FORT MCCOY, WI, –
The Army public affairs career field has entered the second year of its transition to mass communication specialists (46S), merging broadcasters and print journalists as a way to keep up with today's communication needs.
Task Force 46, the U.S. Army Reserve Command's training force, have been working to train Army Reserve Soldiers to meet the new requirements at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
“Everybody is going to become a mass communications specialist,” Sgt. 1st Class Corey Beal, a training and readiness noncomissioned officer, said. “Which is going to require both fields to have both specialities and knowledge to perform those missions.”
New Soldiers that join the Army learn these skills through 21 weeks of classroom and hands-on training at the Defense Information School, while the task force has only two weeks.
Master Sgt. Michael Chann, the training and readiness noncomissioned officer in charge at the U.S. Army Reserve Command Public Affairs, explains why the shortened training is still vital.
“A lot of units are undermanned. They don't have the time to be able to dedicate training for the other side of the career field,” he said. “It would make a lot more sense to pull everybody into a two week-long annual training … and teach those Soldiers those skill sets in a way that allowed us to make sure there was a baseline across Army Reserve.”
Beal, who also works for the USARC PA, explained that training is different in order to accommodate for the changing field.
“The training that we're conducting here is not everything that a photo journalist would have learned at DINFOS,” he said. “Right now we're concentrating more on those visual aspects, quicker products, more for the social media, as opposed to long form written in newspapers, articles, that sort of thing.”
Once trained, Soldiers will be able to perform all parts of Public Affairs, rather than being limited to one specialty.
“A lot of times what would happen is you would have personnel but you'd have people you wouldn't be able to use,” Chann said. “Now, everybody at least has the minimum capability to work either side. It may be a mission that they think is best as photo, but when they get on site, they may see, hey, this would actually be better with the visuals to be a video project."
Despite the shortened coursework, Soldiers are still expected to be proficient in multiple mediums.
As part of their validations, Soldiers produced a story from a live event taking place on Fort McCoy, either through photographs with a written article or video. Events included a training ruck march for the Best Warrior Competition, firing lanes, and multiple on-base training events, such as the Engagement Skills Trainer.
“If I can't stand behind them and their products … they're not going to get validated,” Beal said. “Everybody that walks out of here has done a legitimate product that they can be proud of, and serves the Army and communicates our message.”
Unlike their active duty counterparts, Army Reserve Soldiers need to balance both their civilian careers as well as military ones. While it can be seen as a challenge, Beal explained how it can also be beneficial.
“We have instructors that work full time for Fox News, that are freelance photographers,” he said. “They do all these things on a civilian span that really outweighs what we usually do in the Army. That's what really adds value to us, and it expands our capabilities.”
Chann shared his confidence in the training that the Soldiers were receiving.
“I feel pretty confident that those Soldiers are getting the best training that we can give them and that when we wrap up things in a couple weeks, that we're going to have a pretty solid career field,” he said.
Once the training was complete, the newly qualified mass communications specialists were deemed capable of all PA operations on the field.
Beal cemented his confidence in the Army Reserves ability to step up to the plate.
“The most rewarding piece of being a part of the 46 Sierra conversion training here is seeing Soldiers with no technical ability in broadcast or journalism going from point zero, all the way to being mission capable in as little as two weeks,” he said. “It talks really about the quality of Soldiers that we have in public affairs, and that whenever you challenge them, they rise to the challenge.”
With the large change, Chann feels that this will only help expand the Public Affairs field.
“I think that it's it's an exciting time for public affairs right now,” he said. “It's really just changed for the better, to make us more of a combat multiplier on the battlefield rather than less with the combination.”