How the hero next door gets their story told

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala speaks to a reporter from WJZ during a joint response to a report of a boat fire at Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Baltimore,  Monday, November 3, 2014. Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore received a report at approximately 3:30 a.m., stating a boat in Belts Wharf Landing Yacht Club caught fire and drifted across the harbor into Henderson’s Wharf Marina. The boat hit a second boat, which also caught fire. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David R. Marin

Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala speaks to a reporter from WJZ during a joint response to a report of a boat fire at Henderson’s Wharf Marina in Baltimore, Monday, November 3, 2014. Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore received a report at approximately 3:30 a.m., stating a boat in Belts Wharf Landing Yacht Club caught fire and drifted across the harbor into Henderson’s Wharf Marina. The boat hit a second boat, which also caught fire. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David R. Marin

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Marin

You turn on your television and there it is, that racing stripe, and the servicemembers in blue – the Coast Guard is on the news again. Although it isn’t always obvious to everyone, the service of approximately 32,000 members worldwide can be found on the news every day.

Getting those stories from shoreside communities to the television sets of the heartland of America involves the skill set of the Coast Guard’s professional communicators – public affairs specialists.

“Our job is to tell the Coast Guard story and to be the conduit between the public and the Coast Guard,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Eugene O’Berry, the public affairs rating force master chief.

“During World War II the Coast Guard really promoted public relations, including recruiting newsmen and news photographers as combat correspondents and photographer’s mates,” added O’Berry.

"U.S. Coast Guardsmen help a Nazi U-Boat man along the deck of the Coast Guard cutter, after fishing him out of the sea. The German in one of a number who managed to escape from their submarine, sunk by Coast Guard depth charges and guns when it attempted to attack a convoy in the Atlantic. The German still wears around his neck the 'lung' used in going through the submarine's escape hatch." Date: 17 April 1943 (photo cleared by censors and released on  19 July 1943) Photo No.: 1578 Photographer: Bob Gates

“U.S. Coast Guardsmen help a Nazi U-Boat man along the deck of the Coast Guard cutter, after fishing him out of the sea. The German in one of a number who managed to escape from their submarine, sunk by Coast Guard depth charges and guns when it attempted to attack a convoy in the Atlantic. The German still wears around his neck the ‘lung’ used in going through the submarine’s escape hatch.”
Date: 17 April 1943 (photo cleared by censors and released on 19 July 1943)
Photo No.: 1578
Photographer: Bob Gates

Today’s PAs take photos, record videos, write stories and work with the news and social media to tell the Coast Guard story.

There are currently 75 public affairs positions worldwide to tell the Coast Guard story. Being that the rate is so small and there are many stories to tell, every Coast Guard unit has a collateral duty public affairs officer who serves as the point of contact between their unit and their servicing public affairs office.

When there is a potential story, a unit’s collateral PAO contacts a PA for assistance. From there, the PA works to find the proper audience and best way to deliver the story.

“The Coast Guard performs its missions daily and impacts the American public both directly and indirectly,” said Rear Adm. Stephen P. Metruck, the district commander for the Coast Guard’s Fifth District. “The Coast Guard impacts individuals directly by saving lives and protecting property. Indirectly, the Coast Guard ensures the safety and security of the nation’s maritime transportation system through vessel inspections, ice breaking and maintaining aids to navigation. By telling our story, it illustrates the value of the Coast Guard to the nation.”

PAOs and PAs also work to find and present the story of servicemembers. With stations scattered throughout the states, and personnel and units deployed around the world, the stories of the servicemembers are as varied as their stations.

Stories like the Coast Guard’s response during hurricane Katrina provided a steady flow of harrowing rescues which helped build the Coast Guard’s reputation as a lifesaving service.

“While it has been said PAs are the service’s brand ambassadors, it’s the men and women in blue who embody the service’s brand,” said Lt. Krystyn Pecora, the public affairs officer for the Coast Guard’s Fifth District. “The Coast Guard is full of amazing people, and one of the best aspects of public affairs is being able to bring their story to the American public.”

When you see the story on the news, you are seeing a coordinated effort of Coast Guard personnel, led by PAs, working to get the story from an often remote location to your television.

Those stories often begin when a Coast Guard unit gets a call for help. When a rescue swimmer is lowered from a helicopter to assist people in need, there are often a couple of cameras that record video from various perspectives.

Screen capture of Coast Guard Medevac captured by camera aboard helicopter

Screen capture of Coast Guard Medevac captured by camera aboard helicopter

When a PA is notified of a rescue performed by an aircrew, PAs know there will most likely be video footage. The PA drafts a news release with the details of the case and works with the crew to gather, edit and release the video footage.

When units don’t have cameras built onboard their vessels, it is the crew’s responsibility to record what is happening – a task made more difficult since there is a limited crew and other, higher-priority jobs that need to be performed.

Rescue stories are the most recognized of the service, but there are 10 other Coast Guard missions that, along with the stories of our servicemembers, need to be highlighted. It is the job of the few PAs along with the aid of PAOs and commands who help deliver them to your television.

“Public affairs can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the Coast Guard, as our responsibility is to share the incredible accomplishments of our servicemembers and to promote our brand,” said Pecora. “It also ensures our people receive public recognition for the incredible jobs they do each day.”

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