develop one of the main characters - a combat controller (1C2X1).[2]

In the United States[edit]


The Public Affairs community of the United States Armed Forces consists of active duty and reserve officers, enlisted personnel, civilians and consultants to provide support for managing the flow of news and information for the military. Public Affairs Officers (PAO) and enlisted members often attend the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Ft. Meade, Maryland prior to their first duty station and for online and instructor-led professional development coursework and advanced training throughout their careers.


The United States Army's public affairs community is led by the Chief of Public Affairs, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Omar J. Jones IV[3] as of 2017.

Enlisted Public Affairs Specialists is listed as a 46Q

Enlisted Public Affairs Broadcast Specialists listed as a 46R.[4]

Marine Corps[edit]

The United States Marine Corps public affairs community is led by the Director of Public Affairs within the Division of Public Affairs, Headquarters Marine Corps. Brigadier General (select) Paul J. Kennedy was the Director as of 2014.

Marines within the Public Affairs community are identified by Military Occupational Specialties (MOS):



  • 4302 Public Affairs Officer
  • 4330 Historical Officer


The United States Navy public affairs community is led by the Chief of Naval Information (CHINFO) within the U.S. Navy Office of Information. As of 2014 the CHINFO was Rear Admiral Dawn Cutler.[5]

Enlisted members of the Navy public affairs community are rated as Mass Communication Specialist (MC). Officers in Navy public affairs are Restricted Line Officers and hold the Special Duty Officer (Public Affairs) designator 165X.

The annual CHINFO Merit Awards (CMA) Program recognizes outstanding achievements in internal media products produced by Navy commands and individuals.

Air Force[edit]

The Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs (SAF/PA) serves in the leadership role for the United States Air Force's public affairs community. Air Force public affairs officers hold the 35P Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC). The enlisted public affairs AFSCs are 3N0X2 (broadcaster) and 3N0X5 (photographer/journalist). The Air Force has moved to a new AFSC that will combine both 3N0X2 and 3N0X5, creating a multimedia public affairs specialist.

Coast Guard[edit]

The Director of Governmental and Public Affairs (CG-092) serves as the senior executive public affairs officer for the United States Coast Guard. As of 2017 The current Director is Rear Admiral Anthony J. Vogt.[6]

Enlisted Coast Guard members are rated as Public Affairs Specialist (PA) after attending the Defense Information School and come from the Active and Reserve components.

Based at the Douglas A. Munro Coast Guard Headquarters Building in Washington D.C., The Office of Public Affairs (CG-0922) oversees PAs in support of media relations stationed in major media markets throughout the United States. They work for public affairs officers on district and area commanders' support staffs or in small public-affairs detachments located in major metropolitan areas.[7]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Hammond, William M. Public Affairs: The Military and the Media, 1962-1968. Washington, D.C.: Center for Military History, United States Army, 1988, OCLC 17442224
  • Hammond, William M. Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War. Lawrence, Kan: University Press of Kansas, 1998, ISBN 0700609113
  • Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, David L. Robb, Prometheus Books, 2004, ISBN 1-59102-182-0


External links[edit]