Barber helps DoD embrace Web's possibilities

Just the sheer number of uniformed and civilian personnel - about 2.3 million military and 700,000 civilian - would make internal communications at the US Department of Defense (DoD) a challenge.

Just the sheer number of uniformed and civilian personnel - about 2.3 million military and 700,000 civilian - would make internal communications at the US Department of Defense (DoD) a challenge.

But making things harder, notes Allison Barber, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and internal communications, is the varying level of access to information many of these people have, as they deploy to warfronts or are otherwise in transit to any of the 177 countries where the US military has a presence.

Today, though, multiple communications outlets exist, including broadcasts, webcasts, and podcasts of the Pentagon Channel, which was launched three years ago and serves as a kind of CNN for uniformed and civilian personnel to find out the latest on DoD policy and other news. There is also the DoD's official site, www. defenselink.mil; the long-running Armed Forces Radio and Television Service available oversees; and Stars and Stripes, the independently run military paper first published during the Civil War.

Barber says that internal communication is a passion for her. She admits that while the Pentagon may have a reputation for being notoriously bureaucratic and resistant to change, in fact the military officers and civilian officials she works with have generally been quite receptive to her team's work helping the DoD make the most of new media technology.

"I just met with a three-star admiral who told me about how he and his 17-year-old daughter IM each other while in the same room," she says. "I think people might be surprised [by] how tech-savvy our senior leaders are, until they think about how they use technology in other ways for their jobs. So it's not a stretch that they would know about communications tools."

Barber joined the DoD in June 2001 from Sodenta, a DC-based communications consultancy she headed. Upon her arrival, she was immediately given a mandate by then-Pentagon communications chief Torie Clarke to help military public affairs take advantage of new media and modern communications techniques.

Along with the internal and external communications enabled by her team's work on the Pentagon's various outlets, Barber touts America Supports You. This program, which was created close to three years ago, helps people organize all kinds of efforts to support military personnel and their families, from sending care packages to participating in "Freedom Walks" in Washington.

Judging by Barber's recent netting of the National Association of Government Communicators' Communicator of the Year award, her work has succeeded. Echoing that sentiment is Don Meyer, who worked closely with Barber for about three years as part of his role as special assistant to Clarke.

"Allison is one of these highly creative types that took that mandate and ran with it, proposing all these ideas that were kind of anathema to the old guard at the Pentagon," says Meyer, now a partner at Rubin Meyer Public Affairs. "There was the typical phenomenon there of being about 15 years behind the rest of the country in using new methods to communicate."

With the US at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and combating terrorists around the world, the DoD comes in for no little amount of criticism for the way it conducts its operations. Barber, however, says none of that generally is directed at the military personnel themselves. Quite the opposite, in fact.

From the level of participation in America Supports You, for instance, Barber knows how fully US citizens support military personnel. Indeed, the dedication of US armed forces is a big reason she feels such passion for her work.

"I've never found a job more meaningful than this," she says.

Allison Barber

2001-present
Deputy asst. secretary of defense for public affairs and internal comms

1999-2001
President, Sodenta PR

1998
President of DC office, PlowShare Group

1992-1998
PR director, American Red Cross

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