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USACE civilian graduates DINFOS: A peek into his experience there

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - Omaha District
Published April 14, 2020
Zane Ecklund, a public affairs specialist with the Omaha District, recently graduated from the Defense Information School's public affairs qualification course. (embedded photo: U.S. Coast Guard  Senior Chief Officer Kyle Niemi)

Zane Ecklund, a public affairs specialist with the Omaha District, recently graduated from the Defense Information School's public affairs qualification course. (embedded photo: U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Officer Kyle Niemi)

Q: Who are you?

A: My name is Zane Ecklund. I’m a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I work at Corps’ Omaha District office in Omaha, Nebraska.

Q: Describe your public affairs experience?

A: I started working for the US Army Corps of Engineers as a public affairs specialist in August 2018. Prior to working for the Corps, I was a photographer for the Army’s Multimedia Visual Information Directorate working at the Pentagon. Prior to federal service I spent five years as a mass communication specialist in the U.S. Navy. In addition, I have degrees in journalism and professional media.

Q: What class did you attend?

A: I attended the Department of Defense’s Public Affairs Qualification Course at the Defense Information School on Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Q: When did you attend?

A: I attended Jan. 14. It’s a 10-week course consisting of 45 days of instruction.

Q: Who is this class for and who would benefit from attending?

A: The Public Affairs Qualification Course is for Department of Defense public affairs professionals. This includes service-members, including guard and reserve personnel, DOD civilians and select foreign military communications professionals. Despite the class being offered primarily to public affairs professionals, I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to go. Effective communication skills benefit everyone regardless of their career field.

Q: What was the best part about the class?

A: The best thing about this class was there was a lot of good information for my career field. Also, our instructors were extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the course material. The subject matter and lectures were extensive - to put it mildly. I haven’t done the math, but I imagine a class with 45 eight-hour training days is at least a semester’s worth, if not more, of college-level classwork. You definitely get your money’s worth.

Q: What advice would you give someone about to attend the class?

A: The best advice I could probably give someone is go in with an open mind and take it all in. The first few weeks there’s a lot of information that comes at you fast. Eventually, your mind adapts, class will slow down and things will begin to make more sense.

Q: Did anything surprise you about this class?

A: There were a couple of things that surprised me about the course. The first thing was how little public affairs experience most of my classmates had. I do not mean this as a knock on them, I just did not expect to be one of the more seasoned people in the class. Most of my peers were junior officers, but we had a few lieutenant colonels which kind of surprised me. The class was challenging enough, I could only imagine being at that rank, having that much experience and then learning an entirely new career field.

The second thing that surprised me, and this is not typical, was how real-world events shaped the class. Part of our instruction was preparing and delivering a staff brief. Each day a different student would deliver one, and part of the brief had to include real-world events. As you can probably imagine the coronavirus was featured prominently. In the beginning it was just something we mentioned to our instructor, who was role-playing our commanding officer, as something to pay attention to. Obviously, over time, it became more and more serious. Also, it was a bit surreal to be in a class where a section of the curriculum focused on crisis communication while a pandemic was beginning.

Q: How has the training prepared you to do your job more successfully?

A: This class did a great job of explaining concepts I had heard about but was not exactly familiar with. The class also helped straighten out some misconceptions I had. An example that comes to mind is messaging and talking points. I thought that they were two different things, but in reality one is not going to exist without the other.

Q: Do you have anything you’d like to add?

A: The Defense Information School is a wonderful asset. I enjoyed my time there even more attending for the second time.