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.


10 things I can’t do from my desk

July 31, 2009

Not much changed since the last post. From my work desk in Iraq, I’m still restricted from engaging audiences on social media sites. Despite yet another article indicating that Social Media engagement is a priority for the Army.

Here’s a list of things I can’t do from my work desk that the DOD wants me to do–though not from my desk, I suppose:

1.) Download the Army’s official design templates for Web sites and Social Media

2.) Listen to the DOD Bloggers’ Roundtable–by the way you should listen to the BRT on August 4, 11:00 a.m. EST for an update on the Advisory and Assistance Brigade mission COMPLETE

3.) Post on my brigade’s blog

4.) Post tweets on my brigade’s Twitter feed @4_1AD

5.) Interact with the over 2,300 Fans who support the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division on Facebook

6.) Visit any of the Social Media sites run by my higher headquarters MNC-I, CENTCOM

Our goal at Multinational Corps-Iraq is to maximize our use of Social Media to inform you about our missions and the people who accomplish them. We’re striving to create a dialogue with you. We will do that by sharing news, information, insights and conversation with the people who support our organization and operations in Iraq. –MNC-I

7.) Conduct spot media assessment on a number of different Web sites. Cookies, schmookies

8.) Read any blogs that are not on a .mil domain

9.) Share videos, photos, and audio products with others because access to USB ports is blocked…I wonder how civilian news agencies operate? Do they require reporters to use personal equipment and run down to the local coffee shop to access the internet to file stories?

10.) Upload videos produced by Army broadcasters to DVIDS via FTP–blocked

As a Soldier we improvise and adapt where possible. However, all the 100mph tape and 550 cord can’t help me access Social Media.

*venting complete*

Oh, if I’ve missed your phone call at my desk, it’s because I’m at the MWR internet center down the street writing this blog post. Sorry.

Update: Looks like the debate over Web 2.0 access is at the highest levels of the DoD. The Pentagon’s top public affairs executive is an active participant and proponent for Social Networking.


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…


Commonly asked questions about the deployment

March 24, 2009

These are some frequently asked questions:
Q: When do you go “over there”?
A: Sometime this spring. I’d suspect in the month of May.

Q: But, you’ve been “over there” before, why do you have to go again?
A: Because, the Army needs me to go. It’s just my time again. I’ve been fortunate to have good assignments since the last time I was there. Also, going to combat is ultimately why we have an Army.

Q: What type of living arrangements will you have?
A: Not sure yet. I imagine a trailer. Something like a FEMA trailer…probably sand colored.

Q: How long will you be there?
A: A year. The SecDef stopped the 15-month deployments on Aug. 1, 2008

Q: Can you keep in touch?
A: Part of my job is keeping in touch with media outlets in the states. Communication is one of the greatest differences between when I was there in ’03-’04 and 2009. I suspect I will have Internet access on my desk and a cell phone. Though I’m hearing the Internet is heavily firewalled. I plan on speaking with the guys who run http://www.taskforcemountain.com and seeing how they’re set up

Q: Are you scared?
A: Well, I have better armor and training this time and my role is a bit different. However, there’s always a bit of fear of the unknown. I won’t take unnecessary risks. I believe prayer helps.

Q: What will you do over there?
A: I’ll be responsible for the internal and external communications for a Brigade Combat Team. Public Relations and journalism. Blogging, media relations, spokesman, editing, photography, speechwriting. Also, I’ll be advising an Iraqi Army Division on public affairs–this should be challenging and interesting.


Going back to Iraq

March 18, 2009

Soon, I’ll be headed off for another tour of duty in Iraq this spring.  The process of deploying is unique.  But in many ways it’s like going on a long vacation–expect you take extra steps to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.

Here are some references for servicemembers who are facing the prospect of lengthy deployment.  They are also somewhat useful for civilians who are going to study abroad or work in a foreign country:

Military.com’s Guide to Deployment

USAA’s informative guide to deployment (.pdf)…linked from the official DOD Web site

A variety of publications from AUSA can be ordered in limited quantities.

Soldiers going through predeployment processing at Fort Hood, Tex

Soldiers going through predeployment processing at Fort Hood, Tex

While I’m in Iraq I will keep this blog going.  In fact, I intend to post more frequently.  I’m making an assessment of the ability to use commercial applications/sites in the MND-C area (Southern Iraq).  I might get an iPhone or something I can use overseas to post and upload pictures.

My role in the Brigade Combat Team is to maximize the information the public receives about our missions.  But the majorman blog will be focused on my personal insights and experiences.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on the drawdown of the Iraq mission:

Larry Korb:  The Promised Withdrawal from Iraq (Video here)

Center for American Progress:  How to Redeploy (Aug. 2008) This report details a hypothetical flow of troops in a less this 18 month window.

If there are topic you’d like me to address specifically in this blog or questions you have post in the comments section or drop me a line major_man4 [at] yaho o


President Obama visits the Pentagon

January 29, 2009
President Obama and Vice President Biden greet servicemembers in the Pentagon

President Obama and Vice President Biden greet servicemembers in the Pentagon

Proving he can balance more than one thing at a time, President Obama visited the Pentagon and met with Defense Department leadership on Jan. 28, 2009.

“I want to…thank all of the men and women in uniform who are represented here. They are the best that this country has to offer. One of my duties as president is going to be to make sure that you have what you need to accomplish your missions.”  – President Barack Obama

This is part of a campaign promise to meet with military leaders about Iraq policy.  You can follow nearly 500 promises here.

President Obama with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Adm. Roughead not photographed)