History of
United States Navy
Public Affairs Association

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Brief History of U.S. Navy Public Affairs

The U.S. Navy Public Affairs Officer Specialty traces its beginning to World War II when civilian journalists, public relations people and photographers were given naval reserve line officer commissions (1105) and served as Public Relations Officers (PROs) or as Enlisted Naval Correspondents (ENCs).   At the end of the war, these reservists were released from active duty and returned to civilian life.

In late 1945, the Chief of Naval Personnel convened a board headed by Rear Admiral George C, Dyer, USN, to look at the need for officers in certain fields who might be designated as special duty officers.  The Dyer Board found that there was a growing need for specialists in several fields, including public information.

In January 1946, in an effort to hold its public relations organization together, the Navy Department sent a message to all ships and stations asking officers of “all grades regular and reserve qualified for duties connected with public information” to volunteer for such assignment.  It specifically called for “reserve officers having backgrounds of public relations, newspaper work, advertising, radio or writing experience or graduates in journalism, or regulars with inclination or aptitudes for public relations work.”

Between June 1946 and April 1947, 48 officers were initially selected for designation as public information specialists (1650). Ten declined the appointments. A board then selected two more bringing the total of specialists to 40.  This original 40 number has increased through the years to the present total of about 300 specialists, now called public affairs specialists

In 1948, the Navy changed the naval correspondents enlisted rating to be called journalists. In 2006, the enlisted journalists and photographers’ ratings were merged into a new Mass Communication Specialist (MC) rating, due to the fact that in the new digital multi-media environment, these specialists were now trained in both journalism and visual information.

In 1971, the first Navy public affairs specialist (1650), Rear Admiral William Thompson was promoted to Rear Admiral, and became the first public affairs specialist to serve as Chief of Information (CHINFO). Since that time with the exception of 1980-1982, the CHINFO has been a public affairs specialist. During Rear Admiral Thompson’s tenure, the name public information specialist was changed to public affairs specialist because the field covered much more than media relations or public information, including internal relations, community or civic relations, planning, etc.

A central Office in the Department of the Navy managed the Navy’s public affairs program. The information office was establishes in May 1941 by Navy Secretary Frank Knox, who named it the Office of Public Relations (OPR). 

The Directors of OPR were:

1941 – 1942, Rear Admiral Arthur J. Hepburn, USN
1942 – 1944, Captain Leland P. Lovette, USN
1944 – 1945, Rear Admiral Aaran S. “Tip” Merrill, USN

In June 1945, the office was renamed Office of Public Information (OPI).

The Directors of OPI were:

1945 – 1946, Rear Admiral Min Miller, USN*
1945 – 1946 Vice Admiral Arthur S. “Chips” Carpenter, USN, Director of PR
1946 – 1948, Commodore Ernest M. “Judge” Eller, USN
1946 – 1948, Rear Admiral Felix Johnson, USN, Director of PR

* When Rear Admiral Miller was Director of OPR, the Secretary of the Navy decided that the public relations job was so big that a second flag officer was needed. Thus, he assigned Vice Admiral Carpenter and Rear Admiral Johnson as the direct supervisors of the Director of OPR/OPI with the title of Director of Public Relations.

In 1950, the office title was changed to Office of Information (OI). The head of the office was called Chief of Information (CHINFO).

1950 – Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey, USN
1950 – 1952, Rear Admiral Robert F. Hickey, USN
1952 – 1954 Rear Admiral Lewis S. Parks, USN
1954 – 1955, Rear Admiral William G. Beecher, USN
1955 – 1957, Rear Admiral Edmund B. Taylor, USN
1957 – 1960, Rear Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick, USN
1960 – 1962 Rear Admiral Daniel F. Smith, USN
1962 – 1963 Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Jr., USN
1963 – 1966, Rear Admiral William P. Mack, USN
1966 – 1968, Rear Admiral Henry L. Miller, USN
1968 – 1971, Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Geis, USN
1971 – 1975 Rear Admiral William Thompson, USN (First public affairs specialist)
1975 – 1980, Rear Admiral David M. Cooney, USN
1980 – 1982, Rear Admiral Bruce Newell, USN
1982 – 1986, Rear Admiral Jack A. Garrow, USN
1986 – 1989, Rear Admiral Jim B. Finkelstein, USN
1989 – 1992, Rear Admiral Brent Baker, USN
1992 – 1998, Rear Admiral Kendell M. Pease, USN
1998 – 2000, Rear Admiral Thomas J. Jurkowski, USN
2000 – 2003, Rear Admiral Stephen R. Pietropaoli, USN
2002 – 2006, Rear Admiral T. L. McCreary, USN
2006 – 2007, Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, USN
2007 – 2009, Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, IV, USN
2009 – 2012, Rear Admiral Denny Moynihan, USN
2012 2014, Rear Admiral John Kirby, USN

The U.S. Navy Public Affairs Alumni Association was established in 1994 to honor and celebrate this rich heritage and to keep alive the friendships we have made during an important part of our lives. The organzation shortened its name in 2013 to the U.S. Navy Public Affairs Association to signal the inclusiveness with active duty members. What most of us remember primarily about our tours of duty is the people with whom we served. USNPAA enables its members to stay in touch and occasionally to get together. Many of our members are still on active duty; you don't have to be retired to join. The Association publishes a quarterly newsletter and an annual membership directory. For the past several years we have staged reunions every 18 months -great fun, good networking and catching up with one another.

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