Internship takes 'hands-on' to a whole different level

(Editor's note: This is the eighth in a series of stories about students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications completing summer internships.)

Every summer, over 8,000 college students go through one of the most intense weeks of their lives as they train for ROTC programs at their respective universities at Cadet Command in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Recent Penn State public relations graduate Emily Peacock serves as the connection point between those Army cadets and their friends and families back home with the stories she shares from the camp. Peacock is completing a post-graduate internship in public affairs at Cadet Command.

“When I got here, I just fell in love with talking to people,” Peacock said. “Learning about people’s experiences — because with different ranks and titles comes different experiences — is interesting. I just love putting those into words.”

Peacock completed an internship at the camp last summer and found a passion for public affairs and the Army, so she decided to complete the internship again this summer. Having no prior connection to the military, Peacock was definitely stepping outside of her comfort zone when she first accepted the internship. She was also nervous about being so far away from her home in Grafton, Massachusetts.

“But then I actually sobbed in the airport coming home at the end of the summer because I didn’t want to leave,” Peacock said. “I loved my life and experiences here, and I was so sad to leave. I knew coming here for the second time wouldn’t be the same. It doesn’t have that fresh feel, and that’s okay because I want to help the newer interns in the ways that I wish I would’ve been helped coming into the program. So that’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back.”

Peacock originally come into the internship as a social media intern, but on her days off she would practice photography with other interns. He assertiveness and enthusiasm eventually led to assignments as a photographer — and that led to her writing stories to go with the photos she took.

Her workdays generally start around 8:30 a.m. when she gets paired with a videographer for the day. She then spends the day following cadets on their different missions and training events, including high ropes courses and field training exercises.

Peacock takes photos, interviews a few cadets and officials, and then edits the photos and puts the story together for the Cadet Command website. The site is regularly visited by family, friends and prospective Army or ROTC members.

Peacock’s supervisor Richard Patterson, a public affairs officer, said Peacock takes telling the cadets’ stories seriously and often completes activities alongside the cadets.

For example, he said one of the things the cadets have to do is go into a gas chamber in a full chemical suit. They then have to remove their masks, feel the full effect of the gas and recite information about themselves as a confidence builder. Many cadets get sick from the gas. He said Peacock immersed herself in that experience, something others might try to avoid.

“Not only would she go in there, she would go in there without the mask on, and she would shoot it from the cadet’s viewpoint,” Patterson said. “So she’s feeling the effects of this gas while she’s trying to take pictures and interview cadets. The way she approaches her storytelling here has been absolutely phenomenal for the program.”

Last summer, Peacock got the chance to write a feature story on a recently graduated Penn State ROTC student who was helping with tactics at Cadet Command. He had previously danced in the Penn State Dance Marathon, so Peacock wrote about how he was working to serve his country now, and back at Penn State he was serving children fighting cancer.

“His mom and his girlfriend both reached out to me about how much they loved hearing about him in my article, and it was a really cool way to spotlight someone who has done so much for his country and his school and the community,” Peacock said. “That’s what this is about. I learned a lot about being humble and just talking to people and spotlighting other people’s accomplishments.”

The last thing the cadets have to do during their summer training is a 12-mile ruck march, which means marching while loaded up with military gear. Patterson said a lot of his interns just talk to the cadets at the very beginning of the march and then, four hours later, interview the cadets at the very end. He said Peacock is one of the few interns who actually commits the four hours and walks the full 12 miles — a pack strapped to her back just like them — to get a better perspective of the whole experience.

“It’s a good time to reflect because it’s 12 miles, so we talk to them about their experience, what they learned, how it’s applicable to life and what’s been their motivation,” Peacock said. “And then when the articles are shared on our social media pages, it feels really good to see parents sharing it and saying how proud they are of their sons or daughters. To be that middle man in spotlighting their child is really cool and something I love.”

After her first summer working at Cadet Command, Peacock came back to Penn State searching for an opportunity to continue working with the military in some way. She reached out to the head of Penn State’s ROTC program to tell him about her experience, and they worked together to create her own internship during her senior year doing public affairs for the program.

As far as a dream job, Peacock said she would love to eventually be a public affairs official for the Army in some capacity.

“She came here not knowing what she was getting herself into,” Patterson said. “Within the first couple of weeks, she really fell in love with the Army and what we do here. It says a lot about her, that something she didn’t even fathom doing, something she didn’t know anything about a year and a half ago, and now she’s absolutely fell in love with it. She’s got a new drive for exactly what she wants to do for her career now that she’s graduated.”

Last Updated August 16, 2018