05/22/2019 | By Maj. Olga Vandergriff Commander, 372nd MPAD
Lunato, a Reserve Public Affairs Officer with 98th Training Command and a DoD employee as a Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit has achieved a great success and satisfaction in her career, but her a journey has taken her through winding paths and trails.
A mundane job as a retail manager paid the bills, but did nothing to quench the passion she had for journalism, for photos, for telling others’ stories. Unfortunately, the creative outlet she craved didn’t pay the bills. She hated her job in retail, and at the more mature age of 29, Lunato took a leap of faith and joined the Army Reserve, adding photo and print journalist to her resume and opening up a world of opportunities to her.
Lunato describes her age and maturity as years of perspective. She laughed as she recounted the tough situations during her initial Army training. Drill sergeants nicknamed her “smiley” and the “old one” because of wisdom she brought to the table. But that did not dismay nor deter her.
“I didn’t know what I was capable of before I joined,” Lunato said. “It made me who I am today.”
Then an E4, Lunato deployed to Bosnia as a in 2002 for a peacekeeping operation. What she took away from the mission were the colorful memories of foreign services. Open fires with the French forces, the Danish showing her their tank. The highlight? Her picture published on the cover of Talon magazine showing a Soldier checking military identification cards. She remembers wanting to show “what we are doing and how; put a face on it.”
Lunato describes her pictures as the ones that are changing the face of the Army. She found her passion and never turned back.
In 2003, Lunato moved to Florida. During one of her assignments, Lunato was interviewing Brig. Gen. Allen Bell when he asked her why she wasn’t an officer. Turns out Lunato had put the packet the year before (albeit reluctantly), not expecting anything to come out of it. The general’s aide wrote her name down, andLunato left the assignment not giving it another thought. A short month, later Lunato received a phone call from Bell dropping big news on her. Not only was she to commission as a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army Reserve, he would personally pin the new rank on her.
“Fate pushed me through the door and I reluctantly crawled through it,” said Lunato.
Between beginning her career as an enlisted Soldier, and two additional deployments (Iraq in 2005; Afghanistan in 2010) as an officer, Lunato is uniquely qualified on both sides of the Public Affairs profession.
Although Lunato’s career in the U.S. Army Reserve took off, she still worked in retail on the civilian side. After years of applying, Lunato finally received Department of Defense job offer, but it was not in her preferred field of Public Affairs, it was a job editing Army training manuals. It wasn’t her dream, but it was a foot in the door.
Lunato spent six years editing manuals to pay the bills, and pursuing her passion on the weekends, but she was ready to pursue her passion again on the civilian side as well. She had stayed in touch with a coworker, Brenda Rolin, who was serving as a public affairs officer for the Army Marksmanship Unit and Rolin wanted to transfer back to an editorial job. It was a lateral transfer with both women receiving the jobs they dreamed about.
Mr. Time Hale, Deputy Chief of Digital Media for U.S. Army Reserve Command, has worked together with Lunato for about six years blending photo products and journalism to achieve and relay a comprehensive Army story.
“She is one of our best officers,” Hale said.
Lunato doesn’t just stop there. While freelancing for her command at the 2018 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition, she took the time to mentor and build up the PAO team assigned to the mission.
“She mentored the whole MPAD, not just the tech (technical) part but also the operations and what she would do and how she would plan it,” said Capt. Joseph Bisso, an Operations Officer with 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment (MPAD).
“Her time in public affairs on the enlisted side opened doors to the other public affairs opportunities in the marksmanship unit, which in turn provided more opportunities in the civilian side,” Bisso added.
“She’s a dream to work with,” enthused Sgt. 1st Class Lisa Litchfield, who was the Media Operations Center chief of the USARC BWC and is also assigned as the 108th Training Command (IET) as a Public Affairs Chief.
“Maj. Lunato has a unique set of skills. She came in as enlisted so she knows how to get the photo, get the story, but she’s also got that officer side that allows her to understand the strategy and impact of everything we do,” explained Litchfield. “I value her as a member of my team and consider her a mentor for sure. I could not do my job at the 108th without her on my team.”
Lunato has achieved her dream and harnessed the elusive hedgehog. But that doesn’t stop her from sharing her passion with others. As a talented photographer and journalist and as a person with an amazing life story, Lunato is bringing up the next generation of public affairs officers and enlisted alike.
PIctured Above: Maj. Michelle Lunato, 98th Training Command (IET) Public Affairs Officer, documents the execution of the Army Combat Fitness Test during the 2019 108th Training Command (IET) Best Warrior / Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition held at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M. Litchfield, 108th Training Command/released