A Christmas Flop by Air Force Public Affairs

Here’s a photo featured over Christmas day on the U.S. Army Facebook page, featuring two soldiers operating in the field.

Army Xmas

Here’s the Navy’s offering, featuring a sailor standing watch.

Navy Xmas

The USMC had a little more fun, showcasing this snapshot featuring eight Marines on the march, one clad in the garb of Santa Clause.

Marines Xmas

And here we have what the Air Force came up with. No airmen. Half a silhouette of an airplane. Not even a picture per se. Just a link to a 45-minute rendition of “holiday” music from the service’s own music website. Yes, you read that correctly: the Air Force has a dedicated music website.

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 7.02.42 PM

If you were an alien watching from space with only the coverage provided by Air Force Public Affairs (PA) as your guide, you’d never know it was about airplanes, airmen, or airpower. You’d believe instead that it was little more than a uniform-clad traveling musical act with a vague interest in aviation.

PA coverage has devolved from merely misguided to an often sad, almost sick joke and a frequent discredit to the airmen it exists to champion and represent. This Christmas, as the service mourned the loss of six airmen to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, the embarrassing ineptitude found a new low.

It’s unlikely that senior officials made this particular coverage decision. It was likely made by a hapless and oblivious mid-level functionary simply doing what s/he thought the boss would want.

But senior officials, particularly Brig. Gen. Kathleen Cook (director of Air Force PA) and her boss, Secretary Deborah Lee James, have set the tone and created the climate within which dubious PA performance thrives. Coverage is too often tone deaf, untethered from the service’s mission, and at odds with its history and heritage. It amounts to little more than a celebrity sing-along and selfie-fest. The habits have to change, starting at the top.

Symbolism matters. What we promote and emphasize matters. The Air Force’s Facebook page has nearly 2.3 million followers (incidentally the lowest of the four services, which perhaps says something about editorial choices).  Coverage like this leaves them with all the wrong impressions about who we are and what we do. It helps explain internal dissonance and external division, and is part of an overall pattern of mediocrity that will eventually harm our ability to secure the resources and support necessary to fight and win through air and space.

PA, you’ve got 660,000 stories to tell. Enough with the bands. Make 2016 a year of showcasing airpower and those who make it happen.

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