I had an incident with the paparazzi today.
Mind you, it wasn’t a bad incident.
Instead of nosey questions and attempts to make me lash out at them, these guys and gals were very polite, very sharp, and ultra-professional.
After just a few minutes, I barely noticed them.
Par the course when making an appearance at the Defense Information School.
DINFOS is the technical school where military members become public affairs professionals. It’s where they learn about public relations, community relations, media relations, graphic design, broadcasting, writing, and photography.
This means that at any moment on the campus, you’re going to run into someone — an Airman, Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and/or Coastie — carrying some huge cameras and microphones, and they’re going to want to talk to you, or take your photo. Not just once, either, but about a zillion times from multiple angles.
It’s all part of their classwork.
So, as I was on the DINFOS campus today, I was fair game as a photo subject.
I was there as the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony for the military’s newest public affairs specialists. At each graduation ceremony, an invitation is made to former public affairs personnel who’ve continued to be successful after their military career. The folks who’ve been invited come from all over the place. Retired generals. Well-known journalists. Industry experts. Andy Rooney was a frequent speaker over the years.
That I was invited was very humbling, and I accepted the invite before they could change their mind.
I decided to begin my speech by providing some context to the things I was facing when I was in their shiny military shoes.
It was May 2000 when I graduated from DINFOS. I was just barely 19 years old and on my way to Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
The biggest headline story at the time involved a little boy named Elian Gonzalez, and the international ordeal regarding custody and his family.
Mark Zuckerburg was a sophomore in high school.
The Internet was used mostly for AOL chats and emails.
The two giant World Trade Center towers still dominated the New York City skyline, and Fort Meade (where DINFOS is located) was an open base, meaning people could come and go pretty easily.
My DINFOS military instructors had seen action in places like the first Gulf War, Somalia, and the Balkans. Operation Northern Watch over Iraq and the continuing NATO mission in the Balkans were just about the only military operations making the headlines then.
At the time, my DINFOS classes revolved around learning how to write a variety of articles (feature, news, commentary, etc.), along with some media training, community outreach, and the like.
We worked on monstrous computer monitors that took up a lot of space.
Our photography classes introduced us to digital cameras that were half the size of our bodies, but could only take a handful of photos at a time.
There was no way for any of us to know then that the world was going to completely change in just over a year.
It was a different era, that’s for sure.
Yet as I compared the things I faced as a new public affairs and the things these newest PAs face now, I emphasized that the basic lessons we learned about communication at DINFOS still applied throughout all those years of change. Our resources and means of communication have evolved, but the purpose and value of military public affairs remains so important.
During my speech, I also talked about the importance of cultivating relationships within the public affairs community, how we’re all connected because of our time at DINFOS and the type of work we do.
And, of course, I also shared examples of how social media has played a role in shaping the way military public affairs people do their job now.
After my speech, I lined up with the rest of the official party (the DINFOS commander and other leadership), and handed out their class certificates. As I shook all their hands and wished them luck, I couldn’t help but feel excited for them.
I’ve had a blessed career: challenging, demanding, exciting, incredible.
I wish for them all the same, and more.
Speaking of relationships ….
Just before the graduation ceremony, I went to my old office, which is located right across the street from DINFOS. I had lunch with my former colleagues in that lunch room.
They are such a great group of people.
It didn’t feel like any time passed since my last day there.
It’s such a nice thing when that happens.