The look on the soldiers’ faces as they gradually filled the training room at the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade headquarters Tuesday told the story well — another mandatory, boring class. Probably “death by PowerPoint.”
Then the brigade’s public affairs officer, who had arranged the training, introduced a journalist and photographer from the Killeen Daily Herald and a reporter from KCEN-TV Channel 6, the local NBC affiliate from Temple. While a little leery at first, the troops grew a little more confident as the professional journalists helped teach the soldiers not only how to talk in front of a camera, but how to be comfortable when interacting with members of the Fourth Estate.
“I like doing this kind of stuff. I think it went well — we had a good group of people who showed up, from all ranks,” said Capt. Kevin Sandell, brigade public affairs officer. “We had junior enlisted, we had (noncommissioned officers), officers from both company grade and field grade; so having that aspect provided a blended learning system for people.”
After the slide show, one officer and one junior enlisted were brought up to do actual interviews with the journalists based on possible scenarios. The officer, Capt. Ashley Cooper, played the part of a brigade-level public affairs officer dealing with a fictitious scenario involving soldiers captured after allegedly robbing a bank and wrecking their vehicle during a high-speed police chase on Interstate Highway 14.
“I think the training was awesome,” said Cooper, the brigade’s information technology officer in charge. “Over my years in the military, I’ve never sat in training like this. To actually have you guys come out and do some of the interviews gives us an idea of how an actual media interview goes. I think it was pretty cool.”
Cooper, a prior-enlisted soldier from El Dorado, Arkansas, who has served in the Army for 15 years, said it would be “great” for more soldiers to receive training from the very people who are often talking to them during deployment and redeployment ceremonies.
“It would give them more insight; instead of just doing the online training, clicking through the slides and reading the information ... It doesn’t hit home,” she said. “This kind of training, where you guys come out and actually give us the information on what you’re looking for, some of the do’s and don’t’s when doing an interview, is really good training.”
The class was the first time Jillian Angeline, KCEN-TV’s military reporter, had to work with soldiers on the other side of the camera instead of simply interviewing them.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to be able to help dispel myths about reporters, because a lot of soldiers are a little bit scared or nervous when they get in front of a camera,” she said. “It’s important to show them that we don’t bite — we just want to get information to get to our deadlines and get what we need out of them information-wise to get our stories done.”
Angeline said it was helpful to let the soldiers know that reporters are merely trying to get the most accurate information they can in order to truthfully tell their stories to the American public, whether that story is positive of not.
“We are the ‘military matters’ station, so we’re all about showing that the military is important to our community,” she said. “I would do this (again) anytime. It’s a great opportunity to not only be on this side of the camera, but to see what soldiers can come up with in mock scenarios and then give them suggestions (to improve) is a great experience.”
Sandell said he really enjoyed how well the training went and said he recommended all units working with local media outlets for similar classes as well.
“I think the purpose of this kind of training is to get people out of their comfort zones,” Sandell said. “It is not part of the (U.S. Army’s) annual training requirement; it’s just opportunity training public affairs officers like to do to make sure people are trained in doing news media interviews. But it works.”
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