U.S. Air Force Receives Public Relations Industry's Top Honor for Balancing Honor, Compassion and Transparency in Making 'Dignified Transfers'

Jun 04, 2010, 12:40 ET from Public Relations Society of America

NEW YORK, June 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Military transparency - an oxymoron to some - has earned the U.S. Air Force Office of Public Affairs the public relations industry's highest award for excellence.

(Photo:  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20100604/DC15880 )

(Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20100604/DC15880 )

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) presented the Air Force with its "Best of Silver Anvil Award" for its program to facilitate media coverage of flag-draped coffins bearing the remains of U.S. service personnel arriving at Dover Air Force Base. More than 20 members of the Air Force, including the Honorable Erin C. Conaton, undersecretary of the Air Force, were on hand to accept the award at PRSA's Silver Anvil Awards ceremony, held Thursday evening at the Equitable Tower in New York.

"A Solemn View: Public Affairs Provides a Window to American Service Members' Ultimate Sacrifice" was selected as the best among 134 public relations programs nominated for a Silver Anvil Award, the public relations industry's most distinguished award for excellence. There were more than 800 entries total.

"This year, we recognize the U.S. Air Force and its public affairs professionals, whose approach to the 'dignified transfer' of service personnel remains neither sought nor discouraged media reports, but facilitated coverage consistent with each family's wishes," said PRSA Chair and CEO Gary McCormick, APR, Fellow PRSA. "I salute their efforts, which carefully balanced dignity, honor and respect for the fallen; compassion, service and support for the family members; and the need for greater transparency, as an important reminder of war's human cost."

For more than 18 years, a U.S. policy hid from public view the arrival of America's war dead at Dover Air Force Base, the sole U.S. port of entry for the remains of America's service personnel. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed this media ban, which critics had decried as hiding the true cost of war.

Air Force Public Affairs professionals developed a fail-safe and repeatable media relations program that neither sought nor discouraged media reports, but that facilitated coverage consistent with each family's wishes. In the first year of the new policy, 471 war dead returned to Dover for the "dignified transfer of remains." More than half (55 percent) of these ceremonies were covered by media.

"I want to thank the Public Relations Society of America for recognizing the Air Force Office of Public Affairs and its tremendous record of success in this no-fail mission," said Undersecretary of the Air Force Erin Conaton. "It is a solemn process that ensures dignity, honor and respect for the fallen, and also provides care, service and support to family members, while allowing the media to give the public considerate insight into the human cost of war. The work that Air Force Mortuary Affairs and Public Affairs do with dignified transfers, and the media's coverage of them, is important to the Air Force, the Department of Defense and the nation."

Silver Anvil Award judges noted in particular the Air Force's evaluation of media operations following each dignified transfer, which was key to making ongoing improvements and ensuring a unique and intimate experience for the families.

"The Air Force public affairs team brought a terrific sense of empathy for the families of fallen soldiers and combined it with a comprehensive and highly professional public relations effort," said James J. Roop, APR, Fellow PRSA, Silver Anvil Committee chair and president of Roop & Co., Cleveland, Ohio. "The team's ability to meet the desires of affected families while pulling back the curtain on the dignified transfers earned it the Best of Silver Anvil Award over many outstanding public relations programs in this year's competition."

To learn more about the program, visit PRSA's Voices of Public Relations for a podcast featuring Christy Nolta, deputy director for Air Force Public Affairs. For a glimpse of a red carpet interview with Col. Les Kodlick at the Silver Anvil Awards Ceremony, visit PR Tactics.

About Silver Anvils

The Silver Anvil Awards program has grown in scope and stature since its inception in 1946, and awards are now given in 59 categories and subcategories. In the 60-plus-year history of the Silver Anvils, many organizations have been recognized, including solo practitioners, agencies of all sizes, large and small businesses, top corporations, nonprofits, associations and government agencies. For a complete list of 2010 Silver Anvil winners, click here.

About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

With more than 31,000 members, PRSA is the largest organization of public relations professionals and students. PRSA is comprised of 111 local Chapters organized into 10 geographic Districts; 16 Professional Interest Sections that focus on issues, trends and research relevant to specialized practice areas, such as technology, health care, financial communications, entertainment and sports, and travel tourism; and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which has more than 300 Chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. PRSA is headquartered in New York.

CONTACT:  Diane Gomez, +1-212-460-1437, diane.gomez@prsa.org

SOURCE Public Relations Society of America