WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
In the three years since its inception, the Air Force’s Magazine Day has cultivated relationships and strengthened interaction with media outlets to help spark future story ideas highlighting the innovation, courage and dedication of Airmen.
Reporters from major print and online publications such as Popular Mechanics, Buzzfeed, People and Forbes attended the annual event at the Pentagon June 21, 2017.
“Our goal is to be as transparent as we can possibly be because frankly, we’re pretty proud of what we do,” said Brig. Gen. Edward Thomas, the Secretary of the Air Force public affairs director. “We live in an increasingly complex and interconnected world and our ability to respond effectively to these new dynamics hinges on the innovation of our Airmen.”
During breakout sessions throughout the day, Airmen of all ranks interacted candidly with reporters about a spectrum of topics, including battlefield medicine, space, modern warfare and even millennials in matters of recruiting, training and their contributions to global missions.
Among the reporters was Susan Katz Keating, a People magazine reporter covering military and security issues, who praised the accessibility and face-to-face interaction with Airmen.
“I thought it was well-organized, with a good mix of programs and a lot of information packed into a short time,” Keating said.
Of pleasant surprise to her, she recounted, was the honesty and openness of panelists, which she said yielded far more enriched dialogue than if she’d cold-called an organization.
“I got to meet with members of a special operations medical group, millennial fighter pilots and many others,” Keating noted.
Other reporters were just fascinated to walk the halls of the Pentagon.
“I lived in the District of Colombia area for many years, but to go inside the building and meet with staffers and fighter pilots just blew my mind,” said Jim Clash, an extreme adventure reporter for Forbes magazine. “I developed at least three great space and missile story ideas from the visit.”
The excitement was reciprocal, with panelists willing to give reporters an insider’s glimpse into their lives.
Capt. Andrew Olson, a 61st Fighter Squadron F-35 fighter pilot assigned to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and his fellow panelists helped reporters better understand some of the virtues and challenges of recruiting and retaining a young, all-volunteer force.
Reporters posed sundry questions about Air Force issues of interest to potential millennial recruits, including possible dress and appearance restriction changes, such as hair length, facial hair and tattoos. They also asked the digital native panelists how their work experiences might differ from that of their civilian peers.
“The whole thing is such a unique experience, being in the military in general,” Olson said. “We’re doing stuff right now that we’ll never again have a chance to do…I could always go fly for United [Airlines], but I’ll never be able to come back and fly fighters ever -- once I leave, it’s over.”
Olson said this is likely true for most Air Force career fields, but the balancing act between the “flashy” jobs and subsequent transition to supervisory positions in order to ensure the most qualified experts remain in their functional areas is an ongoing challenge.
“We pull you away from the cockpit at a certain point and put you toward more leadership roles and some of that may affect our ability to retain.”
Space: a renaissance in launch
Other panelists described the need for qualified, well-trained Airmen and industry partnerships in complex and rapidly-changing space and cyberspace domains as the service works to develop faster, more sophisticated technology.
Space remains congested and contested, said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, the 45th Space Wing commander at Patrick AFB, Florida. He further explained to reporters the nation’s dependency on space and the importance of protecting that domain whether from hazardous debris, or more nefarious sources as seen in Russia’s and China’s anti-satellite technology designed to thwart U.S. capabilities in space.
To deliver assured launch, Monteith told journalists that among his greatest concerns is how to guard against cyber threats.
Combating interference such as signal mimicry and scrambling, the general said the Air Force has turned to the development of new frequency monitoring technology, which can scan for cyber threats such as GPS jamming and spoofing across the entire spectrum.
He conveyed to the reporters the importance of stewardship in maintaining assured, resilient and innovative access to space. “Not only can we not afford from a taxpayer perspective to put in the water, but…it takes years to replace those capabilities,” Monteith said.