Best in the business: Spirit writer named DOD's 'Communicator of the Year'

  • Published
  • By Ray Bowden
  • Academy Spirit editor
A Public Affairs reporter proved the pen is indeed mightier than the sword when he won the Defense Department's 2013 Civilian Communicator of the Year Award April 25.

"I was out of the office the day the awards were announced, so the first I heard of it was when Lt. Col. Brus Vidal (Academy Public Affairs office director) called to congratulate me," said award winner Don Branum. "My reaction, in a word, was 'wow.' Even more than a week later, I'm still not entirely sure what to think."

The award is part of the Thomas Jefferson Awards Program, recognizing Defense Department journalists worldwide for outstanding achievement in promoting the goals of the DOD's Internal Information Program, a program responsible for, among other things, telling the Air Force story to a global audience.

"Essentially, Don just won the highest honor any Defense Department journalist may receive, the DOD equivalent of the civilian Pulitzer Prize," said David Cannon, the Academy's communication director. "This award tells us what we already know -- that Don is an extremely talented writer, not only able to tell the Academy story, but to tell it in a way that shows the impact across the DOD and across our Air Force."

Thomas Jefferson Award officials consider a writer's "range, continuity and quality of the stories" when determining award recipients, said Robert Hood, the Defense Information School's Competitions Coordinator at Fort Meade, Md. Fort Meade is home to DINFOS, where are all DOD public affairs specialists -- Airmen and civilians -- are trained.

In 2013, Branum covered a variety of topics for the Academy, but perhaps none were as important and wide-ranging as his coverage on sexual assault, the effects of force shaping, religious diversity and a wealth of other issues that didn't just affect the Academy, but influenced the DOD at large, not to mention public perception of the Air Force's only academy.

Branum, 39, joined the Air Force in 1999 as a computer programmer but retrained into Public Affairs in 2004.

Then-Staff Sgt. Don Branum graduated from DINFOS that same year as a distinguished graduate. Since then, he's received numerous Air Force and command-level Public Affairs awards as an Airman and as a civilian, including Air Force Civilian Print Journalist of the Year, third place, 2013; Air Force Space Command Print Journalist of the Year, 2007; and Air Force Space Command Best News Article, 2007.

He left the Air Force in 2011 but remains in Public Affairs.

"Don possesses the insight we hope to instill of all of our public affairs Airmen, whether military or civilian," Cannon said. "He's not only able to highlight Academy achievements, but he's demonstrated a keen ability to sharply focus his talent on the important issues, ask the right questions and deliver a product that does nothing less than continue to garner tax-payer support for the Academy's critical mission. This was a very well-deserved award and I'm extremely proud to have Don as a member of our PA team."

A week after being told he's the DOD's top civilian journalist, Branum said he's still trying to come to grips with the award.

"We've got a lot of star-quality writers in the DOD who produce amazing stories," he said. "In light of that, winning this award was just fantastic and humbling."

Branum said his primary motivation as a reporter is simple: telling stories.

"The idea that everyone has a story is one facet," he said. "The other facet is that I'm going to write a story, I want to write a story that someone wants to read."

By all indications, Branum has and will continue to do just that.