The United States Navy loves acronyms: as a PAO, my job is to manage CCS and create PAG for my CoC while completing PQS to gain experience through OJT.
Did I lose you yet?
To loosely translate, public affairs officers (PAOs) are the Navy’s strategic communicators, managing synchronization of messaging, development of public affairs guidance (PAG) and communication plans, and providing advice and council to senior leaders on all aspects of communication and media relations. Historically, Navy PAOs come from extremely varied backgrounds and are trained through a short, all-encompassing, classroom-based course. This is followed by on-the-job training (OJT) across the fleet while fulfilling mid-level management jobs across shore-based staffs and ships.
My background was about as far from communication as one could get. I graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in 2015. I was commissioned into the Navy as a surface warfare officer (SWO), learning how to drive ships and lead sailors. In 2017, I transferred into the public affairs community, completed a nine-week course of study and was sent to the fleet working under a senior PAO at Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), the organization in charge of the entirety of naval aviation — more than 300,000 people, 11 aircraft carriers and 3,700 aircraft.
Within my first week on the job, the vice admiral (CNAF’s CEO-equivalent) — a naval officer with nearly 40 years of experience — turned to me and asked for my opinion and guidance. At this point, I had been a naval officer for about three years and a PAO for about three months … how was I in a position to advise a leader with so much experience?
That first week was a mere precursor for what was to come in the following years. As I gained more experience, the leaders I was expected to advise also became more experienced. However, the PAO is always going to be the junior person in the room. Without rank on our side, and an organization with an annual turnover rate of nearly 50%, building and maintaining credibility with senior leaders is a persistent challenge for the Navy’s professional communicators.
Enter a new acronym: CMP.
Getting certified as a Communication Management Professional (CMP®) through the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC) immediately builds credibility when entering a new organization or facing leadership turnover.
Navy PAOs can work anywhere from surface ships, aviation units, submarine squadrons, special warfare commands, the Pentagon, community outreach organizations, and more. Without a singular path of development and the need for diversification of experience for career progression, the OJT-method of training lacks the consistency, standardization and clarity needed for PAOs to achieve success as professional communicators.
Over the past several years, the Navy has shifted to a more standardized path for PAO development. PAOs are now trained to seek certification, earning global recognition for our communication capabilities. This builds credibility not only with the senior leaders we advise but also for the Navy PA community writ large. Certification provides us, and the leaders we advise, a known baseline of capabilities — a CMP® is a consummate and competent communication professional.
Valuing certification across our community also encourages a culture of personal and professional development. With the renewal process challenging certification holders to find continuing education opportunities; engaging in academic reading, writing or research; and taking on mentorship positions, CMP® has challenged me to strive to do something every day to increase my professionalism acumen.
In the past year since earning my certification, I’ve read books outside of my comfort zone, engaged in professional discourse across my community and finished course curriculum I likely would have omitted in the past. For me, CMP® was never about adding an acronym at the end of my signature, but about becoming the best communicator, PAO and naval officer possible, in order to help make the Navy a better organization in which to work, serve and lead.
Lt. Emily Judstra, USN, CMP®
Lt. Emily Judstra is currently the deputy public affairs officer aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) and a 2015 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. In 2020, she earned a Master of Arts in strategic communication management from Concordia University, St. Paul, and her certification as a Communication Management Professional from the Global Communication Certification Council. She is married to another naval officer and the proud mother of two rambunctious toddlers.