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What Does a PAO Really Need to Know?


Centuries ago, there were no regulations. The rules were passed along orally, and the penalty for breaking them was usually harsh and permanent: many a head rolled in the Middle Ages as a result of what today might be considered a minor infraction.

The modern military, created by Napoleon Bonaparte who was the first to foster a meritocracy for promotion, was built on performance, intelligence, and rules. Thus the French military of his day had very few descendants of noble families in positions of authority. Instead, he simply picked the best man for the job, then gave him a title to go with the position. (To this day, the French look down upon “Napoleonic titles,” which are held in the same contempt as our conservative society used to regard “the new rich.”)

But the idea of writing down the rules stuck. As did the system of meritocracy. As Civil Air Patrol members, we are bound by rules, called “regulations,” the same as in the Air Force is ruled by its “Instructions.” Therefore, the PAO needs to “know the regs.”


Since PAOs are their commander’s advisors on matters of protocol, naturally they need to know protocol, military courtesy, and how CAP works. Also, since PAOs write about what CAP members do, they need to know in more than passing detail the fundamentals of Emergency Services, Cadet Programs, and Aerospace Education.

Ideal PAOs are qualified Mission Radio Operators, Public Information Officers, Ground Team Members, and also hold a rating in some air crew specialty (Pilot, Observer, or Scanner). Well-rounded PAOs are also familiar with Cadet Programs and have had some experience in a position of leadership working with cadets or young people. Aerospace Education should be a PAO’s avocation, perhaps even passion.


Obviously, good writing skills are essential to our work, no matter what the circumstances. Even when no paper and pencil are available, we can always tell the story to someone else, either over the phone or radio, or in person. A good writer organizes a story logically, kicks it off with a great “hook” for a leading paragraph, and develops it with a sensitive eye towards human interest — while keeping in mind that Job #1 is to present CAP at its best, because each article or story represents a chance to “win” the public.

Articles are not complete unless they are accompanied by appropriate images. Therefore, a PAO needs to know how to take photographs.

A news article might be a natural for filming. Seeing the possibilities and luring the local TV crew to your site to tell it to the world is also part of the job.

To gather information, the PAO often needs to ask questions. Here, good interviewing skills are a plus.


Your duties as a PAO always involve people. You write about people, interview people, get people to help you with leads, or by taking photos, or coordinating with the local media. When acting as a PAO, you’ll need good speaking skills in order to address the media or be interviewed on camera. You need to take the CAP story out to the public in other ways, such as speaking at schools, service clubs, city councils, and so on. You can also use social media to present the CAP story. And, of course, you need to write articles that will engage people and fire up their imagination.

If you don’t like people, you might be in the wrong position as a PAO. We write about people, for people, and with the help of people. This involvement can be harmonious or offer an opportunity for friction. For best results,

  • Offend no one,
  • Tell only the truth,
  • Admit mistakes and offer prompt apologies as needed,
  • Do not alarm the public,
  • Never promise what you cannot deliver, and
  • Never tell what you have been told not to tell

If you can follow this advice, and do so consistently, you’ll be a happy PAO as well as a good PAO.

Last updated: 09/14/2015

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