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Keesler News helped civilian to hone writing skills

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- (Editor's note: Susan Griggs was the Keesler News editor from 2009-2012, and is now the community relations representative.)

Now is the time to try something new.

That was my fortune cookie message at my going-away luncheon before I began a new job at Keesler Air Force Base in August 1996. I was the public information officer for a state agency, and although I loved my co-workers, I needed to make a change.

For the first six weeks I was writing for the Keesler News, I didn't know if this was the right job for me. The Air Force spoke a language that was totally foreign to me - one acronym after another. I wasn't accustomed to such a fast-paced office. I wasn't used to working with so many people that were decades younger than me. And I was scared to death of the editor, Perry Jenifer.

I came to Keesler convinced I was God's gift to journalism - after all, I had a master's degree and many years of experience. But I can honestly say that I learned more about writing and the newspaper business in the first six months I was working for the Keesler News than I did in college, graduate school and many years in the civilian workplace.

My intimidation concerning the military and my fears of Mr. Jenifer began to slip away. I was truly excited to come to work every day, I was thrilled when I wrote a good story and I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment when the paper came out on Thursday mornings. It wasn't the New York Times or the Washington Post, but I have no doubt that we had just as much pride in our product as any newspaper.

There were good days and bad days - I made some big mistakes (imagine calling a major general a major, for example) and my outspokenness landed me in hot water more than once, but I always felt like I was valued as a member of an amazing team.

Our staff members changed often, but most of our military members went on to hold positions of great responsibility. Two became noncommissioned officers and went on to serve in public affairs for the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force Chief of Staff. Others became enlisted leaders in other PA shops around the world. Two staff members became instructors at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., where all U.S. military photojournalists begin their training. One now works as a civilian for the Air Force Public Affairs Agency and others have found careers outside the Air Force. Thanks to social media, I've been able to keep up with many of these friends.

Mr. Jenifer retired from federal service April 30, 2008 - exactly seven years ago today. After several military editors, I became the newspaper editor a year later and served in that capacity for almost three years, when I was transferred to our community relations division.

As I look forward to retirement this summer, I'm grateful for my 19 years at Keesler. Next to marriage and parenthood (and grandparenthood), it's been the most fulfilling time of my life.