Not Business as Usual
•  By Heather O. Milke

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The Air Force Connection

When Lt. Brooke Brander, BA ’02, first reported for duty at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, she knew she would find opportunities and challenges as a public affairs officer. After all, it was her first job after graduating with a degree in political communication. After spending three and a half years in the ROTC while at GW, she also expected the hard work and personal sacrifices involved in military life. But she didn’t know that within the first few minutes of her on-site training, she’d find a fellow Colonial—and a friend.

After earning a degree in electronic media from GW, Lt. Nathan Broshear, BA ’98, worked in Los Angeles for a film production company and later for Sony and Cisco Systems before entering Air Force officer training school. The career change was almost a natural one, as Broshear’s father also served in the Air Force, and Broshear had grown up on bases all over the world. As a public affairs officer, Broshear was able to put his film and television expertise to good use while working with media crews and presenting information on the base to the public. In July 2002, Broshear was assigned as Brander’s sponsor—a guide to show her around the base, assist her with securing housing, and help ease her into military life.

“When she first got here, we formed an instant friendship,” he says. “I was happy to sponsor an alumnae and trade stories about our school.”

As they talked about their college days, they found they had more in common than a shared alma mater. They both graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Both had put themselves through school by bartending and valet parking—and had even worked for the same valet company. And both felt their outgoing, curious personalities were a perfect match for the nature of their work.

“These are all even bigger coincidences because our office is such a small division within the Air Force,” Brander says. “There are probably only about 700 public affairs officers within the entire Force. To have two people with so many connections who have desks about 20 feet away from one another in an office is incredible. We have such a natural friendship because of it.”

They now work as a team with nine other people, reporting to the base commander on all matters of communications, with the media, community, and internal base matters. Their duties include coordinating press conferences and helping film crews gain access to equipment and information; giving civilian tours and coordinating neighborhood outreach initiatives; and running an on-base TV station, a newsletter, and the base’s Web site.

“There’s a joke in our office that instead of standing for ‘public affairs,’ ‘P.A.’ actually stands for “practically anything,” Brander says. “And to some extent, that’s true. We never know what the day will bring, but we’re ready for it. But that’s what we love about this job—you get to meet all kinds of people, and you never know what to expect next.”

The unexpected has its rewards. Broshear had the opportunity to go overseas as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, working with troops who were in charge of the maintenance of B-52 bombers in the United Kingdom. He says one of the best experiences of his career was working with these men and women.

“I was watching these soldiers do the things we don’t think about—fueling planes, changing tires—and I was thinking that even though our planes can’t get off the ground without their help, they’re never in the spotlight,” Broshear says.

Broshear and his colleagues interviewed and photographed these soldiers, then contacted their hometown newspapers. “It was unbelievable how many papers picked up their stories, how many parents and teachers and former employers called to say they bought 50 copies, how proud their loved ones were. It made me feel good knowing that I was helping to tell their stories.”

Whether overseas or on the base, and despite the long hours and unpredictable nature of the work, Brander says having fun is always part of the job.

“I think we have one of the best jobs in the Air Force, and I feel very lucky that I’ve had such a positive experience right out of college,” Brander says. “Having a GW connection and making a close friend has made that experience all the better.”

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