The military interview: brush up on those people skills

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.

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mike DiMestico checks the focus on his Nikon D800 camera in preparation for a studio interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gregory Juday signals that his Zoom audio recorder is rolling and ready to start an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White keeps his notes close by during an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White listens to his interview subject, retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) Retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove speaks to Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Don White during an interview at Defense Media Activity. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.”

FORT MEADE, Md. (May 4, 2016) A Prolight on a 4 x 4 diffusion screen lights studio 4 at Defense Media Activity during an interview with retired Master Chief Terry Cosgrove. The Navy is creating a documentary film to celebrate its 10-year anniversary of the MC rating. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Glenn Slaughter)

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.

Crossroads: Stay in the military or become a federal employee?

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.

Breese 1
Breese with his weapon of choice, the Nikon D800 DSLR camera. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

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.

Breese 2
Breese prefers the Mac laptop over the giant monitors right next to him. Photo by Glenn Slaughter.

“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).


What to expect as a military spouse

The men and women of the U.S. military serve in dangerous environments around the world. They sacrifice creature comforts, familiarity of home, and sometimes much more. However, the lives of military spouses can be just as tough. This brief guide will offer basic guidance on what to expect when marrying a member of the military.

 As of 2014, there were about one million Americans serving in the Armed Forces. By their eighth year of service, about three quarters of them will be married. Those spouses are there for the ride and, for all practical purposes, are enlisted as well. While there are many places to find information about life as a military spouse, it’s important to know what to look for.

Here are three things to be aware of:

 The first challenge is maintaining a career. The wife or husband of a service member will move far more often than a civilian spouse. A recent White House report said that 15% of military spouses moved across state lines from 2007-2014. Only 1% of civilian spouses shared that migration pattern. It can be very difficult to move up the company ladder when that ladder keeps getting yanked out from under you. Spouse employment is a huge issue for military families and Time Magazine highlighted it here.

The second challenge is what often comes with marriage: children. It’s always a big decision, but this is one that should be carefully considered when the family is employed by the military. The Washington Post reported that the stress adults feel from military life is frequently mimicked by their kids. While this happens in civilian families, the effect can be magnified by the strain caused by a service member who’s returning home from military service and who has sustained mental or physical trauma. The frequency of moves making it hard to sustain meaningful friendships and keep up with school work, especially if the move is in the middle of a semester.


The third thing to be aware of is life while the service member is deployed. Frequent and extended separations put couples to the test. The U.S. Census Bureau’s categorization of military members by is revealing. While America’s participation in violent foreign affairs changes like the tide, the reality is that many spouses will eventually watch their wife or husband head overseas to fight. There are many challenges for the military spouse left behind during a deployment. Consider this quote from the wife of a service member, in a study done by the RAND Corporation:

“We can’t really depend on him as far as picking the kids up, making dinner, and things of that nature. So basically, I feel like I’ve been a single parent even though I’m married. And I think that’s one of the biggest downfalls of being a military spouse….You’re the sole provider of everything.”

 It’s not the intention of this article to scare away anyone thinking of marrying a military member.  There are definitely ups to help level out the downs. A few benefits are the excellent medical coverage and job security, the enjoyment of seeing new places and sharing in the pride that an overwhelming number of American troops feel.

Armed with this knowledge, the military family will be prepared for challenges and better able to focus on the positives.

Travel shoots: Get out of your mom’s basement

Everything you need for a travel shoot. Say hello to oversized luggage fees. Photo by MC2 Glenn Slaughter.

Sure it’s a cliche joke but if you’re stuck in your mom’s basement and looking for a way out, then listen up. Enlisting as a military public affairs specialist is a great way to get out of the house and start calling your own shots.

Travel shoots can be the best part of our job, if the story, location and team are right. There are two big things to keep in mind about this type of work:

  1.   preparation and movement
  2.   adaptability

Take a look below to avoid a painful travel experience!

Using two camera to shoot the interview gives us more options during editing. The camera on the left is on a slider. Photo by MC2 Darien Kenney.


To start things off, a job is assigned to us by a supervisor. In this case, the job was Bee Haydu, a 95-year-old member of WASP, or Women Airforce Service Pilots. This was a group of women that flew military planes in WW2 to assist in the training of male pilots.

The people assigned to this travel shoot were:

  • MC2 Glenn Slaughter – video
  • MC2 Darien Kenney – photo & assistant video
  • Shannon Collins – print

First off, we are responsible for making travel plans and securing the proper equipment. Get ready to learn the dreaded Defense Travel System software to book your flight, hotel and rental car. Everyone in the military uses it.

To secure gear we head to our camera shop and let them know what we need. It’s a lot of stuff and yes, it sucks travelling with all of it.

  • Nikon D800 kit x 2 with Sachtler tripod x 2
  • Litepanel 1 x 1 light kit with stands
  • Rhino camera slider with stands
  • Assorted microphones including Rode and Sony wireless lavaliers
  • Gopro Hero 4 Silver with Feiyu Tech G4 stabilizer

That above list is easily worth $10,000. Since we’re E-5s, we’re the equivalent of middle managers in the civilian world. Our bosses have to trust our skill level as well as maturity in order to green light travel shoots.

At our level, no one is looking over our shoulders to make sure we get to the location and arrive with the proper gear. They hand us the job and wait for results.

Kenney gathering photos to go with the print story. Photo by MC2 Glenn Slaughter.


The location of the shoot was Ms. Haydu’s home in Riviera Beach, FL. (We flew from Fort Meade, Md.) It’s quite common to do interviews in people’s homes. We need to be able to walk into the space, without ever seeing it, and start to envision where the best spot for the interview is. And it needs to happen while being respectful to the subject. We’re in her personal space after all.

While the camera guys make sure things like light and sound are good, Shannon takes care of the actual interview. When we’re ready she begins to go through a list of questions pertinent to the story. Teamwork is key to a smooth shoot. Remember, this person has never met us and here we are in her house!

It’s not enough to think like a camera person though. I have to be the producer as well. Am I getting everything I need for my video?

I’ve traveled over one thousand miles on the government’s dime. There is no going back to work and saying I missed a shot.

On this particular shoot, I actually called back to base and asked them if I could extend for three more days. No, it wasn’t so I could party! Ms. Haydu had an event working with a group of kids that I knew would be essential to the video, since she’d talked about kids in the interview. My command and I had to be adaptable.

This was a very basic breakdown of what a travel shoot is like. There are a hundred details I could go into, all of them important.

Doesn’t this seem much more interesting than playing video games in mom’s basement? If you have any questions, please send them in!

Look Fantastic in a Navy Working Uniform


Not sure what we’re supposed to be blending in with..

So you’ve enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Great, but now you’re panicking because you have no idea what you’re doing. The idea of wearing a uniform (that’s not from Applebee’s) is a little scary. Your recruiter assured you everything would be explained at boot camp but who wants to try to figure it out while some Recruit Division Commander (RDC) is yelling at you?

This How To article will give you five tips on how to stand out in your main threads, the Navy Working Uniform (NWU). Learn these rules and learn to love them. Trust me, it’s much better this way.


#1: cover

#2: t-shirt

#3: belt

#4: blousing straps

#5: boots

Cover cardboard
My well-used cardboard cover stiffener. Look how saggy the cover is without it. Shameful!
#1: Forget everything you know about “hats”

First of all, you’ll be calling them covers in the Navy. Don’t let a superior hear you call it a hat. There are two important things about Navy covers, and they’ll both probably go against what you know.

1. Do not fold the bill. If you just have to, you can fold it a little bit but use the below photo as a guide and don’t go past it. I  keep mine almost totally straight.

2. The front of the cover, where the rank insignia is, should be stiff and vertical, not saggy and conforming to the skull’s shape.

Yes, you will look like Elmer Fudd.


The cap should have a stiff, vertical front. A little bit of bill fold is ok.

This petty officer has a cover that shows she gives a damn about her professional appearance.


A tight collar brings the entire uniform together.
#2: Get real snuggly with your t-shirt

The only part of the NWU’s t-shirt that is seen is at the neck. That’s why you have to make it perfect. Take a look in your closet and I guarantee you’ll find at least one shirt with a floppy neckline. Don’t let this one get bent out of shape. Here’s how to do it:

1. Wear it a size too small. It’s not as crazy as it sounds! You’ll get used to it quickly and the tight neckline will be worth it when the boss giggles in delight.

2. Strip the right way. When you take the t-shirt off, pull it over your head by grasping it on your back instead of on the neck. This will keep the shirt looking good for much longer.

We can wear different belts but this’ll be issued to you at boot camp.
#3: Embrace the blast from the past

These belt buckles were HUGE in the 80s. Also, I hate them. There’s a couple of quick things to know about these stunning beauties.

1. Males thread the belt clockwise around the waist, women counterclockwise.

2. Shine the buckle when you shine your boots. it only takes a minute but many Sailors forget and get busted during uniform inspections.


blousing straps
I’ve lost at least ten sets of these.
#4: Leave your ego at the door and love the blousing straps

Scroll back up to the top photo and look at his ankles. See how the pants looked like they’re tucked in to the boots? The pant legs have been wrapped up in blousing straps. If you dressed like this as a civilian you’d probably get some stares.

We do this in the military because in combat you don't want 
your pant legs getting caught on something.


1.  Fold your pant leg between the third and fourth eyelets on the boots.

2. Strap up while sitting and then while standing. Notice the difference in where the pant leg ends up.


boot shine
This kind of shine is your get out of jail free card.
#5: THE HOLY GRAIL: Shine your damn boots!

This cannot be stressed enough. After haircut/shave, this is the number one thing your superiors will look at. If you want to seem like a super badass Sailor, but deep down you’re clueless, at least get this right.

You’ll fool everyone.

There are several schools of thought on the best polish method but here’s two things you can do to shine in this area.

1. POLISH OFTEN AND WHILE BOOTED. Do a “for real” 30-minute shine one day, then do a quick touch-up every day after you get dressed. If you keep up with it, it’ll only take about five minutes to get the shine back to the “for real” status.

2. DON’T JUST SHINE THE TOES. Many Navy Chiefs and officers will notice if you have the backs and sides shined up so get it done.


It’s definitely weird to put this uniform on for the first time. You’ll be a scared Navy Recruit, a guppy swimming in a sea of sharks. Relax, with this guide you’ll be a much smaller target.

Best of luck to you and I’ll see you in the fleet!

DISCLAIMER: This is not a complete guide to the NWU. There are many basics that you will learn. Hit me up with any questions and check out these websites for more information.

All Hands Magazine
Naval Personnel Command
Navy official blog