Given his decorated decade-long career in public relations, it’s hard to believe Julio Bermejo never planned to work in the communications field. Rather, he had initially trained to become a carpenter while he was serving the Army National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing. But when the Stanford University English major heard about an open public affairs position, he pursued it and never looked back.
Bermejo switched fields, attending the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Md., for five months cross training between civil engineering and public affairs. He then returned to California to continue to serve the 129th Rescue Wing, the 163rd Air Refueling Wing and the 146th Airlift Wing. During this time, he also deployed to Belize for training with a medical squadron and then to Iraq.
It was his work with the 146th Airlift Wing that further ignited his passion for good communication efforts.
“My main role was running the small public affairs office, which included publishing the newspaper for the base,” Bermejo said.
“We were also responsible for supplying information to the National Guard state and national offices. This became especially critical during wildfire seasons when the 146th AW flew aerial firefighting missions.”
During wildfire season, Bermejo also worked closely with the news media to help reporters and the public understand the firefighting efforts.
With 15 years of Army National Guard experience under his belt, he decided to go back to school to better understand the public relations field in which he was already entrenched. He left his beloved California -- where he was born, raised and educated -- to earn a master’s from the University of Stirling in the heart of Scotland. The love of learning that inspired him to move a world away further guided him to pursue a doctorate in communication at the University of Maryland.
“I am especially interested in exploring the role of group identity in public communication and action,” Bermejo said.
His expertise and interests led him to START’s Dr. Brooke Liu, associate professor of communication at the University of Maryland, who heads up START’s Training in Risk and Crisis Communication program as well as other projects examining how effective risk and crisis communication can optimally prepare the public to respond to and recover from disasters.
Given his military background, he has especially appreciated the opportunity to work with START because of the wider lens it uses to study terrorism.
“START takes a broad look at the general movement of terrorism across societies, as opposed to being strictly concerned with one type of extremism, ” Bermejo said.
“In that way, START doesn’t fall into only studying just the panic, chaos and noise. It takes a more intelligent approach to studying terrorism.”
He points to Liu, as well as Dr. Elizabeth Toth (UMD) and Jacquie L’Etang (Stirling; now at Queen Margaret University), to shaping the direction of his research and theoretical interests -- engagements, interventions and employment of non-state/non-corporate actors in matters of state and business, both domestic and international.
“I am very fortunate to have great role models and mentors, both academically and professionally,” Bermejo said. “Professionally, my military career provided the opportunity to work with many inspiring people, but those at the 146th AW and the Defense Information School stand out as especially influential.”
Bermejo is currently studying the controversy that surrounded the Defense Department's announcement in February of a new medal for drone pilots and other cyber-warriors. Veterans groups and members of Congress opposed the medal, which was to have ranked above medals that could only be earned in combat zones. Four months after the medal was announced, the Defense Department eliminated it.
While working toward his doctorate, Bermejo is currently teaching “Oral Communication: Principles and Practices.”
“I will finally complete my Ph.D. coursework next semester and I am looking forward to taking a few moments and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment!” he said.
“With all the free time, I think I’ll start playing the mandolin again too.”