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A Study Examining
Demographic Factors and Personality Traits
that Influence Military Public Affairs' Credibility
Demographically, this analysis looks at how PAOs are accessed into and trained
in the public affairs vocation. Understanding the importance of credibility in
the public affairs profession, it is intriguing that each service branch
acquires their PAOs differently. For example, Marine Corps and Air Force PAOs
are predominately accessed at the junior officer grade while all Army and Navy
PAOs transfer into public affairs after working in other fields of their service
branch. The differences among the services can be categorized as generalists
(Army and Navy) or specialists (Marine Corps and Air Force). Generalists have a
broad, basic understanding of the military and usually have at least two years
of experience in their service while the specialists do not have the direct
The mission of military public affairs is to keep the American people and the military informed and to help establish the conditions that lead to confidence in America’s military and its readiness to conduct operations in peacetime, conflict and war. Even though military PAOs have the same mission, each service conducts public affairs from a service-unique perspective. The following conceptualization will explain the different accession programs for each service.
Affairs is considered a “functional area” in the U.S. Army as opposed to a
branch. A branch is a grouping of officers that comprises an arm or service
of the Army in which officers are commissioned, assigned, developed, and
promoted throughout their company grade years (through Captain, or O-3).
Officers are accessed into and will hold a single branch designation until
the fifth or sixth year of service (DA PAM 600-3, 1998). At that time, they
are augmented with a functional area, such as public affairs. They continue
to wear their branch insignia throughout their career.
A functional area is a grouping of officers by technical specialty or skill, which usually requiring significant education, training, and experience. Officers are designated into a functional area based on a number of criteria including individual preference, academic background (including type of civilian degree and grade point average), manner of performance, training and experience, and needs of the Army. Public Affairs Officers are tactically proficient as a result of successful branch qualification in a basic branch (something other than public affairs, such as Infantry or Military Intelligence). This “grounding in the operational Army is vital to success and credibility as a Public Affairs officer” (DA PAM 600-3, 1998, p. 244). This process develops PAOs with five or more years of experience of Army corporate knowledge.
New navy PAOs must have extensive corporate
knowledge before applying to laterally transfer into the community. Based on
the fact that Navy PAOs “must be able to understand complex Navy issues,
break them down, and communicate their details to a given audience” (Bupers
Web Site), the Navy only takes officers into the PAO community who have
successfully proven their corporate abilities in other disciplines.
The typical selectee has between two and six years of commissioned service, has an excellent record,
is warfare qualified and is career motivated. Some have experience as collateral-duty PAOs or possess
an educational background in mass communication, journalism or a related field (Bupers Web Site).
An important aspect of the selection process is the candidate’s warfare qualification which refers to an officer’s proficiency in another naval discipline. For naval officers to become warfare qualified, they must progress through a rigorous and lengthy qualification process demonstrating their expertise in their chosen community. The warfare pin, worn prominently on the officer’s uniform, is a visual demonstration of excellence and lends instant credibility to the wearer as an expert in corporate knowledge. Although candidates must have extensive corporate knowledge, selection boards for new Navy PAOs, more often than not, choose candidates who have already proven themselves in a public affairs capacity as a collateral duty PAO, or perhaps possess a degree in communications or journalism, demonstrating that discipline knowledge coupled with corporate knowledge is the true factor for success in the Navy’s accession program.
Navy PAOs attend DINFOS for basic public affairs training. Initial assignments for Navy PAOs are chosen carefully, with the most proficient personnel assigned to the most difficult jobs. It should be noted that although Navy PAOs are expected to be ready to perform their jobs once they arrive in the Fleet, they have a strong support structure in place throughout the world that is basically a secondary, public affairs chain of command that can assist the junior PAO.
Marine Corps Perspective
accession of Marine Corps PAOs begins at the company grade level upon
completion of Officer Candidate School (OCS) and The Basic School (TBS).
During a mandatory, 26-week course of instruction at TBS, newly commissioned
second Lieutenant gain a wide variety of knowledge about the Marine Corps
(with a focus on Infantry) and are evaluated in areas such as leadership,
military skills, academics, and physical fitness. The Basic School
instruction ensures young Marine Corps officers have the cognitive ability
to perform as basic infantry platoon commanders in the Fleet Marine Force,
no matter what other occupational specialty the Marine focuses on during his
career. A TBS student’s overall grade-point standing at the end of the
course helps determine the Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) they
receive. After graduating TBS, students move on to their MOS schools and
then out to the fleet, taking with them the valuable lessons learned at
TBS. The Basic School is an experience common to all Marine Corps officers.
During MOS selection, instructors do not require specific educational or experiential prerequisites for any field, including public affairs. Officers with some type of communication background or training are favored when screening for PAO billets. The PAO community at large is approximately 140 officers in strength. Therefore, in order to satisfy the sufficient numbers needed at the junior officer level, an average of 12 new second lieutenants are introduced into the field every year. The final test these lieutenants must pass in order to confirm their status as new public affairs professionals is to successfully complete the 9-week PAO course at DINFOS.
Another way the Marine Corps accesses new PAOs is through MOS transfer programs. In order to fill the remaining public affairs junior-officer requirements, predominately 0-3 billets, Marine officers from other occupational specialties are allowed to transfer from other communities, such as motor transport or artillery. This program is an effective tool to help senior company-grade officers learn a new job which ultimately enhances their military career.
Coast Guard Perspective
For the purposes of this study, we did not look at the Coast Guard PAO accession program. Due to the low numbers of designated Coast Guard PAOs, we feel the data collected would be infinitesimal for our study.
previous education is considered before placing a candidate into public
affairs, the services do not require a degree in communication, journalism,
or a related field. Placement into public affairs is based on candidate
request, the needs of the service at that time and the recommendation of
instructors and supervisors either in early military training or work
experience. The only public affairs training officers receive is available
The Public Affairs Officer Coarse at DINFOS is an eight week, three day course at Fort Meade, Maryland, which instructs the following: theory, concepts, policies and principles of community relations within the military environment; public affairs communication; speech and research; basic journalism and broadcasting; service-specific instruction towards public affairs; public affairs responsibilities that apply to the unified and specified military command; media relations; on-camera training; and requirements and concepts the public affairs officer needs in a theatre of war (DINFOS, 2001).
The personality aspect of this study focuses on three behavioral; communication competency, assertiveness, and interaction involvement. Of the many communication traits necessary to be an adept communicator, we feel that these three were the most vital to a young PAO in regards to credibility.
Competence is an adaptation trait which has received much attention by
communication researchers (Infante et al., 1997). Wiemann (1977) defines
the competent communicator as:
Other-oriented to the extent that he is open (available) to receive messages from others, does not provoke
anxiety in others by exhibiting anxiety himself, is empathic, has a large enough behavioral repertoire to allow
him to meet the demands of changing situations, and finally, is supportive of the faces and lines his fellow
interactants present (p. 197).
Wiemann (1977) also contends that competence is not only other-oriented but the communicator is able to successfully complete his own communication goals and make his point in a given situation. This self and other interaction allows for the communicator to choose from a variety of behaviors to achieve his or her goals while still maintaining the other’s input in the conversation without damaging the relationship.
Monge, Bachman, Dillard, and Eisenberg (1983) took Weimann’s (1977) study further by separating competence into two correlating factors – encoding and decoding. This refinement of the early definition of competence allows for this study to focus this concept on organizational contexts and make it appropriate for research in the workplace (Monge et al., 1983). Communication competency, as compared to other personality traits associated with ability, appears to be one of the most tangible behavior characteristics.
be described as a “person’s general tendency to be interpersonally dominant,
ascendant and forceful” (Infante et al., 1997, p. 127). In their research,
Lorr and More (1980) found four distinct aspects of assertiveness;
directiveness, social assertiveness, defense of rights and interests and
independence (Infante et al., 1997).
Directiveness entails how willing people are to step up and insert themselves into a leadership position or “take charge in group situations and seeking positions where one can influence others” (Infante et al., 1997, p. 127). Social assertiveness describes how well a person can interact with others, how willing they are to initiate conversations, and their ability to interact with strangers on a social or business level. Defense of rights and interests basically describes the ability of an individual to stand up for their own rights or to confront people who might be infringing upon their own or others’ views. Finally, independence is the ability of an individual to stand firm in their beliefs even when they might be in the minority (Infante et al., 1997).
Assertiveness is viewed as a constructive trait. To be truly effective within an organization, an individual should be able to positively state their position on a subject without infringing on the ideas and thoughts of others who hold opposing viewpoints. The ability to express strongly held viewpoints without attacking another’s is crucial to credibility.
Brass and Burkhardt (1993) hypothesized that “use of assertiveness…will be positively related to perceptions of power” (p. 448). They distributed surveys to 75 employees of a research company to explore the relationship between an employee’s structural position within a company and how that position relates to their use of power. They concluded that structural position accompanied with certain behavioral traits, assertiveness included, has an effect on other employee’s perception of an individual’s power (Brass & Burkhardt, 1993).
Interaction involvement can be defined as the “tendency to participate with
another in conversation composed of three dimensions: responsiveness,
perceptiveness, and attentiveness” (Infante et al., 1997, p. 126). “People
who are higher in interaction involvement are generally viewed as more
competent communicators. Persons who are low in interaction involvement
tend to be ‘removed’ from the situation” (Infante et al., 1997, p. 126).
Argyle (1972) presents an idea of social rules which are portrayed as: Intricate and interlocking sequences,
which make social systems workable if the different participants play their parts properly. The sequences are
like language in that they have rules of sequences, which people follow without awareness (p. 627).
Cegala (1981) defines interaction involvement as the degree to which people are engaged, cognitively and behaviorally, in their conversations with others. Many researchers have conceptualized interaction involvement and its attributing variables in interpersonal relationships, but few have provided extensive research in the area leading up to today’s explanations.
The basis of interaction involvement during interpersonal communication is that a person is always consciously involved in all aspects of the communication process. Cegala suggests an individual’s involvement, whether more or less, can take several possible directions during the course of any given interaction. He assumes that competence consists of cognitive, affective, and performance components, and at the same time, correlates multiple levels of self esteem with interaction involvement (1984).
The correlation between involvement and self esteem suggests that this relative certainty / uncertainty are fundamentally anchored in attitudes toward oneself. Overall, then, there is the strong suggestion that low interaction involvement is significantly related to negative affect that is anchored in low self esteem and anxiety (Cegala, 1984, p. 324).
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