Public Affairs Specialist Training Program

Success in meeting the communication demands of the 21st Century will require a cadre of highly trained public affairs officers. The job calls for brand management, where journalism and marketing techniques combine to enhance the public perception (image) of the Coast Guard and Auxiliary. A clearly defined organizational image will summarize what we stand for and what makes the Coast Guard unique and trustworthy.

To build a powerful brand identity, the public affairs officer (PAO) must deliver consistent, credible messages that present the Auxiliary in the best possible light. It takes a high level of skill to do this.


The PA Specialist Program offers a pathway to skills development by blending formal and on-the-job training. Candidates are certified through AUXPA3 [Entry Level], AUXPA2 [Intermediate Level] and AUXPA1 [Senior Level] levels using the Performance Qualification System (PQS).
Each candidate completes a series of tasks for print and broadcast media, photography, public appearances, video, static displays, and exhibits.

The advanced levels require expertise in media relations, radio and TV interviews, the Incident Command System (ICS), and the Joint Information Center (JIC).

Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 3 (AUXPA3) [Entry Level]

At this level, you should have experience in writing for the media, public appearances, static displays, digital photography, the National Safe Boating campaign and Coast Guard ranks and rates. These are the minimum skills expected of a flotilla public affairs officer.

The following E-Learning courses are required:
  • AUX-20: Introduction to Auxiliary Public Affairs
  • AUX-22: Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 2nd Class
  • AUX-23: Journalism for Coast Guard Public Affairs
  • AUX-26: Intro to Digital Photography
  • ICS 100: Introduction to Incident Command System

Download the AUXPA3 Study Guide

The award ribbon for earning this qualification has red and white vertical stripes:
Ribbon for PA specialist
USCG AUX PA Specialist Ribbon

Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 2 (AUXPA2) [Intermediate Level]

Requires a higher level of expertise. You are expected to demonstrate first-rate public relations skills and assist others in developing their skills. This level reflects the expected competencies of a district or division public affairs officer.

For candidates who finished AUX-12:
  • AUXPA3 completion
  • AUX-21: Coast Guard Public Affairs Policy
  • AUX-23: Journalism for Coast Guard Public Affairs
  • ICS 200: ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
For candidates who earned AUXPA3 through eLearning courses (no AUX-12):
  • AUXPA3 completion
  • AUX-21: Coast Guard Public Affairs Policy
  • ICS 200: ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents

The award for this competency is a 3/16-inch bronze star placed on the PA Specialist ribbon.

Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 1 (AUXPA1) [Senior Level]

At this advanced level you are qualified to assist a Coast Guard unit with their public affairs program. The competency includes knowledge of Coast Guard public affairs practices and procedures, internal communications, media and community relations, Joint Information Center (JIC) operation and related topics.

AUXPA2 completion plus the following E-Learning courses are required:
  • IS 250: Emergency Support Function 15 (ESF 15), External Affairs
  • IS 702: National Incident Mgt. System (NIMS) Public Information
  • ICS 800: Intro to National Response Plan (NRP)
All IS and ICS courses are available at (click on "FEMA Independent Study")

JIC orientation is covered in AUX-12, the FEMA courses and the PQS Study Guide.

For AUXPA3 [Entry Level] designation, candidates are verified in 37 tasks; AUXPA2 [Intermediate Level] candidates demonstrate skill in 38 tasks; and for AUXPA1 [Senior Level], candidates focus on 25 tasks.

The award for earning the AUXPA1 [Senior Level] competency is a second 3/16-inch bronze star placed on the Public Affairs Specialist ribbon.

Task Verification in PQS Notebook

Both Auxiliary and active-duty Coast Guard public affairs officers can provide mentoring and guidance. Have your mentor (verifying officer) sign and date the notebook adjacent to each task you complete.

Generally, a verifying officer will be a graduate of AUX-12, the public affairs C-School, and will have completed the qualification level you are seeking.

If a particular task is completed on behalf of your unit, an elected or appointed officer may serve as a verifying officer. This could be your flotilla commander, division commander, district captain, DSO-PA, ADSO-PA, or SO-PA.

Documentation Packet

Once all courses and PQS tasks are finished and verified, submit a documentation packet via e-mail (all files in PDF format) to the Branch Chief for Professional Standards.

The packet should consist of a Portable Document File (PDF) of each signed PQS notebook page along with PDFs of all completed course certificates. Scan each document with a flatbed scanner, then save as a PDF.

Oral Board

You will be scheduled for an oral board following review and validation of your documentation packet. The board consists of two or three qualified public affairs officers (generally members of the national PA staff) and is conducted as a conference call via computer using Skype software. Download your free copy at and set up the software with your personalized "Skype name."

Don't develop undue anxiety about the board.  it's not an inquisition or criminal interrogation. Questions during an oral board for AUXPA3, for example, generally review your knowledge of these areas:
  • Purpose and role of public affairs
  • Elements of journalism and news writing
  • Use of media
  • Media relations
  • Photojournalism
  • Digital photo techniques.
In addition, you are encouraged to tell the board about your recent PA activities.

When you complete the board, you'll receive (through your DIRAUX) a designation letter from the Public Affairs Director along with a PA Specialist certificate. You are then authorized to wear the distinctive PA Specialist ribbon.  Your DIRAUX will make the appropriate AUXDATA entry.

There is a three month wait period between each level for students to be eligible to test for the next level. This wait period affords an opportunity for students to obtain experience at each level, respectively, prior to testing for the next certification level. Students may no longer complete joint certification boards simultaneously. Public Affairs Oral Board testing at the National Level must be scheduled through the Branch Chief for Professional Standards. The three month wait period is effective October 1st, 2017.

Note: An oral board is required for advancement through each level. Students must complete a separate board for AUXPA levels 3, 2, and 1 respectively, effective October 1st, 2017.

To Maintain Currency

A Public Affairs Specialist must serve at least 16 hours per year in public affairs activity, as recorded in AUXDATA.

The figure below for Public Affairs Specialist designation requirements illustrates the overall process and is a handy checklist to help you navigate the process.  You can also download this Designation Requirements Form as a one page PDF document.