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Part Time PA

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- As many know, Keesler Air Force Base is a training base and sometimes students must wait after arriving her to start class. It’s not uncommon for those students to receive special assignments to help out other squadrons in the wing. I recently arrived on Keesler as a brand new lieutenant and as luck would have it, I was assigned to the Public Affairs office while waiting for class to start. This gave me a unique opportunity to see what PA does and have an opportunity to see more of the wing.

My first day involved a short tour of the PA building and an overview of what my responsibilities would be. I learned that PA has several different functions and tasks including taking pictures for wing promotion ceremonies, hosting press conferences, writing articles on events that happen on base and is also responsible for media and community relations.

I was taught the most important thing PA does is telling Airmen’s stories. My first assignment was writing a story on the Keesler Varsity Basketball team. The first thing I learned about writing a news story is that writing for news is completely different than any writing I had ever done. There is a strict format to a news story. There is even a huge manual on the specific way to write phrases, numbers, ranks or names of famous places. I spent the first couple days reading news articles and trying to get a feel for how they were supposed to be written.

When it came time to cover my first event I was pretty nervous. It felt completely against my nature to walk up to the head coach or a player after the game to ask for an interview. Certainly they had better things to do than talk to me. After all, I was just a brand new lieutenant who didn’t even have my tech school badge yet. I learned through experience that people in Public Affairs have to gain a sense of confidence early. Airmen are often tasked with interviewing colonels or even generals, and are sometimes asked to give suggestions to the wing commander on how to address the media.

The day after the basketball game I spent several hours writing my first story. Even though the story was only a few hundred words it took quite a while. As a news story, every sentence needs to be important and give relevant and useful information. The formatting needs to be exact. Once I reached a point that I was confident with the story I sent it to be edited. I followed my story along the editing process so I could see how I had done. My story got ripped apart for tense, phrasing and a dozen other rules that I had broken I had never even heard of before. The editors assured me I’d done a good job and that it’s not uncommon for them to completely throw out a first draft.

After my story made it through the refiner’s fire that is the editing process, it was published on the Keesler website. I felt great satisfaction being able to go to the wing website and see my story published for the world to see.

Over the coming weeks I was asked to write several more stories and helped out with other projects. One of the things I enjoyed most about PA is that I was able to attend many different events. I got to see how the wing worked as a whole. It definitely got me out of my comfort zone and more willing to try new things. I also didn’t realize how much work goes into even the simplest of messages. It is safe to say I will never look at a news story the same way again.