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Centcom’s Steve Valley At Tip of Media Spear in Japan After Quake

Posted Mar 13, 2011 by Howard Altman

Updated Mar 13, 2011 at 02:08 PM

Steve Valley thought his trip to Japan would be a “nice change of pace.”

Valley, a sergeant major in the U.S. Army Reserve, works as a civilian public affairs contractor in Tampa at U.S. Central Command and lives in Bradenton. He arrived in Tokyo March 5 to perform his scheduled five weeks of Army Reserve training with the U.S. Forces Japan public affairs office.

“It’s a new assignment and my first time in the Far East,” said Valley, via e-mail from Yokota Air Base. “I figured I’d been to the Middle East enough already.”

The gig, scheduled to run through April 9, has, obviously been far from routine.

“I just survived my first earthquake,” Valley posted on his Facebook page at 12:50 a.m. Friday, Tampa time. “An 8.8 doozy that had my office buidling shaking big time. ... Just trying to make it through the aftershocks. Turn on CNN and check.”

Valley is now at the point of the spear in the world’s biggest disaster, where more than a 10,000 are feared dead in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami and where Japanese officials are frantically trying to stave off a nuclear nightmare.

News crews from around the world are calling Valley, for quotes and logistics.

“Since the earthquake on Friday, the [U.S. Forces Japan public affairs office]has been on a 12-hour rotation shift,” said Valley. “I’m handling all of the media calls, (which) include setting up media embed opportunities, answering questions, preparing situation reports and the daily commanders update briefing materials for the day shift, while we have a Marine master sergeant doing the same thing for the night shift, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.”

While certainly a change of pace from his current duties, handling international media is nothing new for Valley.

In 2004, Valley served for a year as the first sergeant of an Army Reserve public affairs detachment inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone,” where he worked at the Combined Press Information Center.

The center was made up of nearly 70 people from different branches of the U.S. armed forces, foreign militaries, along with civilians. They were tasked with writing and distributing press releases, setting up and hosting all the coalition’s press conferences, organizing the military’s media embed program and performing extensive media relations with the hundreds of international and Arabic media representatives and governmental relations with top-level diplomats and politicians.

He wrote a book about his work there, ““Inside The Fortress: A Soldier’s Life In The Green Zone”.” 

Valley says his experience in Baghdad has been a tremendous help in Japan.

“(I have) definitely able to multitask many different things at once,” he said in his e-mail. “I’ve got about 20 e-mails opened on my computer, while typing and talking on the phone. (I) certainly learned a lot about dealing with the media, too. Honesty helps. When I don’t have anything, I try to be up front with the media instead of ignoring them. I just got off the phone with a reporter from NHK television with not much to tell him, but I think he appreciated the call more than the information. I’ve also talked to CNN more times during the last 12 hours than anyone else.”

For instance, it was Valley who told CNN the Japanese government had made a formal request for U.S. aid, including military support. And he’s been working with journalists such as Ann Curry of the Today Show and Christiane Amanpour of ABC News hoping to embed with military units helping with relief efforts.

Valley has been so busy working with the media that he hasn’t gotten a chance to see anything for himself.

“I got to drive down to Yokuska Naval Base south of Tokyo the day before the earthquake, so I did see the city from the highway.”

And at the end of a long day, Valley was able to get a little rest—and get ready for another day.

“Day one of the media onslaught is over for me,” he posted on Facebook Saturday morning, Tampa time. “It’s laundry time before heading back to the office early in the AM.”