April 1, 2011
On Jan. 28, the U.S. Air Force promoted Les A. Kodlick to brigadier general. The move is a major step forward for Air Force public affairs. It has been nearly 11 years since the Air Force has advanced a career public affairs officer to the rank of brigadier general. Kodlick, who received his commission in 1984, is now the highest-ranked public affairs professional in the Air Force.
During a recent telephone conversation with Kodlick, the director of U.S. Air Force Public Affairs since May 2009, I asked about the promotion and what it meant to him.
There was a pause — long enough that I thought we had been disconnected.
He spoke slowly at first. “I’m humbled and honored to be able to serve,” he said. “The PA professionals serving in the Air Force are doing incredible things.”
You may recall that the Air Force received PRSA’s Best of Silver Anvil Award last June 3 in New York City.
Kodlick and 25 Air Force public affairs officers attended the ceremony in honor of their campaign titled, “A Solemn View: Public Affairs Provides a Window to American Service Members’ Ultimate Sacrifice.”
For more than 18 years, a U.S. policy prohibited media access to “dignified transfers,” the process of transporting slain service members’ remains from combat zones to the military’s mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. In 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reversed this media ban. The Air Force’s unconventional PR strategy was to avoid encouraging or discouraging media access. Instead, they opted to let families decide if they wanted to give journalists permission to attend the transfers. (Please see the Summer 2010 issue of The Strategist for more on the Air Force’s campaign.)
Preparing the next generation
A continuing challenge for Kodlick is helping nurture public affairs professionals within the Air Force.
“Right now, our ranks are pretty thin and our deployment rates are high,” he said. “It’s a demanding profession. So we have to make sure that we take care of them, retain and grow them.”
As director of public affairs, he is responsible for developing and executing global communication processes to build understanding and support for the Air Force. He oversees 5,500 active duty guard and reserve airmen and civilians.
In addition, Kodlick stresses the importance of developing a successor for his position.
“I take the obligation to grow the replacement seriously. You want to see other people succeed. You want to provide them the same opportunities,” he said. “We work hard at growing PA leaders to serve the Air Force and the nation. That’s what I focus on. It’s about future generations.”
During our phone call, we also discussed the importance of mentoring and the opportunities in the Air Force for young professionals. Kodlick’s commitment and enthusiasm for his career stood out to me.
“This is the greatest profession there is. You get to be involved in so many mission areas,” Kodlick said. “To me, doing public affairs and then serving the nation at the same time — what a blast.”