AUSA and the week full of firsts

This is my first job out of journalism school, sans a bar gig here and there. But as far as pantsuit-wearing, desk-sitting, degree-utilizing jobs go – Associate Editor for Military Embedded Systems is the first title I’ve ever held.

That being said, working for Military Embedded Systems these past four, going on five, months has been a whirlwind of firsts. One of those firsts was attending the annual Association of the United States Army (AUSA) trade show in Washington D.C.

That brought along with it a handful of even more firsts: first plane ride alone, first connecting flight, first business trip, and first time in Washington, D.C. (much less the entire East Coast). My Editorial Director, John McHale, and I met Matthew Billingsley of General Dynamics while at the show, and he commented on how throwing me into this experience was like tossing me off the side of a ship without a life jacket.

What he didn’t know is that I had just a few weeks prior written a feature-length story on shipboard electronics and am a pretty strong swimmer.

Needless to say, AUSA is a behemoth of a show, even without having anything to compare it to. There are tanks, helicopters, and machine guns (oh my!) displayed across the show floor, assuring you that you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Instead, I found myself in the middle of what I can only describe as the Comic-Con of the Department of Defense and was left wondering what the logistics were behind getting these giant military machines into the convention center. And it was exciting!

The press room was exactly as I’d imagined it to be, full of focused journalists and writers fueled by the coffee bar in the back corner and our own private WiFi connection. There’s almost an electricity being around other reporters – an energy that reminds you of the important work you’re doing. With that, we made our way.

Equipped with only my cracked, outdated iPhone for recording, advice from my colleagues, and my press pass, I began navigating the trade show floor.

I first noticed the companies in attendance, many of which I had already written several press releases about or interviewed employees of for a story. That small familiarity alone made me that much more confident in the coming days.

The second observation I made was the ratio of men to women: surprisingly closer to even than I’d prepared for, which was empowering, to say the least. On day two, I was introduced to a female project lead who oversaw the development of an electronic warfare solution. She looked about my age, and I was notably impressed and inspired.

Before the trip, John had kept telling me that I’d realize I know more than I thought, once faced with the entirety of an industry that I’ve been writing about for the past few months – and I did. Being able to hold a conversation with industry leaders, and to be journalistically validated with a “Good question!” here or a “We can’t provide that information,” there was thrilling.

What I actually experienced was three days of both an overwhelming and incredibly informative presentation of the technology that supplements the U.S. Army in none other than the country’s capital. One night I was exploring the grounds of the National Mall, and the next day I was standing alongside the women and men who represent the meaning behind those monuments.

This trip was a great chance for me to find my footing in the industry as a young female journalist, and I’m grateful to have gotten the chance. Thanks to my colleagues for making it happen, showing me around, and hailing my first taxi.

I’m looking forward to coming back next year as an experienced, confident military technology reporter with a comfier pair of shoes.