Participants Instruments Perceptions Solutions


Two surveys were designed to measure the perception of military public affairs according to commanding officers (level of command), military public affairs professionals, internal publics and the media. The participants will be further broken down within each of these four categories. The sub-categories of military public affairs professionals will include civilians, officers and enlisted, randomly selected from all branches of services and the Department of Defense using a random numbers table. The internal public participants will be further selected from family members, active duty (both officer and enlisted), retirees and DoD civilians from all branches of the military and the Department of Defense. The media participants will include representatives from major newspapers (managing editors), and radio and television general managers. The media participants will be selected from representatives who are within a 50-mile radius of a military installation as well as selected national media representatives based on ratings shares. This methodology will be used to answer our fundamental research question: "What are the perceptions of the function of the military public affairs professional by commanding officers, the media, the internal military audience, and the public affairs practitioner?"



A mini convenience sample of three open-ended questions was conducted among 15 military public affairs professionals, 15 internal public members and 5 military commanders. Responses from this survey became the bases for expanding into the second questionnaire.

The second survey was prepared with 10 questions to determine the perception of the command, media, internal public and military public affairs professionals on the role and function of Military Public Affairs.


Perception of the job and function of military public affairs professionals.

The first questionnaire used is based on an instrument developed by members of the Department of Defense Joint Course in Communication Class 98-C. The questionnaires consisted of three open-ended questions regarding the job and function of military public affairs in relation to the command, media, the internal public, and military public affairs professionals themselves.

The second questionnaire is an expansion of the first and is based on an instrument developed by members of the Department of Defense Joint Course in Communication Class 98-C. The measurement scale used for the second survey is based on the Likert 5-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Participants will be asked to indicate on a 5-point scale their knowledge of military public affairs and its impact on their lives.



The goal of this project is to compare the perceptions of the function of public affairs as seen by commanding officers, the media, and military public affairs practitioners; for the perceptions of each of these entities to become more similar in understanding the role of public affairs; and the relationships between each entity.

The initial research highlights basic differences in the perceptions of the four entities by showing that the commanding officers perceive the public affairs function as an extension of the staff in terms of acting as a liaison between the military and public. Following the formal research we expect to confirm this basic perception by commanders.

We expect to find the perception of the military internal public, which consists of active duty military members, retirees, DoD civilian professionals, family members of active duty professionals, family members of retirees, and family members of DoD civilians, to see the function of public affairs as primarily one of public relations and image building. Public affairs needs to ensure that the public has the information, knowledge, and understanding of the "message" that the military is trying to provide, and that it is provided to the right audience. In addition, public affairs is there to educate both the public and the employees (military and civilian) on our missions and activities, to see to it that good relations are kept between the military installation and surrounding community, and to complement recruiting and to tell the story of the various men and women in the military, with the hope that young people will want to join.

According to initial feedback from public affairs officers, the primary function of military public affairs is to build public support for the military's mission; without this fundamental element the military would not be able to defend this nation. We expect our formal research to confirm this as well as indicate public affairs as having a critical role in educating our internal audience about the mission of the commanders, and what the civilian leadership's priorities are. Public affairs officers are to be "honest brokers" for the commanders, giving them the best advice possible about the impact of their decisions.

We also expect public affairs practitioners to perceive the function of public affairs to include providing internal and external publics with clear, free, and accurate information about their militaries; informing and educating military leaders about their responsibilities to those publics; acting as spokespersons for that service, base, or installation; being ambassadors for the military to those outside the gates, and responding to the needs of the installation commander by advising and acting as a conduit between the commander and the external surrounding communities. In addition, public affairs practitioners feel it is their duty to ensure accurate information is disseminated to the public in a timely manner on various aspects of the military, to uphold and preserve the image of the individual service, and to repair damage done during crises.

Based on our results we will specify methods to foster a better understanding of the function of public affairs between the four entities using the Agenda Setting tTeory. Agenda Setting describes a very powerful influence of the media—the ability to tell us what issues are important. The issues the media chooses to highlight become the issues that are important to us, regardless of the level of importance we placed on them before the media attention. The media has the power to present images to the public, thereby engendering attitudes. Since firsthand experiences are limited, we depend on the media to describe important events we have not personally witnessed (Infante, Rancer, & Womack, 1997).

Keeping the local, regional, and national media, and thereby the external public well informed on military issues, both positive and negative, in a timely manner through frequent news releases and media opportunities to report base activities, will ensure that the public affairs function is being utilized as it is intended by regulation, and that the military message is being relayed.

To help insure this uniform perception of the major inclusive groups the following tactics are suggested. A survey disseminated upon assignment of a new public affairs officer or a new commanding officer to ascertain their perceptions. Commanders will be briefed as to the role as public affairs practitioners, to be trusted counsel to their leadership, to foster morale and readiness in military members, public trust and support, and global influence and deterrence. Well-informed commanders will lead to a well-informed internal public.

At the conclusion of their tour of duty, commanders will be asked to complete a second survey to ascertain how they have perceived these functions have been carried out. The number of positive news stories generated will be tracked; it is expected that positive news stories will outnumber negative stories and lead to positive comments from the external public as to the function of public affairs at the local military installation. If these uniform perceptions are fostered, the internal audience should also get the same perception based on the perceptions of the opinion leaders in command.

Relationships between military public affairs and the media can be fostered on a daily basis. Communication remains the key between these two integral components. According to the literature review, misinformation and lack of information are the two key factors in the degradation of perceptions by the media. If personal relationships between primary players are enhanced, it should lead to an enhanced global relationship between the system that is the military and the system that is the media.