printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

How to Cover the U.S. Military

FPC Briefing
Col. Rick Kiernan, Retired
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
March 6, 2009

Date: 03/06/2009 Location: Washington, D.C. Description: Col. Rick Kiernan, Retired, at the Washington Foreign Press Center Briefing on "How to Cover the U.S. Military." State Dept Photo

3:00 P.M. EDT


MR. STRIKE: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Please turn off your cell phones or anything else that makes noise. Today, we have Colonel Rick Kiernan who’s going to give – deliver a briefing on how to cover DoD. I’m also going to speak alongside him a little bit, discussing my role here at the Foreign Press Center. This is meant to be an informal event where we discuss press relations with the military. I want to make it clear that neither of us are officially U.S. Government or military spokespersons; we’re just here to tell you how to cover the Pentagon and share our experiences with you.

I believe the Colonel has a short statement, but I’d like for a lot of this to just be Q&A. And without further ado, here’s the Colonel.

COL KIERNAN: Thank you very much. Well, I’m very happy to be with you today. These are exciting times. Anytime in Washington you have a change of Administration, it’s kind of a ripple effect, and the ripple goes to the State Department and to the Pentagon and throughout the various agencies that you’re familiar with as you do your work here in Washington.

My experience in the Pentagon was during the first Gulf War, and prior to that the events that we had down in Panama, and then since that time I’ve continued my relationship with the Foreign Press Center and with the international media.

I’d say a couple of things to begin, and then I think maybe that will generate a couple of questions for you. When you look at the Pentagon, I think if you look at it in context, it’s one of the largest office buildings in the world with about 27,000 people that come to work each day. And for those of you who have had a chance to be at the Pentagon, you know that the majority of those are not uniformed personnel. You will see a variety of vendors. You’ll see a variety of contractors as well as government civilians who do all the work of what the United States military calls “contingency planning.”

So you have various regional desks, you have various offices over there that are directed towards “what if” – what if something happens in this particular region of the world. And some of you represent those regions. So it’s going to always be of interest to you as you begin to work with the Pentagon on how to get information very quickly so that you can make your deadlines and put together the most accurate report for your readership or your listening audience.

I would say, first of all, whenever you’re doing a story or you’re given an assignment by an editor, I would say look at the context. Is it going to be a Department of Defense policy type of a story; in other words, you’re looking at the DoD as an entity? Or is it going to be Service specific? Is there something that you really wanted to hone in with on the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines or some other aspect of the Pentagon’s activities? Maybe it’s outsourcing. That’s very much in the news these days. Maybe it’s logistics. Maybe it’s Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). Maybe it’s the impact that a particular Service has for an exercise that’s taking part in your part of the world, maybe in Latin American, maybe over in Europe.

So if you can narrow the focus a little bit, that helps the desk officer, who you will probably liaise with, help him or her get you the facts as quickly as possible. The public affairs community that Andy and I work with – are most familiar with – they have one directive that they operate under, and that is “maximum disclosure, minimum delay.” In other words, we want to get you the information as quickly as possible and we want to be as transparent as possible. And that transparency is guided only by four principles; that is, security, accuracy, policy, or proprietary.

So within the guidelines, or public affairs guidance that the desk officer is given, he’ll take your query, he’ll take your question, he’ll try and work with you and get you a subject matter expert. If he or she does not have a statement or does not have a particular policy at hand, they will try and get you connected with the person who knows the most about that topic. Maybe it’s in the field of logistics or personnel. So public affairs is really a facilitator, and they are the organization that you should become very familiar with because they can be a very valuable network for you.

The second thing I would suggest to you is, even though you may be doing a story about the Pentagon and about the military service of the United States, what I would say, too, is go to your other networks that you have here in Washington. For example, you each are represented by an embassy; within that embassy is a defense attaché. I would go to him or her. Because if you have a story and you want to make it relative to your audience back home for one of the foreign bureaus, if you use your defense attaché and you use your embassy and the network that they have right there, that will even take you over to further pieces of information. So the desk officer can be very, very helpful to you.

The other thing that is helpful is that you can work through the desk officers at the Pentagon, and they can lead you to the public affairs representatives that are overseas. As you know, we have some large operations for the last several years in Afghanistan and Iraq and Kuwait, and the Middle East. So if you wanted to do a story and localize it, you can go through that officer and they can also help you, even though you’re in a different time zone, be working with yet another public affairs person who might be overseas. But that gives you a good network. So the public affairs network is one that you want to tap into, and they can be very, very helpful to you.

And of course, your editors are going to drive you to other sources, and we’re very aware of that. So a good desk officer and a good public affairs person understands that when you call and you have a question about a specific weapons system or about a specific policy or program, that you’re going to go to other sources. You’re going to try and round out your story and you’re going to give your audience all of the information that you can.

So be thinking context when you go in, use the public affairs community as a very viable network for yourself. And if you have specific requests that you want to work, that's why Andy is here, too, because he has done a marvelous job of squiring international journalists not only here in Washington but around the country, providing orientations and getting the journalists that are based here in Washington to different venues across the country and truly around the world to further add color and background to the stories that you write.

So with that, I'll try and keep this statement brief, because, as Andy said, I think the most value we would have at this particular session would be in taking the questions that are important to you and seeing if we can't come up with a response that's helpful.

MR. STRIKE: Okay. Please state your name and publication when you ask a question and wait for the microphone, which will be coming usually from your left.
Go ahead, Petr.

QUESTION: Petr Cheremushkin, Interfax, Russia. I would like to ask a question. Let's assume I would like to get an interview with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy. Usually it's number three in Pentagon, as far as I understand. Actually, I tried to do that, and I failed. [Editor’s note, the Under Secretary for Policy, currently Michele Flournoy, is the Pentagon’s number three official.]

But what steps should be taken to be successful, and how I really should do that? Because there is always a good way, just to grab the person somewhere in the hallway and get him to the wall and he will not escape. That's one way. (Laughter.) And there is another way, to send letters and send and send again, and send again and send again, and you will get the answer, oh, you are on hold, oh, you are on hold –


QUESTION: -- we'll get back to you, and especially if you are from Russia. (Laughter.) So that kind of things are happening all the time. Maybe you have a good advice how to be efficient in this process.

COL KIERNAN: I assume you're from Russia, Petr. I had a very fortunate opportunity when I was in the Pentagon to take the last delegation over to your country in '91, just when it was changing, and I had a very good host. His name was Valery Manilov and he was the Chief of Information at that time.

A couple of thoughts. As I mentioned at the outset, this is a turbulent time in D.C. because there's a change in government. And the change in government is exacerbated by a change in party. And some of the folks that Petr and others would like to reach are appointees, and some of the appointees are going to have go through a confirmation process before they become the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy or the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Personnel or Acquisition, or whatever the title may be.

The second thing you have to be aware of, as that person comes into office, they are going to bring their staff and build a staff, because they don't have one. So if they come in and they're given an office within the Pentagon, they're going to need an executive to help them, somebody to take care of the requests from the media. So you're dealing with some new personalities. I say that because it could be a little bit longer or a little bit tougher at this particular time, over the last three months since the inauguration, than it would be, let's say, seven months ago when you already had an assistant secretary who was on station, had been there, et cetera.

The second thing to remember is that you are not only trying to get information that you want to write for your story, but remember, this new Assistant Secretary also has an agenda and they have things they want to say. So there will be times that once they know you, and once they know Petr, and Petr is registered in that office, and they know him and they know his outlet, there is going to be a time, a very short time, where that assistant secretary is going to be given direction by Secretary Gates: I want you to take a look at the following situation or the following issue. That's when they need you.
So the relationship in military and the media is really a symbiotic relationship. We need each other. And so you need to get the information to get back to your readers and your audience overseas; but also, the officials that you're trying to interview and get information from, they need you as well, because they can't do their job without it.

So once you get to know the office – and I know it takes time, and sometimes there's a new personality answering the phone – I would say try all of the above. You try the phone call. You try the letter. You work through Andy. You work through the desk officer. But in doing that, it takes a little bit of time, but once that person is in office and it's no longer March 6th but it's July 6th, that person is going to be calling Petr or someone else: Can you please come in, because the secretary would like to talk to you and give a particular briefing?

The third fact, and then I'll let Andy speak to it, is that frequently they give briefings over in the Pentagon, okay? Now, you have the Pentagon correspondents that are normally registered in there, and they're the regulars that have a cubicle and they have some space within the building on the corridor. But there are other times when there are briefings given by the Secretary of Defense or his assistants or the Chairman or whoever it may be. Those are also opportunities for you to get information, either with follow-up questions or to take the prepared statement.

So I would say telephone, write, work with the particular office where they may be, on the E Ring or wherever, but then look for opportunities in briefings. And then all the time, of course, work with Andy.

MR. STRIKE: Okay. I'll follow up with just a few points.

One, I would – as the Colonel has said, there is a media desk officer for every region of the world, and you should know that person. It's probably the one person – there are so many people in the Pentagon to know. There are Service PA chiefs; there are PAOs for individual officials, and on every issue. But you should definitely – number one, you should probably know your – the press officer for your particular region. And I can give that information out to anyone who asks. And you should have a strong relationship with that person, like you do with me here. And in some cases they'll be your first call, in some cases I'll be your first call. But you should know them and you should have a comfort level with them.

Also, I would say the Under Secretary for Policy is the number three official in the Pentagon, and I have not seen a great deal of – I've seen many, many media try and fail to get interviews with the number three official in the Pentagon. So I would say patience and persistence. I would say set your sights. I would start small. I would go and meet with your regional officer. I would go and meet with – get an interview with whomever they'll give you. And it may be someone who doesn't even have a recognizable name.

But meet with them, do a story if you can, give the story back to the public affairs officer. You know, build confidence, build trust. Show them that you're – that that you're a respectable journalist. Show them the results of your work. Spend time in the Pentagon covering events, which you can do even if you don't have a Pentagon press credential. You can go 45 minutes before any public briefing to the North Parking Lot and they will escort you in for the briefing. And you can cover – you can cover events that way. And there's a number you can call. Again, I can give out the real specific details after the briefing on how to get escorted into events [Editor’s note: Journalists without a Pentagon building pass will be picked up at the North Parking Entrance only. Plan to arrive no later than 45 minutes prior to the event; have proof of affiliation and two forms of photo identification. Please call 703-697-5131 for escort into the building.]

So I mean, the challenge is it takes an hour and a half out of your workday to go early and then to go for the event. But the more time you spend in the building, the more recognizable you are and the more likely you are to be called on.

Then the third piece I would follow up on is, again, the Colonel has also said work through your embassies. If your embassies are having a social function or having some sort of media event and they have a senior DOD official, that's one of the greatest places you can to get an interview with either of the uniformed military or a civilian. If they're doing something and if they're arranging some press for that you should – you should definitely be talking to your embassy press person. And you should be sure that they put you on the short list for whatever it is they're cooking up.
So I'll stop there. And we'll take the next question.

COL KIERNAN: I have one postscript for Petr and others. Another opportunity is remember the venue. That Assistant Secretary, whoever he or she may be, if you are trying to reach them here, they're busy. They have appointments, they have briefings, they have meetings. Look at the Daybook and find out [Editor’s note: The Washington Daybook is a commercial product sold by Reuters, AP, National Journal, Federal News, and several other media companies. Please contact the FPC if you cannot find contact info for a vendor on the Internet. The FPC also sends out a small “Week Ahead” calendar via email, please email to subscribe.].

As an example, there might be an occasion where that particular Secretary is giving a speech, and it may very well be that they are going to deliver a speech on the particular topic for which they're responsible. And it may be connected with a veterans association, like the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or it might be on the occasion of July 4th or the Army birthday or some particular occasion, because Mr. Gates and some of the chairmen, they cannot be at all events, and many times they will tag one of the assistant secretaries to go to that. That is another opportunity, as Andy has said, to catch them in a different venue, and you have more chance for accessibility.

But you really are trying to get through a quagmire of a very busy schedule in which people are trying to have meetings. So perhaps when they're at a meeting in Indianapolis or they're here in Northern Virginia giving a particular speech, that's the time to catch them, and they probably would have more time for you.
Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Hi, Hilary Krieger with the Jerusalem Post, Israel.

COL KIERNAN: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: I was hoping you could sort of give an overview about the structure in terms of the different Pentagon departments and the press liaisons that they have. I feel like I have a pretty good sense at the State Department, but I don't know if there's any correspondence that could be used as a general framework.

COL KIERNAN: Sure, sure.

QUESTION: But you know, aside from the regional person, how to go from there in terms of different issues, and also who might be more accessible if not the assistant secretaries.

COL KIERNAN: Sure. I think a good way to look at it – when I was in the building, I was the Chief of Media Relations for the Army. And so a good way to look at it is the hub of a wheel. So if you start with the center of the wheel, that would be Department of Defense Public Affairs, and the main person there, and a very wonderful friend of mine, is Bryan Whitman. And that is Department of Defense Public Affairs. And right now, Mr. Hastings is the {Principal Deputy} Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, and Bryan works with him all the time. And so that – I would start there as the hub.

If you go outside of that hub, you're going to find the Department of Defense desk officers. And some of those officers are going to be responsible for regionals, and they're also going to be responsible for some issues.

Once you have the Department of Defense – and I'm back to my original statement – if you're doing a DOD story, something has come out of the branch, the executive branch, and they want to change something, you want to look at it DoD-wise – wide, that's the office.

Taking it down, if you want to then go to the Army, Office Chief of Public Affairs, OCPA. They have a group of officers and civilians who are public affairs folks, and they have a media relations department as well. So does the Navy. It's called CHINFO. As you know, and sometimes it's a barrier to communication, there are a lot of acronyms. So the Navy public affairs chief. And then the Air Force has SAFPA, Secretary of the Air Force for Public Affairs.

So each of the Services has a second tier of public affairs folks. And with each tier as you bore down, you can get closer to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, Goldsboro, North Carolina, for an Air Force base, or a ship at sea. So if you start with DoD as the hub, if you have a DoD question, they can take it quickly for you. If you want to go to a specific service, then there is in the directory – and Andy has access to them – there’s the Army Public Affairs, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. So you can bring it on down to that level.
And then let's say there's a third tier. If you wanted to go and do a specific story about an event that occurred at an Army post in California, then you could take it down to the installation public affairs. But if you start at the top, you can work your way down. Or if you already know the locus of your story, you can go immediately to Fort Bragg or immediately to Fort Drum, New York, and there's a public affairs office with a spokesperson right there. So that's a good way to break it on down. And you'll find it's pretty quick. We are – we're pretty efficient. We're kind of lean and mean. There's not a whole lot of the public affairs folks. So you won't get too much brush-off, you know.

QUESTION: {Last month when Chairman Mullen briefed here he said} there was a ship in port in Cyprus. There was some suggestion there might be some unlawful cargo. I mean, if you want to do that story, do you start work with the regional desk that would look at Cyprus region? Do you go with the Navy if they're the ones that have been engaged with the ship? Do you go to DoD central because –

COL KIERNAN: With an incident like that which has international implications and impact, and if the information is presented in a briefing by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, then you start at the higher level.

QUESTION: Suppose it’s not, though.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

COL KIERNAN: Yeah. If you just have the incident, there's going to be a DoD position and a statement for that. But then there's also going to be a regional Naval public affairs officer who's responsible for that particular region where the ship is berthed. And they can help you there.

And I have one for you. You said you’re from Israel?


COL KIERNAN: I would recommend also another network for you would be JINSA. Are you familiar with JINSA?


COL KIERNAN: Very, very wonderful organization. They have tremendous orientations for leading businessmen, military people. JINSA is a very, very good organization to work with. They have policy papers, they have statements, and they have a tremendous network. In fact, I just received an announcement for an event, I think on March 11th perhaps, where they're going to talk about the Administration's security posture. But JINSA is a very good network for you.

QUESTION: How do you spell that?

COL KIERNAN: J-I-N-S-A. And you can correct me, but I believe it's the Jewish Institute for National Security. Yes, J-I-N-S-A.

MR. STRIKE: I have one follow-up, which is to say try and target your query. Don't go to the Pentagon asking for operational stuff in the field. Don't go to the – I mean, if you have a Service question, like you're asking about Warrior Care, go and talk to the Army about that, because you're – I mean, you may get an answer still, you may always get an answer from calling the Pentagon, but you may waste some of your own time as they refer you through six different offices.

So if you do know the system yourself, take a stab at calling someone in the region, or call – you know, call MNF-I in Baghdad and see if they'll refer you. You know, make two calls. Call MNF-I [Editor’s note: MNF-I is Multinational Forces – Iraq, 703-343-8790]. If you don't immediately know the naval command for the CENTCOM region and how to find that on the Internet or – and, of course, call the Pentagon. The main number for DoD Public Affairs is 703-697-5131, and that's 24-hour, that's 24/7. There's always a person there who can give you an answer or refer you to a more appropriate contact.

In addition to that, I mean, it's primarily a DoD -- it's DoD's lane to decide where to direct you and at State, I only assist with that. But on the FPC website,, I've put up a list of public DoD contact information for press officers around the world – everything that I've been able to gather. And I update it when it's wrong, as it occasionally is, as websites change and people transition out. But every piece of information for bases around the world and bases within the States, and the military school system and everything I can think of, is there.

So go to -- go to the FPC's website, click on DoD information on the left-hand side, and you can scroll through any kind of base contact [Editor’s Note: The FPC’s DoD Contact Info page is:] And if it's incorrect or if there's something that you want to see – because I don't have all 130 U.S. military bases in this country listed or some such thing – let me know, and I'll get that information updated and I'll get it there so that you can access it directly.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.


QUESTION: Richard Latandresse, Group TV, Canada. I'm a French-Canadian reporter.


QUESTION: I'll be following very much in the next month the situation in Afghanistan, and I'll be heading there in May to follow Canadian soldiers – Canadian soldiers returning. So I'll – I have seen American soldiers on the ground. And so I have several questions.


QUESTION: And since you've been there for the first Gulf War, you’ll help me. Here, first, I should go more on the DoD website. But this said, how can I clear the ground already here? There's the Canadian aspect of it, but as for the American, how can I start preparing things in such a way that I'll be able to get into American operations and not only Canadian operations over there?

The other question would be how easy will it be – because I did it in Haiti a certain number of years ago. How easy will it be to talk to soldiers and officers on the ground without going through a PAO?

And the other – the last question, how possible is it to find, eventually, French-speaking American Soldiers or officers?


QUESTION: Thank you.

COL KIERNAN: We can help. Fortuitously, the company I work with right now has 500 former military people in Afghanistan. The best friend you will have in Afghanistan is General Dave McKiernan's public affairs officer. His name is Colonel Greg Julian, J-u-l-i-a-n. Greg is one of the best. I've known him a long time. But he is right there in Kabul.

You will find when you get to Afghanistan that there's probably going to be a CPIC or a JIB [Editor’s note: a Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) or a Joint Information Bureau (JIB). Contact for Bagram AFB’s Media Operations Center is here:, 011-93-797-242-998]. There's going to be an information bureau where the media can receive accreditation, can get orientation, and can be given the rules of the road, if you will.

You will probably find by going to that central location, the central press center, there's a group of public affairs folks, and there's a good amount of them from all services. And they're all together which is very good, because you have Army, Navy, and Air Force all together in one location. They can quickly tell you – the coalition forces – they can tell you quickly who is there. Where are the Canadian soldiers? You know, where's Princess Patricia's Light Infantry? Where are they located? PPLIC – one of the great Canadian units.

You will also find that they will probably have some linguists. There will probably be some folks over there who will be aware of French-speaking soldiers that you could speak with.

When it comes down to accessibility, every good story is about people, and so you want to put a face on your story. You want to have a soldier or you want to have a person that you can put a face on that your audience back home will recognize. I would say once you get over there, work with the public affairs community on the ground and you will find they’ll be very, very helpful.

Their main job is media escort. Their job is to get you from a central location to the unit, to wherever the soldiers are stationed. And if you know a particular unit or you know a particular sector where they’re working, Americans and Canadians are working together or some other element of NATO is located near Bagram or whatever, they’ll help you get there. We just recently did one with The New York Times. And they did a story here on training and then they followed up and wanted to see the validation of that training when they got over to Afghanistan. So it’ll probably be much easier than working here in Washington, because you have a smaller universe that you’re dealing with and a smaller amount of troops.

But it sounds like you’ve already begun your research. So the more you can do back here with Andy’s help and what you can find through the embassy or the defense attaches, you’ll be off and running. I spoke the other day with a lieutenant colonel in Ottawa and he is just the new commander of the public affairs training center that they have up there. And he and I spoke of just this same type of issue how can we get the media to observe the Canadian forces abroad.

QUESTION: {Do you have his contact information?}

COL KIERNAN: He’s brand new. He replaced a female Lieutenant Colonel Patot, P-a-t-o-t. And he has just arrived. I have a card, but I’ll be happy to get him for you.

MR. STRIKE: Okay, some further thoughts on covering Afghanistan. I mean, you can do this as an embed, or you can do this just covering our units here in the States before they go over, or you can do some combination of the above. For any embed, you would start at the CPIC that the Colonel mentioned. There is one at Bagram Air Force Base, and the contact info is on the website that I just mentioned. And for any embed, you would want to start there. But like I said earlier, you can always do a two-track approach. And I usually advise to do multiple things at once.

What you’re going to want to find out is which U.S. units are going over and roughly when are they going over. You’re going to want to link up with one of them, and preferably one that’s going to serve in a place where Canadians are going to be or – or insert your country of interest. Sometimes you can find this information just be getting on, which is the DoD public affairs site, getting their press releases. And they announce which units are going and from where, and if you’re lucky enough to read your email religiously, you might catch that information. If you can don’t catch it from that source or from me, you can contact usually the Army and sometimes the Marines – all the services send folks over in different ways – and you can contact the service press office and ask them for which units are going, when, and where are they based in this country.

Once you get that key piece of information, you can go call the unit public affairs officer and invite yourself out to meet the soldiers at their home base, to see them around their families, if that’s something they’re comfortable doing, to see their home life, see them training. You can see them training on their home base.

Or the other big thing that is done both for Iraq and Afghanistan, there are two training centers, two big ones for the Army, and there’s another one for the Marines. The Army centers are Fort Polk in Louisiana and Fort Irwin, which is the desert training center in California. Now, both locations do training rotations on Iraq and Afghanistan. Only the Irwin one is the desert environment. They do rotations about ten times a year, and they alternate between Iraq or Afghanistan, depending on the need. When they do training, it’s with Americans or, usually, naturalized American citizens who are Arabic speakers or Pashto speakers, or various cultural experts that are hired by DoD that go and do role playing of Iraqi and Afghan civilians and work through scenarios with the units training so that they have the most realistic environment, and they prepare for everything before they go over

So those are in place for the Army at Fort Polk and Fort Irwin, and the Marines have a place called Mohave Viper at the Marine Air Ground Combat Center or some such thing. The other place is at Twenty-nine Palms. And again, all this stuff is on the FPC website.

And ideally, if you want the best visuals, if you want to see Hollywood-grade pyrotechnics going off and mock IDs and fake injuries and all that good stuff – well, all that good training, you can go to Fort Irwin or Fort Polk or Twenty-nine Palms and cover one of these things. I myself go – I try to go to each of the big bases once a year and I go to other smaller bases, and you’re welcome always to call them up and get on the list and go on your own anytime.

[Editor’s note: For Ft. Irwin please contact:, -760-380-3076; for Ft. Polk please contact:, 337-531-4630; For 29 Palms / Marine Air Ground Combat Center please contact:, 760-830-6213]

So those are some of the options. It doesn’t have to necessarily be the big – you know, the big training base at Polk or Irwin, but you can always find a unit that is that’s about to deploy somewhere and go see folks in their community, go see how Soldiers live, go see how our Sailors and Airmen and Marines live.

And then lastly, you mentioned foreign language capability. Army public affairs has – you know, as with everything else, there’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of patience, and it takes a great deal of time and persistence on your part to make these things happen. But the system works quite well. And when you are patient and persistent, you can get just about anything out of it. And the Army has a database. All the services have a database of who the – of who has signed up and their rank, and it has every piece of demographic information conceivable about them, including their country of origin or their religious preference, if they’ve chosen to give one. So you can ask Army public affairs or Navy public affairs, can you give me a list of people who were born in France, or any country in the world, and you can get a list of presumably French speakers because they were – I mean you have to call people – at some point, you have to call individual people and see if they, in fact, do speak the language and if they do want to talk to media, because many of them won’t.

But if you work through the services in this way, you can get a list of individual soldiers, airmen, and Marines, and you can get public affairs contact info for each of them. And you can say, I am going to be in the western part of the United States, or wherever you’re going to be, and you can ask for a tailored list. It may take weeks for you to get this list, but if you’re patient and persistent, you’ll get it. And that’s it.

QUESTION: Libo Liu, Voice of America. Covering defense and security. As the United States and China are working to resume military-to-military exchange, how do I find out what kind of activities will take place, and how can I cover those events and activities once they are taking place? Thanks.

COL KIERNAN: I think that would be the type of a question that would be at the DoD level, rather than getting into a specific service. And I would also think with Andy’s connection and his relationship with State Department, that would obviously be another one where it’s going to be interagency and interdepartmental. And that would probably – we use the term with the military of public affairs. That would probably also have a public diplomacy link to it as well. But that would be at the highest levels. You’re in the right city to have a question and a topic like that.

I would add, though, as you do research, I would begin with the academic journals. There are a lot of journals out there with some very smart folks who are in universities and colleges around the world, as well as here in the United States, who have written on that topic and who have written on different issues. And that is always a good place to start, because it gives you contacts as the reporter and it helps you narrow your question and your query. But I would not dismiss the heavy lifting. I would not dismiss the papers that are written, particularly here in Washington. In Georgetown, we have a tremendous study over there – international. American University is another one here in town where international journalism is taught, and they have a very, very good department. But don’t dismiss the academic approach as far as research too, not just the journalism and what you get from official government spokespeople.

And once again, I would work through the embassy. I know when your country was preparing for their Olympics in Beijing, we had a couple of meetings with the defense attaché and had good sessions with him on the press center and how to set up the press center over there. And I found them to be very, very knowledgeable about all things, not just the Olympics that they were preparing for.

But have you worked with them in the embassy, the defense attaché? They can be very, very helpful. And I found them to be that.

MR. STRIKE: Once small follow-up. I’ll merely mention, too, that if you’re working for regional media, you can develop also a relationship with your regional combatant command. In this case, it’s Pacific Command out in Hawaii. And so many decisions are being taken out there. There’s a whole think tank community that works on issues out there. So develop press contacts at your combatant command headquarters; in this case, Pacific Command. It could also be Southern Command in Miami. It could be Northern Command in Colorado. It could be AFRICOM in Stuttgart or also European Command. So avail yourself of all these opportunities. And particularly for regional questions, you’re going to want to go to the regional experts in addition to talking to folks here in the Pentagon.

So that’s – you know, you always – if you have to remember one thing, remember DoD public affairs and the number that I gave you a couple minutes ago. But as you develop confidence and you expand your network, definitely work the combatant commands.

COL KIERNAN: Let me add one more to that. My last assignment was with the Pacific Command. I was in Honolulu. And out there, I found a very good center was the East-West Center, and they have a lot of good information. They also host symposia and forums, and there’s a number of events that they’ve had over there. And I think you’re seeing at the macro level an effort to kind of marry up where the combatant commands are located and where these think tanks are. So you have the East-West Center on the Pacific Rim, but then, of course, you have Oberammergau over in Europe and you have that interfacing with SHAPE and with the NATOs. And then down south in the Latin American area, right over here at Fort McNair we have a Center for Hemispheric Defense studies. So you’ll find there are a lot of studies and tanks that are set up that have a military media focus on their issues.

MR. STRIKE: In back, Petr, again.

QUESTION: Yes, I’m sorry to ask one more question. There is one thing that I couldn't understand, I have no clarity about. Some sort of different people are saying different things. U.S. nuclear submarines – how accessible they are? Is it right that United States do not permit foreigners to visit nuclear submarines, especially the journalists? Maybe you could clarify about that.

COL KIERNAN: I do know – I have seen stories done four, five, six years ago in New London, Connecticut and Groton. That’s where we have some of the nuclear subs berthed and based. And I know that ABC and some others have done stories about security of bases there. But as far as the specific access to the crew, or as Andy has related before, the operational capability, I’m not sure how deep you could go on that. But I know I have seen stories in the media here in the United States. Groton and New London are the two that come to mind.

MR. STRIKE: Yeah, I don’t have much to add, but I mean, the Navy regularly supports visits to its air installations to – carriers visits are quite popular. FPC media often go to Norfolk, where all manner of ships deploy every couple months. And if you ever want to get on a surface vessel, be it the USNS Comfort going down to the Southern Command region on an exercise shortly, or be it a carrier deploying to the Gulf or some such thing, if you have the ability to go four, five hours away on a day-trip, Norfolk is a very excellent place to go. And it has both the naval components that we talked about and it has the NATO-ACT and joint forces command, so that’s an interesting day trip.

And as – I mean, as to your specific question on submarines, I can’t remember a query in the recent past. But I’ll be happy, if you send me an email, to ask what the Navy policy is, and we’ll get you an answer one way or the other. So thank you.

QUESTION: The reason I asked this question was because Russian – press office of Russian ministry of defense told me once that they will not give access to American journalists – I think it was National Geographic or something like that because – to these submarines, because Americans have a similar policy so that was some sort of tit for tat. So I was – but some folks told me that it’s not true. That’s why I was asking.

MR. STRIKE: I don’t know. I would mistrust rumor, but we can certainly find out the facts.

QUESTION: Adrienne Woltersdorf from the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. I have a question. Now, we have the 60th anniversary of NATO coming up. And for somebody like me who is not covering defense on a daily or not even on a weekly basis, what kind of advice could you give me where to start? Because it’s a very diffuse topic. There is nothing tangible. How would you proceed?

COL KIERNAN: I’d give a couple of thoughts to that. On any particular issue it’s like a diamond; it has many facets. And of course, there’s going to be the official this is when we were founded with these member-nations, this is the accomplishments over the last 60 years, kind of the political-military aspect of it.

You may want to take an historical look at it. If you want to do a little bit of research, the George Marshall Library, which is right here in Lexington, is about two and a half hours away, and they have a lot of good information in the Marshall Library right there about NATO and about the beginning of it. Because after the war, when Marshall established the Marshall Plan and then later went on to become Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, he was instrumental in a lot of the planning that went into NATO. And I’ve been to that library and it’s located at Virginia Military Institute. So you go out I-66 about an hour and a half, and you go down I-81, and you run right into it.

But the library is a wonderful source on the origins of NATO. And that’s one thing you may want to take a look at from --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) look ahead to the next 60 years?


QUESTION: (Inaudible) so where would you start to cover (inaudible) which might be happening here?

COL KIERNAN: Well, I think, once again, as we’ve said at the opening, things will crystallize. You know, as Secretary of State Clinton gets on board, gets an opportunity to visit all the regions of the world, as the President begins to put together his national security team, these things are going to be talked about. And anniversaries, as you say, are good times to look not only back, but also forward.

In the history of the United States there were many alliances – SEATO, NATO, et cetera, ANZUS for the Australian press. And they have always, depending upon the world situation, come under review and come under modification. So I would say you’re probably going to have more folks dedicated to that issue of looking forward come the summer because that’s when the desks over at State will be set and the desks over at Pentagon.

You have to imagine, when you have this change of Administration, a minimum – minimum – 7,000 appointees coming into the government, minimum; assistant secretaries for all levels and all departments, not just the Pentagon but also over at the State Department. You’re going to have some that stay on – you know, the professional government workers, but then you’re going to have appointees at higher levels in the cabinet, but within all the departments. So I would say it’s like turning a large ocean liner. It will take a little bit of time, but I would say give it at least six months and things will be a little bit more crystallized for you to look forward.

MR. STRIKE: I would add that although this is meant to be a how-to-cover DoD briefing, there’s going to be a lot at State, our EUR Bureau and elsewhere has to say on NATO issues. And again, as things become more clear over subsequent weeks, I’m sure that we’ll have some offerings here. Then also, as I said, the NATO Allied Command for Transformation is right in Norfolk. That’s perfect for you to go down there. There will be German liaison officers whom you can work with and other opportunities of that kind. So it’s very easy to learn more about NATO in that respect.

And then consider think tanks. The one that rises to my mind is the Atlantic Council, which has always been heavily involved in NATO issues. So you know – and there are three or four that I’m omitting that are equally good. So just keep pulling strings and keep being in contact.

Okay, one – we’re going to take a breakaway. We’ll take a question from New York. Go ahead, New York.

QUESTION: Yes, Gina DiMeo, Italian press. How difficult it is to be embedded with the military for a mission, and do you take freelancer? And my first step would be to approach the Pentagon?

MR. STRIKE: Okay, embedding in Afghanistan or Iraq – well, your first step should be to go – I mean, go to the FPC website or go to the DoD website, which – you know, which it references. For Baghdad, it’s MNF-I and for Afghanistan it’s CJTF-101. And on those pages, there are embed packets and forms that you can download and fill out, and they do things like check your – when you arrive in country, they do things like check your biometrics, and you’ll have to go through visas and all this sort of stuff.

But it’s a fairly simple and straightforward process. They’ve gotten very good in the past three or four years of getting the hiccups out of it, and it’s pretty easy to do. I would start on those websites. If the – occasionally the links don’t work or the forms cannot be downloaded for some technical reason, let us know if that’s not the case and we’ll find – I’ll find the information for you.

And then as I said before, it’s very prudent to not only start working the issue from Afghanistan, but work the issue from here in the States. I’ll notice – I’ll add, since you’re in New York state, that one of our primary bases is Fort Drum, which is about five miles north – five hours north of you, at least, and it’s also – it hosts the 10th Mountain Division, which has been heavily engaged in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and I believe still has forces in Afghanistan, if not still in Iraq, too.

So you can very easily in a little more than a day trip go up there and meet folks who have either just deployed – just come back from being deployed or shortly will go out and be deployed. And in getting back to the embed thing, you can find a unit, if not at Drum then somewhere elsewhere in the DoD system, that is going to send – that is going to deploy sometime in the next couple months.

And if you establish a relationship with them, meet them here in their home environment, you might be able to arrange to travel with them. And I’m not sure what the cost is on overseas flights. I’m not expert at that level of detail. But there may be ways for you to get to Afghanistan that are easier than some of the airline options that have – I’ve known – there are always kinds of challenges in this regard. At different times and the situation – as things – as events have evolved in Afghanistan, sometimes it’s been easier to get there than other times. But I don’t currently know what the – what your options are, but I would encourage you to explore everything that DoD has to offer and that CJTF-101 has to offer on their website and everything that the home units have to offer here in the States.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Sabine Muscat for the Financial Times Deutschland here in Washington. I was wondering – you mentioned in the beginning – I was just curious. You mentioned the guidelines for (inaudible) and cooperating with the media in the public relations office of the DoD, and I was wondering if these guidelines have changed over time and what your experiences were. And yeah, maybe just telling a little bit from your own experience.

COL KIERNAN: When I was first assigned to the Pentagon, I was amazed at the access that the journalists had. I was amazed, and I had been in public affairs for a number of years. The first part of my career was as a combat soldier, and then public affairs the second half. I was amazed that the journalists – there’s 32 of them, I believe – actually have cubicles and offices in the Pentagon.

The second thing is that they are free to walk the 17 miles of hallway and speak with anyone about anything, whether it’s a general, it’s an admin person, it’s a solider, it’s a civilian, or whatever. So the access and the transparency was, very frankly, amazing to me when I first got to the Pentagon to work.

I think also at those – in those days, from Petr’s country when we were first having exchange visits with the former Soviet Union, they came over from TASS and Izvestia and their outlets, Pravda, and I think they, too, were amazed at the transparency and accessibility that folks had.

People who have not been to Washington, Americans who have not been to Washington and not been to the Pentagon, I don’t think they realize the access that the journalists have – international journalists, U.S. journalists, et cetera. There is a real effort – and there should be – to be accountable for the resources that the Department of Defense is given, to be accountable to the men and women and the taxpayers and the moms and dads of all the wonderful service people that we have. So I think there is every effort made at that level, as well as by Andy and the staff here at the Foreign Press Center, to get you the information as quickly as possible.

I have not seen a change in any way, except to become even more accessible with the embed policy. During the first Gulf War, we did not have an embed policy, and so we had a number of journalists there in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and the journalists would have to go in pools. They would have to go to a certain location to visit a ship or to visit the 18th Airborne Corps or the Marines, whoever they wanted to visit. So you got into logistics and busses and transportation and helicopters and things like that from Dhahran or Riyadh.

And I think with the embed, it did a few things. Number one, it gave the journalists a firsthand appreciation for the life of a solider or the life of a Marine or the life of the unit that you’re with, the day-to-day training, the day-to-day vigilance that must be maintained when you’re in a combat situation.

But more importantly, I think it quickly trained and educated a whole new generation of journalists that you are all part of, because there were only one or two during the first Gulf war that I had known from Vietnam. You know, I think it was Bob Simon and one other. And so a whole new generation was given the opportunity because of the embed. So I think it was beneficial for both sides. But transparency and candor, I think we work very, very hard at that, and that’s represented here by the Foreign Press Center, in my opinion.

MR. STRIKE: I would add that if you’re interested in what maximum disclosure, minimum delay, what that motto really means, you’re fortunate in being here in Washington. You’re about an hour away from Fort Meade, Maryland, which hosts the Defense Information School, which is where all of the DoD press officers are trained, and it’s also where DoD trains its journalists – you know, people who write for Armed Forces Press Service or the combat cameramen who go and follow our soldiers and Marines in the field, that sort of thing. And it’s an amazing school. I’ve taken media – some in this room, I see – up there to interview public affairs folks and get them to talk about military-media relations and what – you know, what good public affairs practice and ethics really means. And I mean, I’ll let them speak for themselves and they’re happy to entertain media at any time, so just give them a call [Editor’s note: please contact DINFOS at, 301-677-2528].

Thank you.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for one or two more questions. Go ahead if you’ve not asked a question. Please, I encourage you.

QUESTION: Adrienne Woltersdorf from the German newspaper Die Tageszeitung. I think some of us in the room have probably tried as well getting to Guantanamo. Any good tips from your side how we could get there in a sort of realistic timeframe?

MR. STRIKE: Well, “realistic” is an interesting choice of word. You must understand that every journalist in the world is interested – who’s not already been is interested in going. And I understand – I mean, the press officers at Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay have received many requests. They’re taking them all in the order that they were received and everyone who submits all of the required information, which is copies of stories and photographs and all this stuff. As soon as that’s received, you’ll get on a list and you’ll be able to go, again, in the order that you applied.

But I myself know of literally dozens of Foreign Press Center journalists who have applied in recent months, and you know, some are getting to go in the near future, some are still waiting. So all your colleagues are asking the same questions and submitting the same paperwork, and I would say be patient and persistent with my military colleagues. Their – you know, their information, their contact information, both phone and email, is on the FPC website, and you can call or email them anytime as to the status of your application, and just be patient, be persistent, say this is – you know, here’s what I submitted and go from there.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Are there any final questions? Well, that’s it. Thank you.