28 September 2011

Complaint to Hill AFB Public Affairs - unanswered!

This describes an amazing failure in ethical public relations, centered around preparation of a misleading press release generated at Hill AFB. I submitted this letter to the 75ABW Public Affairs office, without response from them, after they complained to the editor of the Tucson Citizen regarding coverage of Agent Orange issues at Davis-Monthan AFB and the press release describing the destruction of the stored C-123K/UC-123K dioxin-contaminated airplanes.

August 4th, 2011 on 4:39 am (click here to go to the publish site)

To: Director, Public Affairs, Hill AFB
Sir or Madam:
Thank you for your daily service to the country and the Air Force, and for helping the public understand the mission of our service and the dedication our military and civilian servants show in so many ways.
I do not understand why you have failed to contact me if you feel I misstate the situation involving dioxin contamination of the UC-123K fleet, or your press release involving that aircraft’s destruction last year. Michael can give you my phone number or you can email me directly. If I can be corrected regarding any error, please explain what that error may be.
And public affairs folks know darn well the first thing you do with bad news is disarm it by explaining it truthfully. You can do that now. You could have done so in the “non-release” of the UC-123K event, but you didn’t serve the military well by letting others edit the material so far out of context. As I wrote, you offered no lies in the release…you simply failed to mention that the real event was the destruction of nearly two dozen aircraft, destroyed because of lingering Agent Orange fears.
Read the OSD consultant's memos again. Read the comments from others, including general officers, stressing the need for low visibility, the need to avoid media attention, the need to prevent pubic alarm. Virtually every single memo and email subject line was “contaminated” or “Agent Orange” or “Dioxin”…but none of these words were left after all the editing was done on your press release. Read again the OSD memo to Mr. Boor, congratulating the 505th on the low visibility of the event.
Read those emails from the Senior Consultant to the Office of Secretary of Defense, who stressed the need to prevent those “trash-hauling, freeloading” Air Force Reservists who have been exposed to Agent Orange (according to AFMC’s own tests!) from seeking medical care for their Agent Orange-presumtive illnesses.
Unless I read my fellow citizens wrong, it seems the public wants the VA to be responsive to the needs of war veterans, Active and Reserve, who have service-connected illnesses and injuries. Unless I read the various mission statements wrong in the PA shops I’ve visited in person and online, your press release did a great harm by word-smithing the event so as to not tell the public or the UC-123K veterans the proper truth. My complaint remains that your press release was deceptive, failed to inform and instead concealed information, and misdirected the attention of the media and the public rather than informed the citizenry.
I am still amazed, reading the various emails and messages provided in the FOIA responses from Hill and DM, that there were so many comments about the need to avoid media attention. Even your own press release wasn’t distributed but was prepared just in case some curious reporter poked in the right area. Your UC-123K press release cost you, and the Air Force, media trust and respect.
You yourselves would not accept such a low standard of behavior from the professionals who serve you. You wouldn’t accept it from your subordinates. You would be offended if this kind of behavior was presented by your supervisors and leaders in the service. At the Academy, what you did with the UC-123K information would be called dishonorable. From the Honor Code Handbook…
“Equivocation” or “quibbling” (i.e., using purposely vague, misleading, or ambiguous language, or leaving out pertinent information in a deceptive manner) falls within the jurisdiction of the Honor Code as lying.”
Public Affairs professionals have the vital role of telling the public (as well as those of us in the military) about the full range of the Air Force mission. About how lethal force is employed, how precious tax dollars are spent, and how the precious lives of our sons and daughters are spent in combat. Your UC-123K press release cost you public trust and confidence in your ability to tell the public the whole truth.
So don’t knock on the editor’s door, or the reporter’s. Man up…give me a call and explain why you think it was better not to tell me about my Agent Orange exposure in your UC-123K press release. Tell me why you feel it was better to have me wait another year for my cancer and heart disease progress, another year to pass before I learned I’d been intensely exposed to dioxin.
Agent Orange is a dreaded evil in our family. My late father, Army Chief Warrant Officer Henry Carter, served a year at Phu Cat Air Base in Vietnam, one of the Ranch Hand stations. My father died of prostate cancer, one month after the VA approved his claim for Agent Orange exposure. Our brother-in-law, Sergeant First Class Willy Chiquina, died this summer of Alzheimer’s, perhaps due to dioxin exposure from his service. One of the most wonderful men I’ve ever met, Master Sergeant Bob Boyd, a UC-123K flight instructor in our squadron, died at home of a heart attack while in his easy chair, reading his Bible.
And yesterday, our former wing vice commander, Colonel Paul Huffman, died as his cancers overcame him, hours after he asked his wife to let him leave the ICU and die at home. My own cancer, heart disease, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, added to the spinal cord injury I had during the Persian Gulf War, worry me. Agent Orange worries me. It worries all of us who flew the contaminated UC-123K.
Had I read your press release properly written last year, I’d have been alerted to the fact of possible Agent Orange exposure. Time to watch those PSA numbers! Time to get into the Agent Orange Registry! Time to get a cardiac stress test! Time for your PA warning to take some precautions. Imagine - your press release might have actually helped me and others like me. Instead, your press release failed us, failed the public, and failed the media which trusted you to represent the Air Force to the public. 
Time to take an ethics course.
W.T. Carter, Major, USAF, Retired

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