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Overview of Journalism Careers in the Military

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Journalist 2nd Class (JO2) Paula LeClaire, Armed Forces Radio/Television Service Far East Network. Photo courtesy of Expert Infantry.
The term "military journalist" might bring to mind little more than Joker traversing Vietnam with his notepad in Full Metal Jacket. But did you know that there are servicemen and women every day chatting up soldiers and civilians on TV, just like your friendly local anchor?

The Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines are each responsible for handling their public affairs -- spreading the good (and bad) word to their members and the American public without contradicting military policy or hurting the mission. The boots on the ground are the military journalists, enlisted men and women who do everything from writing print articles to producing radio and television broadcasts that cover military events, spread command information, and deliver entertainment to the troops.

Education

As an enlisted field, entry-level journalists require no college education. All applicants must be high school graduates and need to pass the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery with scores that meet the requirements set by their chosen service branch. Once accepted, the prospective military journalist attends all of the basic training required of any other soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, followed by advanced training specific to their field, such as print journalism or television broadcasting.

Military Guidelines/Requirements

In addition to basic requirements, prospective journalists may have to demonstrate a minimum typing speed, such as the Air Force requirement of no less than 20 words per minute. For fields such as broadcasting, you may also have to pass an audition - because the swagger you gain from graduating boot camp doesn't necessarily make you a good public speaker. TV broadcasters in the military definitely buck the unfair stereotype of the brainwashed soldier - take a look at a podcast from The Pentagon Channel, the only branch of the Armed Forces Network available free to civilians, and see just how savvy and confident they are. Auditions are there to make sure you've got a good foundation to build on, and that being the face of the military on TV isn't an unrealistic goal for you.

Duties and Responsibilities

Depending on branch of service and specific Military Occupational Specialty, military journalists learn to do a surprising variety of jobs. Not just writers or talking heads, they can also work in editing, behind-the-scenes media operations, and as liaisons with the public. To keep pace with current tech and entertainment trends, these roles even extend to working in web-based media to deliver articles, blogs, and podcasts. (It still gives me a kick that I can get Pentagon News on my iPod.)

The Bad

There are inherent contradictions to being a military journalist that might make skeptics, cynics, and aspiring investigative journalists bristle. For example, policy such as Joint Publication 3-61, Public Affairs emphasizes the importance of transparency and trust between the military and the public, but simultaneously limits the scope of that transparency when it would threaten national security or undermine the mission.

However, those with a troublemaking streak should take heart that kindred spirits have done the job and come through to the other side marching to the beat of their own drum. Novelist Gustav Hasford began his career in the Marines as a combat correspondent before immortalizing the perspective of the "unreconstructed Vietnam veteran" in The Short Timers, basis for the film Full Metal Jacket. And let's not forget gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who spent his time in the Air Force working on the base newspaper until he received an early discharge because he was (so he claimed in a satiric press release) "totally unclassifiable."

The Good

But is it really propaganda to exercise caution, and make sure the good news gets out with the bad? Military journalists inform the public of events and ideas they might otherwise never hear, and counteract the effects of enemy propaganda.

Embedded civilian journalists, though vital storytellers, are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing inside information and, more importantly, understanding the troops' perspectives. Journalists within the military are better able to give voice to the daily lives of their brothers- and sisters-in-arms, delivering the difficult facts without losing sight of the good news (how often do you see that on the 11 o'clock news?).

They provide a vital service to the troops themselves, keeping them informed and entertained in every clime and place. And let's face facts: It sure wouldn't hurt your resume to land a job right out of high school that lets you reach an audience of nearly 1.5 million, would it?

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