2nd Lt. April Patko introduces herself on the AFA Instagram account this spring. Patko was given the “keys” to AFA’s Instagram account in a project coordinated with the Arnold Air Society. Daniel Pesci
Photo Caption & Credits

Airman for Life

July 1, 2020

Mitchell Institute Fellows; AFA social media takeover.

AFA Hands Social Media Reins to the ‘Experts’

Members of the Arnold Air Society took control of AFA’s Instagram account for five successive weekends in May, sharing their unique perspectives as cadets celebrated the end to a stunningly atypical academic year.

Social media takeovers are a form of marketing in which an organization lets an influencer take over its account for a set period of time. In this case, 15 AAS cadets shared videos, images, and stories during the weekly takeovers. “Our objective was to partner with AAS, who are all AFA members, to leverage their talents, skills, and passion … to attract new followers, increase awareness of the AFA mission, and, at the same time, share with our current followers and membership base all the cool things AAS and [Silver Wings] are doing,” said Tyler Johnson, AFA National Director.

“People love hearing personal stories and seeing familiar faces, and during a time when people are missing social interaction, it was the perfect opportunity,” said newly commissioned 2nd Lt. April Patko, a recent graduate of Rutgers University and AAS National Commander. “We wanted to take the time to recognize some graduating seniors, while also focusing on reaching a younger audience to boost AFA membership in that younger age range.”

During the takeover, Jessie McLaughlin, AAS National Director of Public Affairs, and I did “a lot of work behind the scenes … engaging with the followers, reaching out to those who follow accounts with similar interests to AFA, and finding Active-duty friends to participate in videos,” Patko said. “Those things really made a difference,” prompting a 29 percent increase in Instagram followers.

AFA plans future takeovers using Patko and McLaughlin’s expertise to highlight a variety of AFA members.

“Jessie and April have been gracious enough to agree to continue assisting us with developing goals and strategies for our Instagram account by engaging different influencers throughout our membership,” said Bridget Dongu, AFA Communications Director. “They’ll help coordinate monthly takeovers with a wide-range of voices” including Active-duty, retired, enlisted, and officer members of the Air Force and Space Force.

AFA’s social media accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram) boast nearly 100,000 followers. AFA chose Instagram for takeovers because it appeals to a younger demographic and is the one with the most room for growth.

“This social media takeover was a quick win and the first of many events that will showcase what our young members are doing and encourage others to follow and support our mission.”

Mitchell Fellows Move on to Great Things

The Air University has cycled 14 Air Force Fellows through the Air Force Association and its Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies think tank in the past six years. More fellows are headed to Mitchell soon.

USAF selects some 100 officers and civilians each year to serve 10- to 18-month tours within the Department of Defense, other government agencies, legislative offices, and distinguished civilian institutions. The officers receive Senior or Intermediate Developmental Education credits and invaluable experience. The institutions gain the insights and services of some of the Air Force’s best and brightest mid-career talent.

“What Mitchell Institute provides the fellows is an environment that blends a broadening, intergovernmental agency experience with an in-depth understanding of the relationships between the Department of Air Force, the other services, Congress, and the reality of the interdependencies among each of these critical nodes of national security,” said retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute.

Fellows at the institute execute original research, edit white papers, write op-ed pieces, and help with social media strategy, while Mitchell staff provides mentorship and access to key networks within Air Force leadership, congressional staff, and top aerospace industry executives.

Lt. Col. Rob Smith, who just concluded his fellowship at the Mitchell Institute and is headed to the Pentagon to work on the A5 team, said, “I truly believe that Mitchell fellows are provided with a more well-rounded experience on the inner workings of DOD through access to senior leaders.”

The great thing Fellows bring is their “flight-line honesty,” said Mitchell Institute Executive Director Doug Birkey. “They provide the field perspective of what’s really going on: What’s working and not working in current operations? Is what we’re doing valuable? Is it useful? Are we hitting the target or not?”

Last year, Deptula added the Institute’s first enlisted legislative fellow and two senior developmental educational fellows to his charge, in addition to the usual Strategic Policy Fellows. Going forward, Deptula said the think tank will sponsor two IDE and two SDE fellows each year.

Mitchell Institute Fellows excel in their careers and have gone on to prestigious positions, including an F-22 squadron commander; an F-35 squadron commander; an F-35 operations support squadron commander; an executive officer to the Undersecretary of the Air Force; a logistics readiness squadron commander; key planning positions on the Air Staff and at U.S. Space Command; and other prized assignments.

Air Force Fellows are assigned via the Developmental Education Designation Board based on military records, academic credentials, and potential for senior staff/command duty. To learn more or submit an application visit https://www.airuniversity.af.edu.