Most people in the building have never met him. During the year he’s worked here, Petty officer Tim Haake has beaten a simple path into and out of Defense Media Activity. His work is conducted primarily alone, but it’s a style of flow that he’s been comfortable with since high school.
As a Mass Communication Specialist (MC), Haake is trained to perform a number of functions. Anyone in this rate can be called on to work as a writer, photographer, videographer or graphic designer. Like many MCs though, Haake specializes in what he’s good at: graphic design. While others chat about the latest TV show gossip, he works alone in his editing suite, churning out graphics for the Pentagon.
“I feel very lucky to have a private space of my own because a lot of people here only have cubicles,” he said. “The pace of the job is what wears me down sometimes. It’s almost constant work, all day long. I love what I do though, so I’m happy.”
The privacy his editing suite affords him lines up with Haake’s personality and he can connect deeply to his work. This peace through art continues into his home, where he sculpts clay figures.
Sitting on his couch, putting the finishing touches on a small octopus, Haake talked about his history with visual art.
“I think I’ve always been kind of a worrier, kind of high strung sometimes,” he said. “I had a hard time making friends in high school. Lunch time was rough for me, so I spent that time in the art room instead.”
Surrounded by his wife and their friends, Haake seemed content, those lonely high school days long past.
“When I work on these projects, my mind is quiet. There’s only good things happening when I’m creating.”
In the Defense Media Activity building on Fort Meade, Md., a small café provides breakfast and lunch for the service members there. It’s run by a South Korean family who have worked through setbacks and used their generational strengths to find their niche.
Young & Michelle Cafe is owned by Young Chin Suh and her sister Whoo Jung Kim, who goes by Michelle. Young’s son Justin works there several days a week. His English is the strongest, so he works the register while the sisters cook. This is their first time working with the military, but Justin said it hasn’t been a big deal.
“The military aspect hasn’t really come up,” Justin said. “Everyone’s just a customer trying to get some food. “
Their menu is limited, as fire safety codes won’t allow a grill. They make due with a small conveyor oven, microwave and crockpot. For a while, the family churned out delicious bulgogi and homemade sweet potato pasta. Justin said it didn’t last long though.
We were using an electric griddle in the back, to cook the food and heat up some of the food. We got shut down because there was no ventilation in the kitchen. Now we’re not really sure if we can make Korean food anymore, so we’re thinking of different specials we can try out.
For now it’s mainly sandwiches. Still, a steady trickle of customers stops by, many bowing in the Korean custom. Justin appreciates the gesture, but said it’s really just second nature to him.
“I’ve been bowing as long as I can remember. I don’t even realize it’s happening.”
Young moved to the U.S. about 25 years ago. Like many immigrants, she sought a better life. She summed up her time here with a shy smile and few words.
“It’s good,” Young said. “Everything’s good.”
The presence of every military branch makes it very difficult for the family to figure out who’s who, but Justin said there’s one way to pick out the peons.
“A majority of the people would take the day off, but there are still a couple of people working. We’re guessing those are the lower ranks.”
Young & Michelle has only been in this building for about six months, so time will tell if they can find a way to express their South Korean culture through food, or make the business work as a basic deli.
The term military photographer usually creates visions of explosions, helicopters and impressive tactical maneuvers. While these jobs do happen, the majority of work that military public affairs (PA) specialists perform is inside, sitting in front of an interview subject.
Almost every story in this job field will include an interview of some sort. The location, subject and equipment may vary but the basic rules do not. The key to success in any situation is knowing your gear and working well with your team.
A team of Navy Mass Communication Specialists (MC) was recently called on to interview Terry Cosgrove, a retired Navy MC master chief who was an important innovator in that community. This brought an extra dose of pressure, as it’s not every day your subject has an intimate understanding of the interview process.
The interview occurred at Defense Media Activity, the headquarters for all things military media. This was good news for the team, because that meant access to some nice studio equipment. It was part of an ongoing process to create a documentary film about the MC rating.
The first step to a successful interview is early setup of the equipment. Everything must be ready when the interviewee arrives. This is the first test of a PA specialist’s people skills. Petty Officer Don White conducted the interview, and stressed the importance of teamwork.
It’s very important that we are all on the same page because you want to present a unified front. You want to look professional.”
Once the subject is ready and the cameras are rolling, the interview begins. This is the second test of the people skills. The interviewer must walk the line between obtaining the information he needs and keeping the tone friendly and conversational.
“People’s time is important. You want them to know you appreciate their time. You want the subject to be as comfortable as possible. Especially talking to a retired MC Master Chief.”
The trick is to not read through the prepared questions like a robot. White summed it up simply:
“Your subject will know if you’re not being genuine. Have some interest in it.”
The interview subject will usually walk away with a sense of whether or not he was really listened to and valued. The reputation of the media agency is on the line every time an interaction with a client occurs.
Cosgrove may have been a friendly client to begin with, but his satisfaction with the event is still the sign of a good PA team.
“It’s just great being around Sailors again. That’s one thing that I do miss is the energy, the excitement, the can-do attitude. I don’t miss the Navy that much. In retired life, I’ve moved on, but being around the people that make up the Navy is something that I do miss.”
The technology of today advances at breakneck speed. The professional communicator must constantly learn to stay relevant. People skills, on the other hand, only require practice to keep the dust off. Once learned, they don’t change, but will remain a valuable tool for life.
It’s a decision that can creep up and catch service members by surprise. Those that choose to stay past the first few years will inevitably be promoted out of a production role and into management. This means they have two options: put down the camera and supervise…or become a GS (federal employee).
Below is a brief guide on the GS transition process.
First, here’s a quick background on enlisted rank structure. In every branch, E-1 to E-5 ranks are the worker bees. In the public affairs (PA) field, this means using cameras. E-6 to E-9 ranks are the senior enlisted. These are the people that manage the worker bees.
*An important rule to note is high year tenure. This means a service member must be promoted by certain deadlines or he will be forced out of the military. This is to prevent someone from spending his entire 20-year career at a low rank in order to avoid a management role.
For some PA worker bees, the thought of being promoted away from their camera is too much to bear. They could realize they’ve had enough of military life, but want to stay in the U.S. government pipeline. These are the people who become GS employees. GS stands for “Government Schedule” and references the pay scale, with GS-1 being the lowest and GS-15 being the highest. GS is just an easy way to say federal employee, and differentiate such employees from government contractors.
Andrew Breese is a former Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (E-5) who became a GS-11 in 2012. He currently works for Airman Magazine , creating award-winning videos. He said although the Navy taught him about leadership, he knew when it was time to move on.
“For me, it was just a transitional period in my life,” Breese said. “It wasn’t up to the Navy to decide my career path for me. Now I have much more freedom to create the products that I want.”
Transitioning from service member to civilian can lead to culture shock, but Breese found his job’s requirement of constant travel to be similar to his work in the Navy.
“Besides not having to shave, the transition wasn’t very drastic,” he said. “But relationships…when you’re doing this type of job a relationship is hard to maintain, versus a desk job with a 9 to 5 schedule. It’s almost like I’m in the military still, because I’m deployed every week.”
Breese said there’s no one path to GS that everyone will share, and it’s not for everyone, but it can help you to improve your craft and be happier as a civilian. He also issued a warning to military PA worker bees.
“Don’t rely on what the military expects of you to be sufficient at a civilian job,” Breese said. “The military has a certain standard for the quality of your product that probably won’t be good enough for a civilian product.”
Breese hasn’t looked back since becoming a GS, but there is one thing he misses.
“I actually liked wearing a uniform every day, because I didn’t have to think about what I was going to wear.” -Andrew Breese
Bob Houlihan is editor-in-chief of Airman Magazine and is responsible for all GS hiring. He said experience is important but he’s really looking for the ability to play well with others.
“I can teach a skillset but I can’t teach people to be good teammates,” Houlihan said. “At Airman, our people work very closely together as a team. You may be a videographer but you may be holding the still guy’s light, for example.”
The number one piece of advice that Houlihan has for those looking to transition to GS is “know your audience.” An employer could very likely skip over you if the work you highlight doesn’t relate to the job.
“You may have a general portfolio that includes your news, sports and portraiture but if you’re applying to Sports Illustrated they don’t give a sh*t about your news trip to Iraq. They want to see your sports stuff.” -Bob Houlihan
Starting the journey to become a federal employee is a big step. To begin, talk to your command career counselor and visit these sites for more information.
– USA Jobs is a great place to see what jobs are available to you as a GS.
– Monster has a nice to-do list for transitioning.
– Career Attraction features a couple of articles, written by a military veteran, on how to prepare for the transition (and how to interview for jobs).