Words matter

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin N. Valmoja
  • Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Public Affairs

One of the things I like best about working for my boss is the ability to seek out her mentorship from her years of experience in Air Force public affairs. This is especially helpful when crafting messages about topics that can be sensitive and talking about the mortuary mission can be very sensitive sometimes. 

One of her lessons that I took was from a lecture Christin was giving to a group of new deployed Airmen. She briefed how public affairs conducts business and how these Airmen could contribute during their time at AFMAO. 

“Words matter,” she told them. I remember she said it in such a way that it was almost like the PowerPoint presentation behind her vanished and she was genuinely pleading with these Airmen to think about how they use their words. 

I remember thinking at the time, “What a strange way to put it.” Of course words matter, we’ve heard that saying since elementary school. 

But she was right. The language we use is a tool.  We can leverage it as an opportunity to educate the public on what AFMAO is all about. We need to think about how we handle it, just like using any other tool. 

For those who work at AFMAO, you know the terms that often get confused in conversation with people. The transfer case is not a coffin or a casket. The transfer vehicle is not a hearse. Not every fallen service member coming home is a soldier. But beyond semantics I want you to think about what is being said in the conversation. What are you both talking about and how can you use your tools or words to make a positive impact? 

Crafting a message is something I do as my job, so I understand the importance of an effective message. I also don’t expect everybody to be able to give a polished, rehearsed and well-thought out message at the drop of a hat — nor would I recommend it.  

I can’t tell you what to say, but I can tell you that you probably already know what to say. Maybe you just haven’t thought about it yet, so take some time to think about it. In any case, some guidelines to help you along your way are: 

  • Stick to what you know. You don’t have to be an expert on every aspect of the mission, but you are probably an expert on what you have done during your time here. 

  • It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” This is generally the best response if you really don’t know how to answer, because it’s the truth. 

  • Remember to ask yourself if the information you disclose is appropriate considering the mission and if it is releasable.  

For our readers who are not officially connected to AFMAO, I’d like to invite you to learn about our mission here. It is a mission I am incredibly proud to be part of. I encourgae you to read through our articles, check out our Facebook or reach out to one of us. We would love to tell you more. 

Words matter. At the end of the day, I think everyone could benefit from taking a little extra time to think about the messages they convey. I know personally, I’ll move on and use my words as the tools they can be to make a difference.