Take a look in the life of an Air Base communication advisor

Many readers will remember Rebecca van Geel, a former CIS student and decorated member of Flow who graduated last September. During her Master thesis, she wanted more of a schedule, but wasn’t in the market for just any job. We interviewed her about her current adventure: being a communication advisor at Gilze-Rijen Air Base.

Rebecca is Communication Advisor at the Defense Force Helicopter Command. The Netherlands has three air bases with helicopter commands: in Den Helder, Delen and Gilze-Rijen. Rebecca is the contact point for Den Helder but works with all bases. She works in a team of five to control communication for all three bases. She indicates two task areas: internal communication, and external communication

The internal communication could use some work, Rebecca notes. Providing smooth communication between the three bases proves a challenge with the current outdated system. This is why Rebecca and her colleagues are working on a new system: monitors throughout all three bases, their receivers connected. This way, she can draw up a message that will then be visible in all buildings of all bases.

More than internal communication, Rebecca busies herself with external communication. Part of Rebecca’s job is to support the press and control the information that’s released. She guides camera crews on the base and keeps an eye on what they are and are not allowed to film. Then there’s the drawing up of standard lines for talking to the press at a helicopter-related event and managing the social media of the Air Force. Rebecca also writes articles for press releases concerning the command.

She tells a story about the week before the interview, when Dutch helicopters were in England for an educational anti-submarine flight. The police contacted the group, asking if they would help the police by using their helicopters to find an armed man. Rebecca contacted the commander the next morning, asking what exactly happened and if a press release would be made. She then contacted the communication department of the British police, asking if they could collaborate on the article. Rebecca tells the story enthusiastically, saying that the article even reached over the southern borders to Belgium.

A big part of her job is informing people about the activities of the helicopter command. Civilians can be affected by the noise of a nearby helicopter flight. The communication department has to inform as many possibly affected people before a flight by contacting the city and ask them to construct a press release. For this press release, caution is advised: messages must be persuasive, but not too prideful, as the Defense Force is constantly under scrutinization. Rebecca and her colleagues also organize meetings with the people living in the vicinity of the air base. For this, invitations will have to be written to the selected people, with the right structure and tone of voice. Facilitating organizations and air traffic control also must be contacted. A lot of work goes into these activities, following a set road map.

The standard road maps for these activities are a thing Rebecca admits to appreciating less about her job. For a test flight, she’ll have to construct press articles, contact the city and contact the pilots. Eventually there will be no visible output for her, except for the noise complaints the next morning.

Yet, Rebecca is noticeably passionate about what she does. she talks extensively about the new skills she’s learned, like answering questions and complaints and constructing press releases. As an example, she talks about how Defense uses active language in their social media posts, which she had to get used to at first. She didn’t expect to use so much of what she’s learned during her study. Even during her Master’s, she didn’t see how subjects like Web care would ever prove useful later, she admits. Now, her knowledge of web care is a vital part of her job. She also likes how much of her work is practical and dynamic and how much responsibility and autonomy she gets.

When asked if she has any tips, Rebecca emphasizes the importance of knowing what you want and taking initiative. She recommends making a list of companies you would like to work for and sending open applications. Discover where your talents lie and work actively towards where you want to be.

Authors: Rosa van der Vleuten & Nina Rooze

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