A member of the Military.com reporting staff has been honored with the American Legion's Fourth Estate New Media Award for exposing a troubling military policy that prohibited Air Force pilots from using a drug that prevented HIV.
Oriana Pawlyk, Military.com's air warfare reporter, received the award Wednesday during the veterans organization's 101st National Convention in Indianapolis. Pawlyk first reported in June 2018 that Air Force pilots were not allowed to use the HIV-preventive drug Truvada, despite other services allowing their troops to take it.
Critics told Pawlyk the Air Force's policy represented an overly conservative approach that borders on homophobia, since the medication is commonly used by gay, sexually active individuals. She profiled the plight of several pilots whose careers had been negatively affected by the Air Force's policy.
Within weeks of Pawlyk's reporting, the service reversed its policy, allowing pilots to take the pre-exposure prophylaxis treatment medication, commonly known as Truvada, which helps reduce the risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus.
The American Legion's Fourth Estate awards are presented to journalists who break important stories in three categories: broadcast, print and new media. Winners are selected not only because their reporting is informative, but also because their stories have "tangible benefit to society," American Legion National Commander Brett. P. Reistad said in a statement.
The awards are difficult to earn, he said, and represent the best of the best.
"These award winners are being recognized for outstanding works of journalism that not only stand far above normal media reporting, but have also resulted in outcomes that have positively impacted the lives of people and issues," Reistad said.
Military.com managing editor Hope Hodge Seck said Pawlyk's work represented the kind of meaningful journalism that mattered to the publication's readers.
"This was careful, balanced reporting that had real-world impact," she said. "I'm proud of Oriana's work, and this recognition was well deserved."
Pawlyk was recognized alongside reporters from San Francisco NBC-affiliate KNTV and the Massachusetts-based Republican of Springfield. She said she was humbled to be recognized with the award, which in the past has been given to reporters from CNN, CBS, USA Today and ABC News.
"At a time when credible, accurate reporting is more important than ever, I hope to continue this quest for this community, much like journalists who've broken such important stories before me and that impact service members every day," she said when the award recipients were announced.
Reistad said the American Legion cherishes the First Amendment and the special role the free press plays in American society.
"The American Legion would not be nearly as effective without media coverage of our positions and programs on the national and community level," he said. "... These committed journalists have devoted long, hard hours into investigating, researching, writing and producing reports that have truly made a difference."
Seck received the American Legion's Fourth Estate Award in 2016 for her reporting on Marine Corps ground combat roles opening to women.