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The Journey to Military Journalism and Being Launched Into My Dream Job

By December 9, 2022Features

My Google search history would expose that I was unhappy at my job in the months before I heard back on an application I’d put in for a fellowship with Military Veterans in Journalism.

I had been blessed by a hyper-local Savannah magazine with a chance to land on my feet after my jump from military service to the civilian workforce. However, the content and my lack of management experience left me unfulfilled and ultimately failing.

My mindset wasn’t healthy anymore. I was missing deadlines, one employee under me was getting away with neglect of her duties, and I wasn’t able to share my successes as much as I usually do. My mental health was back to that of an underachieving specialist – E4 – in the military. And I thought to myself, “This can’t be it…”

I can’t claim this clarity of thinking is always the case, but I knew I had to follow my own advice: “If you don’t like something, change it.” I needed a change. The day I got the call from Military Veterans in Journalism – I’m almost positive it was from Rich Dolan – to tell me I’d been accepted for the fellowship program was the catalyst to my next biggest and most rewarding adventure.

I always knew I wanted to work in journalism, and through my internships in college, I decided my passion was military reporting. I had worked for a small town paper in Texas, a shuttle company in Alabama, the Fort Benning newspaper and a town paper in Bluffton, South Carolina – and then I joined the Army. I joined because I wasn’t getting where I wanted to be, and I didn’t know as much about the military as I wanted to be a master of the craft I was chasing. I also felt the need to serve because of all my friends who always said they “could never.”

Through Advanced Individual Training at the Defense Information School in Maryland, I got a refresher on journalism and was thrown into the fire at Fort Stewart, Georgia. I covered a Rodney Adkins concert on-post and a massive military training event in my first week. I was back where I was supposed to be.

I respect those who serve so much more after having been in the uniform myself for several years and having spent nine months away from home on deployment.

I thought I’d be a shoo-in for a federal job when I got out of the military. Hell, I was already working one as part of my military career. I didn’t transition quite in time, though, and the agency had to fill the position before I was eligible to apply.

Despite this, I was able to continue to pursue journalism, but the content I was making wasn’t fulfilling for me. I remember thinking, “How does a military veteran get into military journalism?” It sounds so easy, yet those federal positions don’t take just anyone who applies, and not all the newsrooms I was hoping to work for had openings when I needed them. 

I started my research to answer that question at just the right time and landed on this organization: Military Veterans in Journalism. I had found my people through a simple Google search. I only wished it happened sooner. The stars aligned just in time because I was eager to get to writing about the inside from outside of the uniform.

I got in touch with Rich and Russell, then saw the opportunity for a fellowship. I was familiar with the concept, as I’d done internships in college, but I wasn’t sure if the idea would be a step down from my full-time career goals.

Ultimately, the reward of being launched into my dream career was worth the risk of giving up an unfulfilling job. I applied as fast as I could and heard back down the road. Russell told me I was within the top three applicants, so he asked me, “Where do you want to go?” Coffee or Die was my top choice, and I was placed with them.

I worked up my resignation letter for my job and worked out a home office to work from so I could start with the magazine. While working from home was already quite an adjustment, I wasn’t prepared for the amazing remote work opportunities that came my way.

During a very fulfilling six-month fellowship and another six working as a paid employee with Coffee or Die, I traveled to 18 locations. I went to Montana, France, Atlanta, Alaska, Colorado and Arizona, among others. 

When I go on these trips, it’s just me out there getting the story. And when the magazine is spending the money to send me, they want as much content as possible. That’s all on me – and I refuse to fail. I’ve had a blast gathering content in all new ways and learning more about this world than I ever thought I would. I even forged a knife during one assignment.

I didn’t realize how much I had left to learn, though. Through my fellowship, I worked under two senior editors who taught me the magazine’s unique style and helped me learn about branches other than the one in which I’d served. My writing has improved, and my confidence has, too. I also learned a new skill, videography, during my remote work. 

Nothing comes easy, but if you decide what you want and work hard for it, your hard work will pay off. If it doesn’t, you’re not done yet. I think it’s amazing that the exact group I wanted to be a part of had an entire organization already created. It was like someone was thinking about it before I had the chance to.

Noelle Wiehe, the author of this article, is an Army veteran and the military & first responder beat reporter for Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a passion for sharing stories of heroes and people who are far more interesting than they think they are.