7Up Diplomacy

November 5, 2009

My days in Iraq are somewhat unpredictable.  In fact, I think it’s a good day if there are new surprises and challenges.  I am fortunate to work in a command climate that embraces media and values the role of reporters in telling the story of the American Soldier.

Recently, we embedded a reporter from McClatchy News for about a week.  Like all embeds–particularly the ones who spend all their time in Baghdad or the U.S.–my goal is to get them a good dose of what Soldiers experience day-to-day.  This runs the gamut from garrison to tactical operations.

So I arranged to take the McClatchy reporter on a patrol with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment “Steel Tigers” (I like their nickname).  This patrol, like all the patrols we have through Iraqi cities, was conducted with the Iraqi Security Forces.  In this instance, it was a battalion operating under the 40th Iraqi Army Brigade.

It was night…patrol brief was conducted…strapped into 5-point harness in the back of MRAPs..ride out…strain to look out blast proof glass, wishing we could stop in town at a corner were a group of military aged males has assembled for socialization…not to arrest anybody, it’s 2009 not 2003…I wish we could stop and say “Shaaquu Maakauu?”…no stopping though.  Not allowed.  Might not be safe.  Heck, stopping is a silly idea.  I wouldn’t randomly crash a block party in the states.  Dropping in on a gathering in Iraq with a 10′ tall, 60,000 lbs. armored truck, and full-kit probably wouldn’t ingratiate me with the locals.  Silly me.

Fast forward…

…so we end up at an Iraqi Army checkpoint southeast of Nasiriyah.  Walk inside and are met by a proud Iraqi captain.  Iraqis tend to be quite hospitable, regardless of their lot in life.  So he offers us little 500 ML cans of 7UP.

The captain work and sleeps in this trailer most of the time.  Though, like most Iraq Army soldiers he goes on “janzaa” (leave) every few weeks to visit his family.

Sometimes you see the oddest bits of Western culture in Iraq.  The sleeping side of the trailer was dominated by a poster of the   “ideal” suburban home.  I really wanted to say, “Dude, what’s up with the poster?”  But, I couldn’t manage to find the right way to ask, so I passed.  The American dream lives on.

After establishing my legitimacy to bring media–many military people are wary of media–to his checkpoint we had a few minutes of social talk.  Connecting culturally is important when dealing with Iraqi counterparts.  The captain led off the discussion with movies and politics.  He equates the recent uptick in movies with predominately black casts to the Obama presidency.  He likes black movies.  He likes Obama.  Not sure what to make of my phenotype, he asked if I was “Basrawi.”  This has happened to me before.  The majority of the world are people of color, and in Iraq there’s a certain kinship I’ve been met with by many swarthy southern Iraqis.

This captain had served in the Army under Saddam’s regime.  He was based in Amarah in 2003 and decided to bug out after 15 consecutive days of bombing.  According to him, the outcome of OIF would have been different if the Coalition didn’t use so many planes.  I disagree.  Our tanks and artillery would have blasted away the rag-tag Iraqi Army.  At anyrate, this was just simple banter from former enemies who are now allies.  The Iraqi Army will do well to promote this captain.  We went to check out his troops.  They were disciplined, motivated, and vigilant.  A safe ride home and it was mission complete.

I hope to visit this captain again, sometime.  He is a brother-in-arms.

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Social Media blocked on the battlefield

July 1, 2009

Working public affairs in a combat zone brings new challenges daily.  I love my job because I get to tell the story of the American Soldier in Iraq.  Specifically, in 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

However, lately, I’ve been really flummoxed at my inability to access Social Media sites.  I feel like I can’t, know I can do a better job as a brigade public affairs officer if I had access to sites that the Secretary of Defense wants me to use.

Herein lies my professional frustration.  The Secretary of Defense has said on numerous occasions that public affairs officers need to reach audiences through social media.  You can read various statements here, here, and video here.

“Public relations was invented in the United States, yet we are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals.  It is just plain embarrassing that al-Qaida is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America.” -SecDef Robert Gates, Nov. 2007

The newly appointed Principal Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs recently said about social media, “It’s not just better one-way communication; it’s better two-way communication. It’s not just us reaching people; it is them reaching us, too.”

And he has a twitter feed on the official DOD Web site.

And almost a year ago Iwrote about the Secretary of the Army encouraging military blogging.

Before deploying my brigade established a presence on several social media sites.  Several are registered on the Army’s official social media directory.

After lengthy days at the office or covering events, I update the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division Facebook page on the SniperHill internet in my containerized housing unit…it connects at Slowsky-like 8kbps and I pay $88/month.  The money is not the issue, I consider it a personal expense for occassional professional use, however, I could do much more if I had access at my desk—just like the PAOs & other Soldiers in the states.  Access the senior leaders say I should have.  Access that keeps family members informed.

I feel bad when my brigade commander asks me “Hey, PAO, when are we going to start the brigade blog?”  I have to give him the penguin salute because I can’t effectively launch it without access to monitor the activites or have a truly interactive environment.

For those who think…“stop whining, back in WWII we didn’t have that internet stuff”…I dare you to look at our Facebook page and see what the moms, dads, and spouses say when they see a photo of their Soldier or images of where the special person works and lives.  Now, you will see the power of social media.  I’m happy to “whine” on their behalf.

Recently, the Army allowed access to these sites from bases in the states.  That’s nice, however, when a Soldier can go home to their family at night there is less of a need for social media—except the fan, follower, subscriber base that’s built in garrison can be exploited during a deployment.

Meanwhile, we deployed PAOs are blocked, blocked, blocked by the network managers.  (Except for General Odierno’s PAO who updates his Fan page daily).

For my signal friends, try explaining the classic “bandwidth” argument to the families of deployed Soldiers.  Really, how much bandwidth could about five public affairs Soldiers per brigade effect things—is our networking situation really hinging on five guys uploading photos to flickr and videos on YouTube?  Not to mention the enemy is still beating us to the punch on getting out the story.

I just want do my job as a tell the story of the American Soldier and fight enemy propaganda with truth.  I post on the brigade’s page for the Soldier on guard duty who lives in a tent and seldom has internet access and may not want it–but, his family & friends still want to know how he’s doing.  Without social media access I feel like I have the proverbial a knife in an information gunfight.

DISCLAIMER:  I have submitted a waiver for access that is going through approval channels.  And, of course, views expressed here are my own.  Not the DOD, Army, or my unit.  Hope I don’t get in trouble for this posting. *fingers crossed*

If you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest. Please help us reach our goal of 4,000 Fans on Facebook to represent each Soldiers from the Highlander Brigade deployed to Iraq


Year ahead in southern Iraq

May 24, 2009

Clearly, I haven’t posted in a while.  That’s because I’m super busy in my job as a brigade public affairs officer.  My primary base is Contingency Operating Base Adder in Iraq’s Dhi Qar Province.  Though I will spend time in Muthanna and Maysan province too.  For those worried…no, I’m not violating OPSEC…you won’t know my specific movement times or travel methods.

Days here are busy.  From my initial impressions dealing with the Iraqi media will be interesting.  There are language and cultural barriers.  Every word in English does not translate directly to Arabic and vice versa.  So context is always important.

I live near the Zigguart of Ur.  We, the U.S. Military, recently turned over control of the ancient site to Iraq’s Ministry of Antiquities.

You can see we are using Social Media to stay connected with our supporters at these links:

Facebook:  4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division FAN Page

http://twitter.com/4_1AD
http://www.youtube.com/user/4BCT1AD
http://www.flickr.com/photos/4_1ad/

Read an article about our social media efforts in the El Paso Times here.

So for the year ahead I hope to share the experiences of Soldiers in the Highlander Brigade and explain our collaboration with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, the Gov’t of Iraq, and Iraqi Security Forces.  Stay tuned…


Should the media cover military funerals

July 10, 2008
Fired ANC Public Affairs office

Fired Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs officer

Hopefully my 18 month academic lobotomy at Georgetown will ensure that I make sound decisions when I graduate and embrace the media.

Recently the Public Affairs director at Arlington National Cemetery was fired for honoring a fallen Soldier’s family’s request to allow media at their loved ones funeral.  In April, one funeral was reported on by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post.  Today he has a full article about Gina Gray getting the “boot”.

In small towns across America there are monuments to honor our fallen Soldiers.  Remembering those killed in action is a necessary to keep the civilian citizenry engaged in the sacrifice Service members make while they “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic.”

Attending the funeral for Second Lieutenant Lisa N. Bryant at Arlington National Cemetery is an event I will never, ever forget.  I saw a similar event depicted on Army Wives and was touching but not quite the same.  The Soldiers of the Old Guard caissons platoon are among our Army’s finest ambassadors.  Their story and the story of the heroes who make the ultimate sacrifice on battlefields should be told.

I won’t speculate on any families reason to have media at a funeral.  What I do know is we celebrate our fallen heroes all the time.  Just a few weeks ago there many hours of live coverage of Tim Russert’s funeral and; Metro (Washington’s mass transit system) had it’s highest number of passengers during President Reagan’s state funeral.

This is all interesting to me.  There’s a balance between policy and free press.  Here’s an example of conflict between the two.  Most often the military has a hamonius and mutually beneficial relationship with the media.

What’s your opinion?  Have you ever been to a military funeral?