On military bases around the world, the arrival of summer means the start of softball leagues. For the troops between deployments, it’s a welcome opportunity to relax and hang out with friends and family.
Petty Officer Andrew Gordon is attempting to lead the Defense Media Activity (DMA) team to the top. It’s his first time as a coach, but he has a strong multi-branch team behind him.
If he can pull it off, the bragging rights are significant.
Three words inspire dread in every junior enlisted service member: Death by PowerPoint. That program is used to educate Sailors on many topics, and alcohol abuse prevention is a hot one. On Fort Meade, Navy Mass Communication Specialists (MC) turned a boring command message into actual fun.
The idea was really simple. First, decorate the student detachment, or barracks. Then get everyone to break out their suits and dresses, cook a bunch of food, and dance. This is a creative group so a catchy name was guaranteed. Lo and behold, the Pasta Prom was conceived.
Seaman Apprentice (SA) Sean Frank is an event coordinator for the Coalition of Sailors Against Destructive Decisions, or CSADD. It’s a Navy-wide program and its goal is to give students alternatives to alcohol. She organized the event, and said it was important to take time to unplug from the military, and their lessons at the Defense Information School.
“We work hard as students, and spend a lot of time together,” Frank said. “We’re like a family, so it’s nice sometimes to get out of the uniform and just hang out.”
The students will test their organizational skills when they host senior members of the MC community on June 30, for an MC 10-year anniversary celebration.
United States service members have a huge array of food to choose from, but more choices don’t always mean better ones. To swing the influence away from fast food and over to fresh food, the Department of Defense (DoD) introduced the Healthy Base Initiative in 2013.
The Fort Meade farmer’s market was a direct result of that initiative. Looking around today, one would hardly recognize it from its first year. In 2013, it began as a collection of local farmers, selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Along side them were sellers peddling other homemade items, including bread, dressings and soaps.
Oh how times have changed.
Today, all but one produce stand is gone. The bread and dressings are nowhere to be seen, replaced by coffee, dessert and wine vendors. Nearby, several food trucks sell Greek, Cajun and other hot meals.
Sherri Council, the owner of Hope On Soap, has been here since the first year. She’s moved her booth inside the Fort Meade Pavilion, away from the wind.
There are only several vendors here, but incredibly there’s another soap seller directly across from her.
“I’m happy to come out and work here,” Council said with a smile. “I’m doing okay. In fact, I’m almost sold out today.”
Looking across the aisle at her competitor she adds: “But you have to wonder with so few vendors, why they’re duplicating product sellers like this.”
Perhaps there’s a large demand for homemade soap. There certainly doesn’t seem to be one for produce. While the food here is good and the vibe friendly, it may be time to change the name from “farmer’s market” to something more suitable.
For young service members, separation from family during the holidays can be especially challenging. The award-winning Freedom Inn, located on Fort Meade, Md., prides itself on giving some comfort to those spending their first holidays away from loved ones.
This Memorial Day, junior enlisted service members from the Defense Information School filed into the Freedom Inn dining facility and grabbed dinner from a variety of stations. It was business as usual as young public affairs students relaxed and talked in small groups. On a day like this, however, it was about more than a meal.
The majority of the patrons here are under 25, and many are in their teens. A holiday like this may not hit as hard as Christmas, but it can still be tough. The old saying “An army marches on its stomach” has meaning here as well. It’s a simple equation: good food = good morale.
Wille Harmon is the Assistant Project Manager for Sun Quality Foods, and he paused from serving the students to talk about the pride he takes in being here year-round.
“This year, we’ve actually been here 366 days. We’re here to feed the students. We want to make sure they get a good quality meal. If you get that, you’ve got the motivation and the energy to keep going.”
The troops have a variety of fresh-made foods to choose from. The salad bar isn’t chosen as often as the grill, though. Many students grab French Fries then head to the burrito bar.
Harmon said the most popular food hasn’t changed over the years.
“Cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, a lot of cheese. I don’t know what it is about the young ones but they love cheese!”
The Freedom Inn will continue to work for these young troops, but there are other resources available to anyone who may be feeling down. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to tackle the holidays alone. Reach out and help will be there.
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).
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.
It happens twice a year and for some Sailors, it’s pretty painful. The U.S. Navy Physical Fitness Assessment, or PFA, can be a game changer for those that fail it, but some much-needed reprieve is here.
According to Julie Watson at military.com, the problem isn’t the fitness part of the exam, when Sailors perform pushups, sit-ups and cardio. The issue is they can’t pass the body fat assessment that comes just before all that. The solution? The Navy just raised the body fact percentage maximums for men and women.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that current times call for more modern testing.
“It’s far more realistic,” Mabus said of the new body fat standards. “We were kicking more people out of the Navy for failing that, than for drugs.”
Watson said a new school of thought is slowly gaining strength in the military. Why should all jobs be held to the same standard of physical fitness, when clearly not all are created equal? For example, some are now saying that drone operators and cyber security specialists have no need to stay in top physical form in order to complete their mission.
Petty Officer Elliott Fabrizio rejected claims that this is making the Navy softer.
“This is not to account for a loosening but to accommodate different and changing body types,” he said. “One example is body building, which has become much more popular since these standards were first issued. I’ve seen many gym-rat Sailors that get taped every time because they’re too heavy.”
Here at the Defense Media Activity, many service members don’t need to move beyond their cubicle in order to get the job done. From social media teams to IT specialists, it’s all digital. The changes just took effect last January, and the next PFA is in about a month. For now, the best bet may be to train as hard as if the old rules were still in place.
For more information on the new standards visit military.com.