Thursday, September 9, 2010

An Open Letter to PAFF

Men and women of the Public Affairs Directorate,

Only a handful of PAFF officers have attended farewell dinners to honour an outgoing Director Public Affairs/MINDEF Spokesman. The one you are attending is the eight since the DPA post was created in August 1989.

Many more PAFF officers would have seen such a transition had they stayed the course. Many chose not to.

The loss of PAFF branch heads and staff officers is the Ministry of Defence's (MINDEF) loss. This manpower erosion has robbed PAFF of institutional memory and professional expertise at a time when the Third Generation Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) needs cheerleaders to sell its story.

The reasons for these resignations are as varied as the personalities involved. But they all seem to lead to one common denominator. Don't we all know what that is?

As the eight DPA’s term draws to a close, look forward to Monday 13 September 2010. I hear that’s the day when Singapore Army Colonel Desmond Tan Kok Ming will assume operational control of PAFF.

There may be times when defence observers wonder if COL Tan (he turned 40 on Wednesday) will take over a going concern.

Having done some discrete checks, I am quietly confident the ninth DPA will rebuild, recharge and reset PAFF on firm ground.

He will command a directorate with a proud history that began in 1979.

Starting from scratch, PAFF’s influence grew to such an extent that by the early 1990s, briefings by PAFF for the world’s defence journalists counted the who’s who of military journalism. Major titles and distinguished bylines would make time to attend PAFF press conferences to hear, learn more and write about the SAF. The highwater mark were the Asian Aerospace media days hosted by the SAF. The events were so successful that aviation and defence companies would make sure their AA press events did not clash with PAFF’s. In its heyday, there was no question which event would draw a bigger crowd.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, when budgets were tight and time was short, government agencies naturally gravitated towards PAFF as its staff officers were known to deliver.

Why else was the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) tasked with producing the National Day Parade programme when there were other government ministries set up primarily for information management who could have done the job? During NDPs of yesteryear, it was the Defence Ministry's PIONEER magazine team that helmed the programme with organisations like MINCOM taking a back seat. Everyone else looked the other way, content to let someone else do the work. That someone else was PAFF.

Who was left holding the fort when giant star-shaped balloons hung over Orchard Road were deflated by passing traffic? It was PAFF. I know a Media Relations Officer who cried after her wonderful media plan quite literally fell to the ground. One Star after another, set up for the Singapore Jubilee Spectacular in August 1990, fell unceremoniously in Singapore’s tourist belt. What could have become a media fiasco was remedied, the MRO pulled herself together and PAFF did damage control.

A Second Lieutenant back on a term break from Sandhurst was attached to PAFF for the SJS. The young officer saw firsthand the importance of defence information management. Lessons he picked up under the leadership of the DPA at the time saw him in good stead when he commanded Operation Flying Eagle in Meulaboh some 15 years later. That 2LT is today’s BG Tan Chuan-Jin.

When the SAF needed a firm hand to rein in the feral press, PAFF was there. PAFF officers guided newshounds even under demanding circumstances, like the aftermath of the RSS Courageous incident. Even with emotions running high and morale at a low ebb, news updates continued to be filed from and on the sea. These updates kept a concerned nation informed of the search for its lost daughters.

PAFF officers were forced to learn fast. New staff officers, almost invariably female, are usually flummoxed by the mountain of acronyms they have to master when talking to MINDEF/SAF. There was this PAFF MRO who couldn’t tell the difference between an M-16 and F-16, MCV and MCMV when she first arrived. When she was duty officer one day, she rang the RSAF Air Operations Department frantically, holding an incident report of an RPV crash in one hand and shouting down the phone: “But where is the pilot?!”

Then there was another who routinely confused DPO and DS(P) since both Ps stood for “Policy”, confusing both with proposals meant for one another at a time when submissions were sent by hand, fastened by paperclips to cardboard folders.

They had to learn fast because DPAs like COL R Menon didn’t suffer fools. Soon enough, these same PAFF officers were the ones whom senior commanders consulted for media guidance.

DPAs during my time as an NSF earned the respect of officers they led. Submissions sent to Level 5 would cascade down to the PAFF offices on Level 1, peppered with hand-scrawled notes and suggestions. COL Menon’s command of grammar was strong and shoddy submissions came back clear and polished. Those who didn't know or care about differences between English and American spelling - mobilise or mobilize - soon got a lesson in grammar from the good Colonel. Astute staff officers soon learned that these enlightening moments were best avoided and they put in extra effort to polish their submissions before it went upstairs.

Long before CMR was added to MINDEF/SAF’s stylebook, PAFF officers wore out their shoes walking the ground with the SAF’s combat formations. They went all out to reach out to residents before large-scale war games got underway. The outreach by PAFF forged strong ties with the Singaporean community and was a key communications channel for residents to share feedback during the Torrent-series of exercises and other combat manoeuvres.

Good leadership is what PAFF needs as it reflects on the past three years and rebuilds confidence among its staff officers and the trust of its business partners.

The incoming DPA should take heart that there exists a network of people who spent part of their lives with PAFF who are still keenly interested in what goes on at PAFF. The friends of PAFF are determined that the directorate’s work will not unravel.

We will watch PAFF’s progress closely.

Treat us as a friend and the PAFF alumni will represent a precious resource who will run this race with you. We will not allow what we've built to be broken.

Choose to open an account and that account will be settled and repaid with interest. Calibrate this relationship anyway you wish.

To 8's cronies, hear this: housekeeping has begun. Step in line and pull your weight with the rest or prepare to step out of line.

Those who know, will know the system has heard PAFF’s woes loud and clear.

PAFF cannot fail because our defence matters.


sampleletters said...

Best collection of Sample Farewell letters

Anonymous said...

goodbye, darius! have a good trip to london! congrats, desmond! wishing you all the very best in your new appointment!

Anonymous said...

We should close this chapter and move one.

Anonymous said...

We should close this chapter and move on. (correcting a typo).

David Boey said...

Yes, I agree.

From some strange reason, the song "I'm leaving on a Jet Plane" springs to mind. :-)

Spotter said...

I prefer Boney M's One Way the moon
(I'm the poster for the Sep 10 comment)

Anonymous said...

Grand Marshal Boey!!! It worked!!! He's gone!!!! u're a geniuss!!!! iron cross award 4 u!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

the kementah echo chamber. another example of why you can't believe everything you read online.

Anonymous said...

PAFF is not a command so COL Desmond Tan is not commanding it. I think it's important the difference between staff and command is clearly dilineated.

Anonymous said...

PAFF is a very dangerous place, even now. Because there is obviously a spy within leaking info to our man here and helping fuel the negativity. I'm surprised this person has survived this long without being caught. Whether it's SIA, Starhub or MINDEF, this person may well lose his or her job if discovered. There are corporate policies like that in every company.

FIVE-TWO said...

well well before the DPA9 can even officially assume his post, the RSN has already sent a welcome gift. come on people, things are happening to SAF men, women and machines and news must be managed.

Anonymous said...

Where is your nemesis going, ex-reporter boy??? Is he sacked??!???

Anonymous said...

victory speech pleeazzzze!!!!

Anonymous said...

What happened??? Why is RWS breaking laws?!?