On Fort Meade, Sydney Johns is more than a boss

The center of the military public affairs world is located on Fort Meade, Md., in a building called Defense Media Activity.  As the destination of frequent tour groups, the facility must be kept spotless. It falls to a small cleaning crew and its street-wise leader to complete this often thankless task.

As the sun sets on another hot Maryland summer day, Sydney Johns is checking on the progress of his four-person team. The daytime employees have all gone home, but for the nighttime cleaning crew, work is just beginning. The former correctional officer has supervised this group for five years, working closely to see that they succeed, and not just on the job.

“My time at the correctional facility taught me a few things,” Johns said. “I was able to bring some of that with me, to teach these young men and women how to succeed.”

Johns and his employees are staffed through Goodwill Industries International, and many of them have disabilities. Because of the unique makeup of this group, he’s taken on the extra titles of mentor and role model. Johns has made time to teach one of his floor techs, 29-year-old Morgan Brandford, important life skills.

“He was teaching me how to save your money,” Brandford said. “How to be responsible, you know, with your bills. He’s a really good person.”

As the night wears on, Johns switches between roles as they go about cleaning the building. He laughs easily with his people and guides them firmly to keep things on track. A simple motto sums up what they’re doing here.

“Just do the very very best you possibly can,” Johns said. “That’s all. Just care about what you do.”

Welcome to my world!

IMG_0530 (2)
Basking in the glory of DMA on Fort Meade, Md. – Photo by MC2 Tim Haake.

Hi everyone and welcome to The Military Lens! If you’re interested in the world of military public affairs specialists, TML is where you want to be. If you’re interested in becoming one of us, TML is your new home.

This is your Trust Tree and your Sanctuary of Safety.

I’ve been working as a Navy Mass Communication Specialist since July, 2009, and currently work for Department of Defense News. We’re located at Defense Media Activity (DMA) on Fort Meade, Md. This is literally the center of the military PA universe. Every branch sends us their photos, videos and written stories so we can redistribute that information to our global audience.

But it’s not just DoD News. Each branch uses the building to run their service-specific publications. It’s tough to describe such a complex web in one post. Here’s a quick overview (with pictures!) of the moving parts.

20160129_124051
See that guy on the right? That’s Tech Sergeant Nathan Parry. He just interviewed President Barrack Obama in front of a live global audience. He’s sort of my hero. – Photo by me.

Okay these photos aren’t super exciting but hopefully they give a good idea of the size of DMA.

In the Air Force, PA personnel have two names.

TSgt. Parry: “Air Force public affairs is split into two enlisted parts. We have the Photojournalist who take pictures and write stories, blogs, and handle quite a bit of the social media positions. Broadcast Journalists take care of the video side of the house be it for online or for air on American Forces Network. Overseas we also have the opportunity to be radio DJs.”

These two work with me at DoD News but there’s a section for just Air Force. Their publication is called Airman Magazine. (It’s the best but don’t tell them…they’re already cocky.)

20160129_124154
SGT. Luther Washington in the best-decorated cubicle at DMA. Yes he’s holding the Juggernaut. – Photo by me.

This is a fine example of the Army presence. Sergeant Luther Washington is a fan of comics…and being awesome in front of a camera. His job is called Broadcast Specialist. The Army’s publication is called Soldiers Magazine.

20160129_124322
Don’t these two look related? I would’ve sworn they were brother and sister. – Photo by me.

This is in the Navy section. It’s where the majority of Navy Mass Communication Specialists (MCs) work on awesome things like All Hands Magazine. With over 20 Sailors in just this area, the Navy has the biggest presence at DMA. It’s because we’re so cool.

20160129_124906
As you can see, we’re mixed in with civilians. It can take some adjustment if you’ve spent years working with only military. – Photo by me.

Ahh Marines…they’re usually the loudest and most interesting folks in the building. See that bald guy on the left? He’s an absolute BEAST. I’m pretty sure Rocky Balboa wasn’t as fit as that Marine. They stopped producing an online magazine a year ago but you can still find Marine stories at marines.mil and on their Facebook page.

Coming in hot with the coolest name, they’re called Combat Correspondents.

20151109_141904
Uniform inspections are always painful. Photo by me.

It’s not enough to be a good story teller. All service members here must also keep up their military discipline. A uniform inspection is an effective way to remind us that we’re Sailors first, Mass Communication Specialists second.

Shine your boots, then go play with the camera.