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Former journalist recalls time on Tanker Times staff

Working in a joint unit in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Michele Papakie had the opportunity to learn about different equipment and vehicles during her deployment. (U.S. Air Force Photo By Master Sgt. Ron Heitzenriter) (Released by 171st Public Affairs Office)

Working in a joint unit in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Michele Papakie had the opportunity to learn about different equipment and vehicles during her deployment. (U.S. Air Force Photo By Master Sgt. Ron Heitzenriter) (Released by 171st Public Affairs Office)

PITTSBURGH -- Lt. Col. Michele Papakie spent 13 years in public affairs, both as enlisted and an officer. But her work as a reporter stuck with her throughout her career.

Papakie said the production of the publication was much different when she began her career than it is today.

"Back then, there were only two of us in the office, and we had to put out the paper every month," Papakie said. "Many times, I would bring my two-year old son with me and set him up across the hall in the wing conference room to watch Disney movies with a Happy Meal in the evenings while we worked on the paper."

She would type articles on a typewriter, run each one through a waxing machine then do a paste up of the paper on a light table, using exacto knives to get the cuts perfectly straight.

Many stories are engrained in her memory including the Flight 427 crash in 1994, and crawling into a fuel cell but it was her trip to Ghana with the clinic that was life changing.

"I was tasked to capture the trip, but when we went to a remote location to give vaccinations for a meningitis epidemic, there weren't enough people to give shots," Papakie said. "I was given an orange and roll of toilet paper to practice on, then put down my camera and started giving shots myself."

In 2002, Papakie left public affairs to become the wing military equal opportunity officer, but her experience gained while working in public affairs led Papakie to other opportunities in her civilian career.

She served as the director of public affairs for Chartiers Valley School District, the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and California University of Pennsylvania.

Currently a journalism professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Papakie recently returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan where she served as the program coordinator for equal opportunity and also sexual assault prevention and response.

"My interviewing skills helped me ask thought provoking questions, take notes quickly and listen to what victims were telling me. Most importantly, I knew remaining objective during a case was imperative," Papakie said.

Papakie is using her military experience to teach future journalists. She instructs her students how to be both print and online journalists because she knows that is where the industry is headed.

Papakie said "going green" with the Tanker Times is a positive move both financially and to keep up with the progression of news coverage.

"Moving from a push media to a pull media always presents challenges," said Papakie, "but if I moved from carving the Tac Talk into stone tablets to producing it on a Mac [computer], I guess I can teach myself to read the Tanker Times online."