WASHINGTON: The death of former President Ronald Reagan prompted the first state funeral of the cable age last week - and one of the largest ever military public affairs efforts outside a war zone.
The US Army Military District of Washington (AMDW), which oversees state funerals, began gathering PAOs from all branches - plus reservists, national guardsmen, and civilians from various federal agencies - shortly after Reagan passed away on June 5. About six makeshift media centers were established in California and DC, each housing as many as 40 PAOs working in sequential 12-hour shifts.
"It's a mammoth coordination effort, but the operation is just incredible," said Col. Jody Draves, director of public affairs for the AMDW. "What we're doing hasn't been done in 30 years, and it's never been done this way."
Although a pool system has long been in place for state funerals, more than 1,500 requests were made to cover the events live. With only 600 available slots at all six DC venues combined, requests were being filled with an eye toward achieving a mix of media while "maintaining the dignity of the ceremony," said Draves.
The AMDW also served as a clearinghouse for questions regarding funeral speakers and events - more than 3,000 calls came in on Tuesday alone.
"We have folks researching so we can get back with answers. We have others scheduling and staffing interviews," said Navy Lt. Nancy Harrity. "It's been a 24-hour-a-day operation."
DC police and Department of Homeland Security spokespeople combined to publicize security measures and road closings. "Our primary concern is the DC area, but [the media] will spread the word out up and down the East Coast," said police spokesman Kenny Bryson.
While many PAOs spoke of the "honor" or "fun" of the job at hand, some were less upbeat.
"We're in over our heads," said AMDW spokesman Mike Campbell. "We have a thousand requests for a hundred spots. It's a nightmare."
Pressure to feed media needs was not exclusive to officials in Washington, however. PR staff with two GOP think tanks said they were racked with demand for Reagan analysts. And Craig Brownstein, VP of media relations for Edelman, spent his week fielding "hundreds" of requests for international vice chairman Michael Deaver, one of Reagan's closest advisers.
"We're taking care of his friends first," said Brownstein, citing Deaver's longtime relationships with Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer. "But I've still got a lot of people to deal with who don't have a shot at him."