Military Commanders' Perception

Military commanders report that the primary function of the military public affairs office is to act as an active member of the staff; "know the enemy" in terms what the public is hearing/reading/saying and what they need to hear or read from me; provide command information and publications; and provide advice. Public affairs is supposed to be the advisor to the commander and staff; be the conduit for the flow of information to the internal audience and from the soldiers and their families to the commander. Be the force multiplier by keeping soldiers, their families and the local community educated and informed about what is going on within the Army and the command.

Military commanders report that the overall role of public affairs in the military is to know just about everything going on within the organization and installation, as well as being conversant with what is going on within the chain-of-command at least the next higher up and the next lower down, ideally two levels up and two down so they can be prepared to spot opportunities to tell the Army story, as well as recommending ways to demonstrate being a team player. One respondent quotes "If they do this well enough, they are a force multiplier, if not, they appear to be an asset-wasting leach staff weenie who drag down the morale of soldiers and civilians supporting the organization."

Military Commanders also report that commanders use public affairs professionals for objective advice, mission analysis and recommendations for courses of action, professional news media networking, support to planning and executing the mission. According to the data, this depends upon the commander. Some commanders will cause the good PAO to work even harder than he or she already was working to keep everyone informed. Others will use the PAO as the designated person to fair-catch the javelins thrown by angry publics or media representatives, or even worse, to demand the PAO to be either a spin doctor or personal publicist, getting the commander's photo and name in the media at every trivial pretext as possible. Some commanders intentionally pick their weakest officer and make them a PAO, whereas more successful commanders seek out the best qualified officer and make them a PAO so they can identify with the subordinate commanders as well as higher and lower staff members. Some commanders ignore their PAO until it is too late. Good commanders use their PAOs as sounding boards for ideas and keep their PAOs informed about everything so the PAO can properly plan for events and actions in advance rather than rely on reactive, knee-jerk actions that serve no useful purpose. Some miscellaneous duties that can be assigned to a PAO include congressional liaison, protocol, special event coordinator, and community liaison with other federal agencies within the area. (Assuming no military staff officer for these duties.)