Article by Kate Oliver; Photo by Javier Chagoya
Lt. Cmdr. Clay Doss, a public affairs officer (PAO) for the U.S. Navy, was recently awarded the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) Outstanding Thesis Award. While this is a notable achievement, with less than 10 percent of the student body receiving the award, Doss is remarkable for another reason. Doss is the first Navy PAO to come through the NPS department of National Security Affairs (NSA), as part of the Navy PAO Regional Studies Program.
The new program expands on the existing educational opportunities available to Navy PAOs that consist of graduate education in mass communications, primarily with San Diego State University.
“Our primary focus with regards to graduate education is mass communications, because that is the expertise PAOs bring to the Navy,” said Bruce Cole, Assistant Chief of Information with the Navy Office of Information Requirements, Policy and Professional Development. “The reason we wanted to develop deeper expertise is because the need for understanding the cultural, economic and regional influences in an area is crucial for PAOs.”
Doss is aware of how his time at NPS and in-depth study of the Far East make him unique among his peers in the public affairs community.
“Most PAOs have the opportunity to study communications at San Diego State University or attend the Naval War College in Newport, both of which are outstanding opportunities,” said Doss. “But only at NPS is it possible to spend 15 to 18 months focusing on one region – digging through the history and political science literature, trying to understand key problems, and acquiring essential background knowledge.
“The idea of the program is that developing a deeper understanding of political, social, economic and military issues shaping the region helps me to provide better communication counsel to Navy leadership and to represent the Navy more effectively in a regional context,” said Doss, who is graduated from NPS in June with a degree in Far East, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Security Studies.
“As a public affairs officer, my job is to provide timely, truthful and accurate information to the U.S. public and international audiences about the Navy – who we are, what we do and why,” said Doss. “This country-specific and regional knowledge helps me tell the Navy story more clearly, reducing misperception and miscommunication.”
Cole points out that while the mission of PAOs is distinct from the mission of Foreign Area Officers (FAOs), who represent the majority of students that come through the NSA regional studies curriculum, PAOs must also work effectively in overseas environments, interacting with local communities and media agencies.
“Right now we have three PAOs involved in the program,” said Cole. “We have Doss in the Far East curriculum and another officer going through the Middle East curriculum. We just selected a third officer to start the Europe and Eurasia curriculum next fiscal year.
“We’re focusing on some of the primary areas of operation for the Navy, as well as regions like Europe and Eurasia, that are instrumental to our overall security,” said Cole.
The NSA offers regional study programs in four broad areas – Middle East, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa; Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific; Western Hemisphere; and Europe and Eurasia. Navy PAOs must go through a competitive selection process to attend, with only one candidate selected per fiscal year. Requirements for the Navy PAO Regional Studies Program include having at least three years of PAO experience as well as experience in or with the desired region of study.
As for why NPS was selected for the new Navy program, Cole said: “We wanted to leverage the excellence that is the postgraduate school. It’s ready-made and has a tremendous curriculum. It was an easy decision.”
As for Doss, he heads to Singapore for his next assignment, eager to put his new knowledge, analytic skills, and research capabilities to use.
“NPS is a very rigorous curriculum. It will challenge you and help you keep your edge so you’re ready to get right back into the fleet,” said Doss.