Stockton Warnock, 51, balding with a touch of silver to his hair, looks like he should be teaching his 11 classmates. But Mr. Warnock is actually studying journalism at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade.
The Air Force reservist from Pennsylvania said he doesn't mind returning to the classroom, unlike some of his younger classmates.
"They like to complain about the schoolwork and studying," said Mr. Warnock, a staff sergeant and aircraft engineer. "I don't mind doing the night reading. I look at it as a good experience. . . . It's not a huge adjustment for me."
Mr. Warnock is an example of the range of military personnel learning to contact civilian reporters and get the military's side of a story in the news media. The classes began on Thursday.
About 60 members of the four branches of the armed services, the Coast Guard and reservists attend the school. Their ages range from fresh-faced 20-year-olds to people like Mr. Warnock.
The Defense Information School, originally based at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, is the second of three military public relations schools that will be consolidated at Fort Meade by 1997.
The Department of Defense announced the consolidations last December. The Defense Visual School moved from Lowry Air Force Base in Denver and started at Fort Meade earlier this summer. The Defense Photography School at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida will move to the Maryland installation next year.
Col. Ronald A. Grubb, commandant of the Defense Information School, said the school's graduates will inform the American public and the American soldier.
"The American people deserve to know how we're spending their money, what we're doing, how we're doing it," Colonel Grubb said. "And when our men and women go to places like Desert Storm and Vietnam, we have to make sure that they never lose touch with America and that America never loses touch with them."
As part of the consolidation, military officials recently broke ground for a $29.6 million building for the three schools. The two-story, 232,653-square-foot building's 160 classrooms will be used for video and computer labs, photo darkrooms, and radio studios, said Michael C. Stepp, spokesman for the Defense Information Schools in Alexandria, Va.
Chief Petty Officer Susan Henson, a journalism instructor from the Navy, said work in the military's public information branches is no different than the jobs in the civilian world.
"In this day and age when we're bombarded by information, it's important that we get our information correct," she said. "We may be in the military, but it's our job to get the information out as quickly and as accurately as possible."