Fort Riley is only a little more than 15 miles from the K-State campus and despite this short distance, not all students are familiar with the variety of opportunities available through internships and other working opportunities on base.
Corey Schaadt, senior in mass communications, had no idea that by exploring his two passions for the military and photography he would end up with a dream internship at Fort Riley.
“It’s the passion I’ve found,” Schaadt said. “It’s like the only thing I think is my actual passion.”
Schaadt said he always knew he wanted to do something with photography, but he had been held back from exploring this desire because he was not able to afford a camera. Schaadt, though, thought that being able to shoot and take good photographs would be a necessary skill to have in public relations.
After taking an introductory photography class with Andy Nelson, the previous R.M. Seaton Professional Journalism Chair at K-State, Schaadt said he knew he needed to invest in a camera.
“He honestly inspired me,” Schaadt said.
This all changed when Schaadt celebrated his 21st birthday and his father split the cost of a Nikon D3100 with him. Schaadt started off by simply playing with his camera, trying to take artistic photos. Eventually, his journalism classes helped him understand how to tell stories with the photos he took.
Schaadt’s other passion is the military, as he and his family have been militaristic his whole life. This has led him to an interest in firearms, military technology and many books about the military, from its history to modern military.
“I grew up thinking it was the coolest thing ever,” Schaadt said.
Debra Skidmore, instructor for mass communications, started the first military public relations class at K-State in the fall 2014 semester. She used to serve as a civilian in the Public Affairs Office at Fort Riley before teaching at K-State.
Last fall, Amanda Stairrett of the 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Office was a guest speaker in Skidmore’s class. Schaadt said Skidmore knew he was looking for an internship with the military, so she got the two together. Schaadt left class with Stairrett’s business card.
Afterwards, Schaadt sent Stairrett his cover letter, which was full of his knowledge of the military and the previous classes he had taken about the military. Soon, Schaadt heard that he was going to be the new intern in the 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs Office at Fort Riley.
“I would not have been able to do this internship without (the PR class), at all,” Schaadt said.
Collen McGee, chief of internal information at Fort Riley, saw Schaadt’s cover letter when he first applied. McGee said she is old-fashioned and likes receiving cover letters from potential interns. She looks for applicants’ desires and if she can realistically provide experience to match them. She also wants to make sure the candidate is a good writer.
McGee said Schaadt’s cover letter was enthusiastic and his passion for the job shone through.
In his internship, Schaadt is able to explore both of his passions for photography and for the military. When his internship started in January, Schaadt expected to simply write press releases and maybe a few articles. He discovered quickly that this was not the case.
“First thing we do: we go out and shoot javelin missiles,” Schaadt said. “It’s awesome because we get to do crazy stuff all the time.”
Schaadt has also met George Brett, a National Baseball Hall of Fame member who played for the Kansas City Royals; flew helicopters to Lawrence; attended listening sessions with the governor and has even spoken to people on conference calls in Iraq. Schaadt also photographs many events at Fort Riley, returning to his office to write cutlines and stories.
“It just really varies, because honestly I have no idea what I’m going to be doing on any given day,” Schaadt said.
Schaadt said being a good photographer means getting good shots in the three second window that he has. He used the example of the calvary charge, where he had only seconds to get a good photograph. He loves that moment when he realizes he got “the shot.”
“I think it’s being able to react quickly and getting a compositionally sound photo and then being able to look back and saying like, ‘Oh, I performed,'” Schaadt said.
While there are many exciting aspects about his internship, Schaadt said he most enjoys being around the military. He also learns from the different tools made available to him, including professional-grade cameras with high-quality lenses.
“Being surrounded by the most cutting-edge technology all the time; having it be normal for a huge helicopter to fly over is so cool,” Schaadt said.
Halee Thompson, senior in mass communications, also took the military public relations class – though she did not originally plan to.
“I initially took the class because it was the only elective offered that fit my schedule,” Thompson said. “Lucky for me, it turned out to be one of the best classes I’ve taken at K-State.”
Thompson said her perspective on the military and journalism changed after taking the class. The relationship between soldiers and journalists relies heavily on trust, especially in the field. She also learned that journalists can be a huge asset to the military, as well as a communication line to the public.
“I think that every student in the journalism and mass communication sequence should take this class,” Thompson said. “It is a whole different look at how this sequence can be applied.”
Katie Morris, coordinator of the Non-Traditional and Veteran Student Services, works closely with Fort Riley. The program offers childcare services for soldiers and veterans, connects them with scholarships and works closely with them to build a strong relationship between the campus and their community.
“We are built upon family, and part of being a family is to get to know other family members,” Morris said.
She said that it is crucial to bring this population into campus and make them feel a part of the family.
“We’re so close to Fort Riley, there has to be constant and open communication and dialogue,” Morris said.
McGee is reaching out to K-State students, looking for more interns and speaking to different classes, including the military public relations class as well as the news and feature writing class. She speaks to students about how to apply the traits they are learning in school to the federal realm.
Her goal for her interns is to give them experience to put on their resume and talk to them about how the federal application process works. All of her interns leave with professional-grade products, whether they be videographers or work with other forms of media.
“All the products that they produce here ends up getting published somewhere,” McGee said.
Schaadt said he wants to continue working with the armed forces once he graduates in May. He is going to apply to work for the public affairs office in the Air Force, Navy, Army, Marines or other military institutions or government agencies.
“That’s the good thing about being an American: you have a lot of army guys,” Schaadt said.