JMS Director experiences the life of a Naval Public Affairs Officer

June 15, 2022

Temple Northup sits in the captain's chair next to Captain Joshua "Spoiler" Wenker on the bridge of the USS Nimitz.

The career of a Military Public Affairs Officer, or PAO is unlike any other in the communications field. In an effort to learn what the life of a PAO is really like, School of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS) Director, Temple Northup recently stayed overnight aboard the USS Nimitz stationed in Coronado as part of the Navy’s Distinguished Visitor Program. Through this opportunity, Northup got an insiders look at the daily operations of the aircraft carrier, which is one of the largest warships in the world.

The Public Affairs Officer Program within the school of JMS is an intensive graduate program for enlisted PAO’s looking to further their career with a master’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies. Dr. Northup wanted to learn more about the career, gain a deeper understanding of life on an aircraft carrier, and the Navy more broadly. 

PAOs often work all around the ship, and have unique access to many different areas due to their extensive responsibilities.

“PAOs serve many different and important functions,” said Northup. “At their core, they tell the stories of the Navy to the world. This can include the good and the bad news. The information we hear about what the Navy is doing comes primarily from PAO.”

“Some, like the ones I saw on the ship, are working at sea -- others work at the Pentagon. When I was there, I saw them documenting, through pictures and videos, different people and things going on board, and so they play a really critical function of keeping up with all things going on.”

Dr. Northup had the opportunity to join in on a flight off the carrier, then landing back on the carrier as well as a catapult takeoff. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is something Dr. Northup looks back upon as an intense, yet thrilling.

“I learned how incredibly demanding Naval careers are -- whether you are enlisted or all the way up to the Admiral, who we also met. Being away from home for months at a time is quite hard, and the dedication of those on board was clear. They become family, and getting to see that bond that they share was special,” shares Northup. 

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