Connecting the world to the MEU: Public Affairs and Combat Camera

Connecting the world to the MEU: Public Affairs and Combat Camera

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl Kyle Runnels, a 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) combat correspondant, takes photos at sunset aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), at sea. Photo by Sgt Christopher Q. Stone.

USS KEARSARGE (July 16, 2013) - Public affairs Marines and combat cameramen assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit work in a unique joint shop environment documenting the operations, exercises and achievements of the 26th MEU by means of photographs, video, multimedia and articles. The 26th MEU is one of the few units in the Marine Corps who harness the capabilities of the two shops working in a cohesive manner.

With many more similarities than differences, usually the two shops work in different areas with little to no support of one another.

"The bottom line is it comes down to who we work for," said GySgt Michael K. Kropiewnicki, a Queens, N.Y., native, and combat camera chief. "Combat camera's priority is the commander and visual information mission requirements. Basically, we gather critical or internal information that enables the decision making process for the commander. It is kind of nice working with the combat correspondents. It gives us a little more incentive to get our non-sensitive imagery more frequently released. It is nice for the junior Marines to see their stuff being used by the media and being published on social media sites."

"PA Marines are entrusted to be the link between the world and the Marines and sailors on the ground through photos, videos and stories," said Capt Lucas J. Burke, public affairs officer in charge from Bakersfield, Calif. "In addition, they also break down military operations into products that can be easily understood by someone outside of the Marine Corps, whether it be a mom or dad back home seeing a photo online, or a decision-maker in Washington, D.C. reading a news story."

With their first real world assignment in the New York Tri-State area conducting humanitarian relief in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the Marines utilized their vast amount of skillsets and were successful in documenting the 26th MEU's participation, publishing articles, photos and videos daily. They worked into the early morning hours every day editing and uploading for official use and public release. It was common for their products to be used by major news corporations including CNN, Fox News and the New York Times.

"The shop had a tremendous, positive impact on Hurricane Sandy operations because that was a very traumatic event for one of the world's largest metropolitan areas," said Burke. "There was a thirst for information from all levels of government and the American public; so our job was to tell the region, and the rest of America, that her Marines stand ready and willing to help, and always will be ready."

Their success continues through their deployment due to their ability to embed with the different elements, often times actually participating in the various training events giving them the best perspective possible.

"Embedding PA and COMCAM Marines with the reinforcements rather than randomly cover units helps across three distinct areas: unit cohesiveness, trust and availability," said Burke. "By training with that squad and platoon, a Marine can integrate with that team, and with that comes the trust and knowledge of tactics, techniques and procedures. By having them attached to those units, availability is huge, so they're always ready to cover training or an operation whenever it may arise."

During the MEU's pre-deployment training, each shop cross trained on each other's skills resulting in the Marines confidently performing five different MOS' on a regular basis.

"Cross-training is a huge benefit; we have a relatively small shop, even combined with both PA and Combat Camera, to cover the 2,400 Marines and sailors with the MEU," said Burke. "At any time, any one of us may be grabbed to take photos, provide media escorts, or conduct an interview. The end state is the same: document our operations and convey them to a wider audience, but I try to keep strengths within each MOS if time and personnel allows."

Striving for perfection in everything they do while becoming force multipliers capable of filling the roles of each other's MOS, the Marines of the joint shops conduct monthly projects that span both occupational fields decided by Kropiewnicki, their staff noncommissioned officer in charge.

"I give monthly side projects for all the Marines to work on in their downtime," said Kropiewnicki. "It is usually stuff that I have learned over the years through experience or the college courses I take that I challenge my Marines to learn and utilize. I do it so they can grow and become more marketable, expanding their capabilities in other forms of training than they would typically get."

The result of the success of the Marines is showing the world the important of the sacrifices they have to make on a daily basis. Since the beginning of their deployment the MEU has been featured on various international news outlets. Releasing more than 1,290 photographs, 77 videos totaling more than 210 minutes, and 22 graphics, the 26th MEU is followed by thousands of people across the world on various social media sites, including 13,500 followers on Facebook, shattering previous deployments statistics.

"The strength of our social media sites are directly related to the quality of content: we have interesting story ideas and exceptional photographs and videos," said Burke. "Creativity is key; you can only write about a rifle range so many times, but if you find unique perspectives or another story line, you can really capture that audience and help them understand what the MEU does, why we do it, and how that helps support our National Security Strategy. Ultimately we are America's Marines, and she deserves to know what we're doing."

Marines.mil is the official website of the United States Marine Corps and is maintained by the Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs.