Analyzing Credibility:  A Study Examining
Demographic Factors and Personality Traits
that Influence Military Public Affairs' Credibility

Conceptual Orientation

       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 service experience.
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.

Demographic Factors

Army Perspective

       Public 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.

Navy Perspective

       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

        The 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. 

Air Force Perspective


       The Air Force accesses from 25 to 35 PAOs per year. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of accessions are U.S. Air Force Academy graduates. About 70 to 80 percent come from Reserve Officer Training Corps with the remaining 10 percent from Officer Training School. All officers start as a deputy chief of public affairs at the wing level and after three to four years progress to chief positions.
       While serving as a deputy chief of public affairs, the officers spends their time under the guidance of the PAO.  The officer learns the technical part of being a PAO.  The officer receives DINFOS training during this tenure if he or she hasn’t already received it prior to this first assignment.  The officer also receives on-the-job training and mentorship during this period as well.
       "Across the range of military operations, public affairs enhances a commander's ability to accomplish the mission successfully" (PA Doctrine, 1999, p.7).  During every phase of contingency operations, public affairs should be represented on the information operation team. The synergistic relationship between the PAO and the commander is an integral attribute to a unit's strategic planning and daily operations and success.|
       There are no specific degree requirements for officers to enter the public affairs career. It is desirable for a candidate to possess a public communications, communicative arts, journalism, public relations, advertising, sociology, or social psychology degree.  Public affairs officers are assigned to nearly every location and every level of command.

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. 


       While 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 at DINFOS.
       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).

Personality Traits

       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.

Communication Competency

       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.

Communication Assertiveness

       Assertiveness can 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

        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).