While deployed, one of my jobs is to document missions through photography and then, generally a follow-on story. Typically, this is not a job for public affairs officers though. Most times, the boots-on-the-ground news gathering is done by the enlisted Soldiers. The officer job is more over-arching with the planning and marketing of these missions. Well, they plan the public affairs side of the missions, not entire tactical missions of course.
However, when I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-2011, I worked as a task force public affairs officer, and I didn’t have any enlisted Soldiers to do the gathering. Therefore, I got to do a little of both. (And fortunately, I was enlisted prior to becoming an officer, so I already had the training.) OK, I got to do a lot of both and was incredibly busy. But, I am passionate about the job so it never felt like too much.
In fact, it often energized me more. So much that I even created more work for myself when I saw opportunities. I started volunteering with a group called Operation Care. The group was basically a bunch of service members who would get together and sort donations from the states. We would create boxes or bags of various items to give out as humanitarian aid to the local Afghan people or to other service members at very remote bases in the country. We would have a blast creating these packages too. We would turn up some music and talk and laugh. And sometimes, we would even dance around like silly kids. It was great down time. No demands. No deadlines. No danger. Just a bunch of people trying to forget they were in a war zone.
The most rewarding events of Operation Care were the “donation days” though. This is when we got to interact with the local people. This is where we experienced some of the culture, saw some of the hope and felt the energy of change. On one particular mission, we joined efforts with the Special Forces Group on base. They wanted to visit a nearby school and hand out supplies. It was a simple goal that required a great amount of coordination. The Special Forces Group had the local connections and the tactical experience for us to move to school and the Operation Care Group had the supplies and the volunteers to help. Since the Operation Care Group was literally volunteer service members from a variety of units and branches, we all had to brief our own unit leadership on the plan and get permission to leave the base for the mission. Then of course, we had to gather and prep all the proper supplies for a school. It was a lot of work, but after seeing some of the community — it was so worth the time, effort and energy spent.
If you haven’t seen Ailsa’s blog, check it out. There are always amazing pictures, wonderful stories, and inspiring quotes. Truly, I must follow:)