Monday, December 16, 2013

MC Perspective: News Anchor!

Don't freeze. Don't freeze. Don't freeze.

 "Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy reading a scrolling teleprompter when the red light is on and 20 people are watching you, take after take after take." -MC2 Sunderman

Sometimes MCs get to be in front of the camera.  On Fort Meade, Md., the Defense Media Activity building is at the center of the military media universe.  MC2 Jonathan Sunderman braves unforgiving lights and the all-seeing camera lens to bring our military the latest news.

He just started, and took time to answer a few questions about the most visible job in the rate.

Roland Smith, a technician at Defense Media Activity, monitors a live transmission of Navy SEAL Cmdr. Christopher J. Cassidy, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, as he is interviewed on the Navy Live blog by U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman 2nd Class Lucas Papadakis. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jennifer Lebron/Released)

What's your average day like at DMA? 

An average day all depends on what department an MC is part of. There are essentially four different divisions:

All Hands Update (AHU)
Image Acquisition
All Hands Magazine
Features Division

I am working in the AHU department so I'll speak on my knowledge and perspective from this division.

AHU is much like a TV station. We have scripts to write, images and graphics to make or collect-- which accompanies the stories and an All Hands Radio broadcast to produce. After scripts and graphics are compiled we get ready for principal photography (to go on set... usually by 0800 M-F).

This is where we go into the studio and film our headlines for the daily AHU broadcast on Armed Forces Network. There is a lot that goes into making this happen on a regular basis. There are MCs in the control room helping direct the broadcast, on set running the cameras and standing in as talent and editing the final product to send it out to the fleet. Most jobs within our division are universal.

"Our goal here is to make sure anybody in our department can do most of the jobs on any given day."

We have a big assignment board with every day of the week on it, each MC in the AHU department gets tasked with certain jobs throughout the week... this also goes for whomever is going to be on set broadcasting the news. 

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Mike Stevens hold a live worldwide Navy all-hands call from the Defense Media Activity studio where the two talked to and answered questions from the studio audience and Sailors in the fleet via live, remote video casts, social media, phone-ins and prerecorded video questions. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released)

How did you get to the anchor desk? Did you audition/volunteer/get voluntold? 

I simply volunteered for the job. We have a bullpen of MCs between different divisions that go on set on a regular basis. Some of the things taken into consideration are look, voice and body language (some people simply just don't want to do it). There is a very talented voice/broadcast coach that works with all of us individually and only after her approval are we cleared to go on set. Sometimes, it takes several visits with her in order to look somewhat normal in front of the camera. 

MC2 Joshua Sheppard directs an all hands update from the control room.

What are the rewards/challenges? 

There are very few people that are naturals at this sort of thing. Most of us take coaching advice and have to practice reading and studying scripts before we go on set... and, even then we still mess up! It is rewarding though, just like any other job can be when you do well at it.

Let me know if this helps at all. I didn't really scratch the surface in terms of getting to deep into it. I just wanted to give you a snapshot of what it's like here.



Thanks man! Watch Sunderman at work here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

MC Perspective: I work on a time machine

MC2 Peter Melkus interviews a passenger aboard USS Constitution during the ship's annual 4th of July turnaround cruise.

 "I had to overcome any fear of heights that I may have had.  
Balancing on a line hanging from a yardarm 
100 feet in the air will do the trick." -Pete Melkus

I don't think I'd want to be a Sailor in the 1800s.  Life was a bit... rough for those guys.  MC2 Peter Melkus is one of a small number of Sailors that can tell you a little bit about what it's like.

That's because he works on the most badass ship in American history.

Launched in 1797, the USS Constitution basically sailed around and beat the brakes off of every British ship that got in its way.  The frigate was so hard to take down it earned a special nickname.

I talked with MC2 about what life is like on "Old Ironsides".


What the heck does the Navy do on a ship that old?

  Constitution has a crew of roughly 75 Sailors, and our primary mission is to protect, promote and preserve both the ship itself and her long-standing naval traditions. We give tours of the ship to the public, receiving about 500,000 visitors each year, and we also clean and perform maintenance on the ship. Our crew also has a great presence throughout the Boston community, as we have one of the Navy's largest volunteer programs and participate in various color guards and honor guards throughout Massachusetts (I was just on field with one of our color guards at Game 1 of the World Series last week - great time.)

"...we actually climb the masts and rigging and learn how to 
set and furl sails like they did in the 1700s."

Working on rigging.  Probably not any safety harnesses back then though.  Photo courtesy of Lance H. Beebe.
   Our MC shop at Constitution is very small - it consists of myself (PAO), an MC3 who is deputy PAO, and a Sonar Technician who is the ship's volunteer coordinator and helps us cover events here and there. We primarily take photos, as we don't have professional video equipment here, but we shoot some video with our DSLRs when we can. We also have a Xerox that we print ship brochures and programs on.

 "...our ship is one of Boston's largest tourist attractions
 and is always attracting attention for something..."

Our Sailors are almost always participating in high-visibility events throughout Boston, like color guards and parades, so we keep quite busy covering those events and sharing them on our Facebook page ( I also deal with the local media quite frequently, as our ship is one of Boston's largest tourist attractions and is always attracting attention for something, it seems, especially when we get underway in Boston Harbor in the spring and summertime.
MC2 Melkus (far right) assists Constitution Sailors with transporting one of the ship's sails from a storage warehouse to the ship where it will be attached for the summer. Constitution has 11 sails today, but used to have as many as 46 in her war fighting years.

How do you like it?  What are the challenges?
  Since our crew is so small, we always have to do a lot with less. We bounce between having a 3 and 4 duty section rotation, and often stand overnight security watches on the ship as well. Though working here consists of many long-hour days (especially during the peak of our visitor season in summer), I must say I'm really enjoying my time here.
"Working at Constitution is not what some Sailors 
in the fleet would think of a typical 
walk-in-the-park shore duty command."

This command is full of many unique opportunities (i.e. World Series) and though I've only been here since February, I've already had a great deal of unique experiences that I'd probably never get to have anywhere else.  The Boston area is great (with the exception of traffic), and I've really enjoyed exploring New England with my girlfriend Samantha.

MC2 Melkus, left, ascends the mizzenmast aboard USS Constitution while Gunner's Mate 1st Class Thomas Endress supervises. Constitution Sailors participate in bi-weekly sail training sessions during spring and summer months to familiarize themselves with seamanship techniques utilized aboard 'Old Ironsides' since the 1790s.
There have been numerous challenges:

- We are required to memorize A LOT about the ship's extensive history and have to take tests and pass boards to become a tour guide for the ship (similar to studying for our warfare qualifications)

- I've had to overcome my fear of heights.  Balancing on a line hanging from a yardarm 100 feet in the air will do the trick.

- I needed to get over a fear of public speaking.  Giving 1/2-hour tours of the ship to groups of 80 to 100 people at a time helps.

- I battle Boston traffic to and from work. It always seems to be rush hour here.

Despite the challenges, our crew is a good group and we work well together to get the job done and keep the proud heritage of our ship alive each and every day!

OLD IRONSIDES.  Photo by Hunter Stires.

Thanks Melkus! 

Petty Officer Second Class Peter Melkus, spokesperson for the United States Navy.  Prime example of how any one of us can be called to stand in the limelight, regardless of rank.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Syracuse U: Face time

The Sailors freeze as Hayes asks me what I'm doing.
For the last 2 years only the Navy has sent students to Syracuse. This means lots of face time for us with our instructors. In this photo professor Dona Hayes is teaching us broadcast writing.  She's tough wrapped in tiny.   I seriously can't hear news leads on the radio or TV without thinking about all I've learned in this class.

Sent from my Samsung Epic™ 4G Touch

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Syracuse U: Learning to be a reporter

This is our "event" reporting assignment.  I am showing you this because I believe it's valuable information for prospective Sailor-students, not because I think it's very good.  I haven't figured out this news thing, and I'm trying to detach from my documentary mentality.

My shooting partner is MC1 Sean Spratt, one of the four video students I am studying with.  We change partners every week, as per instructor orders.

Smiling as he says:  "What the hell are you doing?"

Speaking of.... this is our news reporting instructor.  His name is John Nicholson, he's worked with ESPN, USA Network, and much more.  Also, for better or worse, his personality is as big as it looks in the photo.  His class is laid back, but full of nuggets of solid gold. (interview techniques is huge!)

SURVIVAL TIP:  Listen when he tells his anecdotes, there's usually a lesson in there.

Here's a sample of his work:  WSTM Channel 3 News

Sunday, October 20, 2013

MC perspective: Mine pouncing

Read how Wray created this photo below.
One of the nice things about the MC rate is the freedom.  On the Nimitz, we were encouraged to find stories that interested us.  This meant every once in a while someone would experiment with a new idea and create something amazing.  MC3 (now MC2) decided to push his photo skills, and covered a really cool story in the process.

On a side note, I've taken too long to get this story up, and will make it up to Wray with a photo tribute at the bottom of the post.  

You can read the story as it appeared in Nimitz News here.  In a very small nutshell, being an Explosives Ordnance Disposal Sailor means jumping sometimes from helicopters to deal with mines in the water. (aka an extremely badass job)

Riding in a helo was great. I set it up ahead of time with HSC-6 to make sure I could get a ride in at least one of the 2 helos. I was hoping for the one with the EOD guys in it so I could see them jumping out but the second helo turned out to have more freedom of movement and got me more angles. I brought my 80-400 lens which got most of my shots of the divers in the water.

Before going up I asked for comms with the pilot, which is the best thing I could have done. They told me not to say anything if the aircrew were communicating but it mostly wasn’t a problem. After about an hour or 2 flight out to the site we flew low to the water and dropped a flare marker and then did circles around the main helo with the EOD guys. When I couldn’t see I just asked the pilot to turn the nose of the aircraft left or right, or asked him to stop moving. They never hooked me into a gunners belt for some reason so I only got shots from my seat out the door (this is why comms are great). 
EOD in the water.

One aircrewman took my camera for a few shots of the helo following us on our way back out the back of the door.  They did a few flying maneuvers and flew low to the water; almost close enough that you felt like you could touch the water and the rotors caused it to spray up a bit at us.

I listened to the comms as they did the countdown at around a minute, and the barrel that they rigged with a charge went off. I pulled my camera up quick to get the explosion, which luckily seemed to linger in a mist so I was able to get a shot but not the initial “boom” which couldn’t be heard over the sound of the rotors of the helo.

  I usually get my inspiration from learning new things (a shooting technique, a new place on the ship, etc.) so I decided to climb a new ladderwell one day and came across a fancy painted EOD door and  knocked.

I found out they had some events going on and asked to see their gear. They showed me a space full of  guns and other uniforms.


Another MC (Hooper) had once done some cover photos for us that were all well lit, and I had recently found a multiple flash lighting kit and was looking for a way to use it. The EOD magazine space had some depth to it, so I knew it was perfect for a shoot like this. I used some of the same techniques I used in a similar shoot I had done with security late last year, placing some members in the background, and a prominent figure in the foreground, who would look at the camera (kind of a way of welcoming/connecting you to the photo.)

Placement of Subjects:

One guy left and came back with the robot you see in the front. I had him sit in the back with his controller and backpack antenna. I had another member sitting on a box who I originally wanted to be putting on dive gear but they said they wouldn't be putting that on in the magazine, so I just had him cleaning his gun. The only place for the main guy was to the left. Normally I would step back and zoom in to compress the subjects, making them seem closer together and about the same size even if they are 2-3 yards apart.


In order to get everyone in focus, I knew I needed a high f-stop. For these kind of photos and group photos, I usually go for around an F-10 (shutter speed 125-250 to synch with flashes.) It's always dark inside the ship, so a high f-stop would only make it worse; luckily, you're using multiple flashes to make up for it.

Each flash is meant to light a different subject. I set commander mode up on my camera's built in flash and set up a main flash to light the main subject. This wasn't lighting up the robot though, so I put a flash on the ground to my right pointing up. This lit up a bit of the subject cleaning his gun but not well enough, so I set up another flash behind my main subject pointing forward to separate the guy cleaning his gun from the background (as opposed to having a shadow that would make him fade into the background). The guy in the back was a bit harder to light correctly. I set a flash behind the guy cleaning his gun and pointed it towards the wall to bounce off (direct flash would be too bright).

Another technique that I later remembered is grouping your flashes. If you set your secondary flashes to group B or C, you can change the exposures of each to be brighter or darker; you would do this when everyone is well lit but maybe someone in your background is overblown.

I used 4 flashes for this. One of them I had to hold above my head. You have to point them in the direction you need them but also be aware of the sensor pointing towards the camera.


The photo took approximately ONE hour. The subjects were getting tired by that time and it was also really hot in the room. I had a lot of problems with flashes not going off with the others or sometimes being brighter than others, so this is actually a photo illustration. I used the rest of the day to pick out how I liked the lighting of each one, and then faded the different parts of them together to make it look like how I wanted to. I used to be big into photo manipulation (making cross-species animals and other things), so it looks like one image, but it's actually 4. You can imagine it was hard to do, because I didn't use a tripod, and they were all at different lens lengths.

I decided to bump up the contrast, shadows, and clarity in camera raw once I compiled the image, and then add a blue tint just to make sure it looked photo shopped, because I knew I blended the images together too well to look deceiving.

I have worked out the kinks since this photo so my later work with multiple flashes don't require any Photoshop. I have been passing this technique on to the junior people in my shop since; It's an especially effective technique to use when you want to use one photo that will encompass the variety of things people do in their job (good for stories on different rates or shops).

That's all folks!


Me and Wray (who's always excited)



Thursday, October 3, 2013

MC perspective: Shooting from a helo

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 13, 2013) --- U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class George J. Penney III/Released

While it's not the biggest part of our job, shooting in helos is one of the most exciting, and dangerous, things we do while serving on ships.  These photos were taken by MC3 George Penney, who is currently stationed on board USS Nimitz.

He recently wrote in to talk about what it's like to be a flying photographer.


You are notified by your chain of command the evening prior. On flight day, you meet up with the flight crew and pilots for a safety brief and what type of pictures will be wanted/required.  You grab a helmet from the PR shop. The aircrewman assigned to you fits you with a life vest and you are off.

While you are up in the air, 
the photo world is yours for the taking.

ARABIAN GULF (Aug. 13, 2013) --- Mid-flight change of command ceremony.  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class George J. Penney III/Released

Initially you are strapped in while the Helo takes off, but after that, and depending on the aircrewman, he will let you move about the cabin while wearing a gunner's belt. This device allows you to move freely and find a prime spot for photos.

MC2 Penney, whose arms also serve as guns in the strike group.

Make sure your exposure is good, and since we are shooting outside, that is not difficult. They will swing by the ship a handful of times prior to any ceremony/mission, which allows you time to shoot the ship in motion and even sneak in front for a bow shot.  Once the job starts you gather the pictures needed, and anything else you might think is fun, and before you know it, you are landing.

Coast guardsmen assigned to Advanced Interdiction Team 4 fast rope from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Desert Hawks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26 onto the flight deck of the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey during a training exercise.  U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Billy Ho (Released)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

To the Nimitz Fallen

Me, a thousand feet up, shooting video of USMS Kaiser, which transferred biofuel to the other ships in the formation as part of the global initiative to wean ourselves off of foreign oil. Photo by MC3 Ryan Mayes.

I left the Nimitz several months ago, but my friends are still there.

They've seen their 6-month deployment, that started in March in Everett, Washington, extended to cover the conflict in Syria.  In the frenzy of reporting, you'll rarely hear about these Sailors, and those in the ships that make up the strike group.

And you definitely won't hear about how they feel about 
losing two of their own to a helicopter crash several days ago.

My former boss, MC2 Jacquelyn  Childs, put things in perspective with her recent Facebook statement.  She is still deployed to USS Nimitz.  She has a young son, and she, like many Sailors, is missing many special moments in his life.  Here's what she said:

I  was thinking this morning how selfish I've been. 
All I've been thinking about is wanting to go home and how 'unfair' this all is... but recent events have helped me realize that some heroes won't ever make it home... If I'm asked to stand the watch a little longer, it's the least I can do because eventually I will get home, I will see my family again and I'm so grateful for that blessing. And I'm especially grateful for the sacrifices of our fallen service members and their families.

MC2 Childs works from her office: any space on the floor.

Childs and I have very different personalities, and we definitely got into it a couple of times when I was running the newspaper.  That said, God help the Media department when she's not there.

I've never seen a harder worker.  I've never worked with someone so focused on quality product.

Her post hit home, because I am guilty of losing perspective.  I left the Nimitz to attend Syracuse University, missed all this really crappy stuff they're going through, and I get pissed when the shower goes cold too quick.  I get annoyed at the dumb freshman walking around campus.  ETC ETC ETC. 

Thanks Childs, for reminding me what's really important in life.  Hang in there, and stay safe.

From our Carrier Strike Group commander:

Two members of our team have been lost today. A helicopter crash occurred during a daytime transfer of personal and was not the result of any sort of hostile activity. My heart is breaking for the families and loved ones of our fallen warriors, and I know they will be in the thoughts and prayers of the entire strike group.

I am grateful for the heroic efforts of Warrior Team 11 as they repeatedly searched the area for our shipmates, day and night. 

This unfortunate incident is still under investigation, with the goal of finding out exactly what happened and why, so we can prevent any future accidents. 

Sincerely, Mike White.

(From USS Nimitz Facebook page)  

Here's the latest story from the San Diego Union Tribune.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Syracuse University - It begins

I made it!  The journey started in Thailand and landed me in New York's Syracuse University.  For the next nine months I'll attend one of the top media schools in the country.  

  A stopover in my home state of Maryland meant good times with Mama... (she's a black belt)

and epic newspaper reading with Dadeo.

 I've been taking advantage of the warm weather while it lasts.  Central New York has a lot of lakes... 

 and mountain bike trails.  A deer pauses to marvel at my biking skills.

 Okay two things:

1.  The Navy is the only branch to attend Syracuse this year.  In a time of tight budgets, our top folks found a way to keep the program going.  This is why Navy is the best branch.

2.  The instructors here are top of their game.  I've attended several colleges, and Syracuse professors have a much higher level of knowledge and more importantly, passion, about their subjects.

This room displays photos and backgrounds of our communications instructors.  They've got pretty heavy credentials.  Our Sound for Picture instructor worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  He's holding a voluntary workshop for us on Saturday.  Who wouldn't want to go to that?

This is Al.  He worked with us on a video refresher course just before regular classes started on Monday.  Here he demonstrates how to be a badass camera operator, while I document the event.

Al shows us creative ways to attach lights to everything in sight.

The Sailors and their families enjoy lovely all-you-can-eat snow crab legs!

Getting destroyed in my first broadcast assignment.   I used to think I could write.

The only downside so far has been this beast.  I am not a fan of shoulder mounted cameras.  Unless you've been using them for years, they're just too bulky and awkward to be effective storytelling tools.  We were also assigned a Nikon D800 DSLR.  I will attempt to shoot documentary video with that instead.

More to come, including several posts from deployed Sailors!


Location: Syracuse, NY   Miles traveled:  5,638

Thursday, August 15, 2013

MC perspective: Coming home

MC2 Keim reunites with his sister "Breezy".  Photo by MCSN Ignacio Perez.

Many civilians ask me which branch of the military is hardest on family.  My response is always that I can't speak on the other services, but if their spouse joins the Navy, the family should be ready for at least 6 months of separation. 

MC2 Joshua Keim and his family are no strangers to the sacrifices of life at sea.  This spring, he returned from deployment.  His family was waiting on the crowded dock.


KEIM:  It was truly amazing to come back to such an meaningful homecoming. I had butterflies in my stomach as I searched the crowd for my family.  My mom and my younger sister found me before I could spot them, so they were both ready.  

I was filled with such joy and a sense of accomplishment; I had persevered through so much time away from those I love and I knew deployment was finally over.

MC2 Keim, earning one of many certifications.  File photo.

Welcome back brother, keep being an example to us all.


Location:  Salisbury, MD    Miles traveled:  5,260

Thursday, August 1, 2013

MC perspective: How to talk to people

MCC Michael Jones

In the summer of 2011, I was in the living room of retired Commander Harry Ferrier. He flew in the only Avenger torpedo plane to return from an attack on the Japanese fleet during World War II.

As I sat behind my camera, I watched as MCC Michael Jones conducted the interview.  Keep in mind, over the years Ferrier had talked to many interviewers.  He's in several high end documentaries.

Click the link below to watch our short piece, and get ready for what happens at about three minutes in.

Midway Memories

Let me tell you, when he revealed that information for the first time on camera....that's what you live for as a journalist.  That kind of interview doesn't happen easily.  Chief Jones sat down with him, and the first thing he said was "Tell me your story."  After Ferrier talked about his experience in the Avenger, Chief began his interview.  Because he was patient, he was able to reach depths of this great man that no one before him had been able to.  Total interview time, over three hours.

Watch this full-length documentary, and be on the lookout for Commander Ferrier's parts.  Do they sound familiar?

The Battle of Midway

Over the years, I've identified my strengths and weaknesses.  I'm really good at adapting to people and making them feel comfortable  Thus, my interview technique is very solid.  Tell you right now, I'm in awe of Chief's interviews

People skills are huge in this business.  Chief recently wrote in with some advice on how to talk to your interview subject.


1. Genuinely care about the subject you're covering - always take the approach that you are learning something new, first-hand from your subject.

2. Ask the questions you'd like answered - imagine yourself watching the end product on TV. Would you change the channel? 

3. Put in the time - your subject may think they know what you want to hear. Let them tell their piece in its entirety. Go back and then re-ask your questions. 

4. Maintain eye contact - the soundbites will look better if the subject doesn't feel as if you're taking a survey. Give your viewers a glimpse into a very interesting conversation. Make them wish they'd been there while feeling glad you were there instead. 

5. Allow for a pause at the end of each answer - this gives you extra footage for transitions later. Achieve this by honing your non-verbal cues: nodding, and most important, eye contact.

"You're great at interviewing!  No, YOU'RE great at interviewing!"

Location:  Savannah, GA    Miles traveled:  4,649