Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Strategic PSYOP at the Tactical Level

While today's headline may seem like a contradiction in terms, I can assure you, that it is not. I’m back at the Defense Information School (March 2010) working my second iteration of the Joint Expeditionary Public Affairs Course (JEPAC) exercise. The exercise scenario is such that actions by the US military can have a positive impact on global US reputation. However, the PSYOP involved are very much tactical in scope. In fact this hypothetical situation is very similar to the actual situation on the ground in Haiti.

In both situations the US military is engaged in what appears to be highly successful humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) operations. The Joint Task Force executing the operations were both literally cobbled together out of available resources to address their respective missions. This likely means that the emphasis on PSYOP forces would be tactical in nature and they would be tasked to perform missions associated with keeping the population informed, reducing interference with the operation and generally promoting the government’s actions.

These types of altruistic operations, borne out of a tragedy, can be very much ‘good news’ stories because they show how the United States is helping others without any sort of ulterior motive. Images of medical assistance, survivor rescues and of the resumption of normal life all reinforce a positive image of the US and our actions.

The challenge becomes to serve two PSYOP/Communications masters. On the one hand, the PSYOP force on the ground needs to focus on executing tactical PSYOP in support of the CDR’s objectives. On the other hand, there needs to be attention to the Strategic Communications messages which can be derived from the operation. From a PSYOP perspective the units on the ground supporting the task force are collecting the imagery and in some cases generating (or causing to be generated) stories in the local media and Public Service Announcements that showcase critical US messages.
The implication is that the PSYOP Task Force (POTF) must coordinate with the Joint Military Information Support Command (JMISC) out of SOCOM to provide them the input/feeds they need to harness this valuable content for Strategic Communications. It is further implied that the JMISC has open lines of communication with the Department of State so that the content can be employed in their Public Diplomacy efforts as well.

The Haiti operation may be an over simplified case in point because of its geographic proximity to the US. Hopefully the SOP exists to achieve this objectives in spite of the location of the operation whether Asia or Africa where the supply chain would not be as easy to establish and maintain.

The fragile nature of our global reputation demands that we are able to capitalize on our positive efforts whenever we can.


Anonymous said...

Great post.

Because, we are the eyes and ears of the commander for the human terrain, we need faster turn over for field requests. That is for both relevant messages and material.
So, if I'm tasked with a humanitarian mission, and I find things aren't exactly what the command thinks on the ground when I get there (more often than not), then I need to be able to radio back and inform the command, and negotiate.
The idea of talking to someone, and getting an understanding of what's going on, only to tell them that you'll tell the commander and get back to them later, and then you write a sitrep that gets sent up the JPOTF, and on and on... We lose all credibility with the TA. They know we can't do much for them, so why enter into a relationship with us? That's simply not the flexibility we need as good operators.

SF are allowed to think on their feet, make situational, tactical decisions, and are typically trusted when they recommend or request something.
They have great PR, which comes from a very selective process. Until we get similar PR, which comes from higher standards (not just physical), then we will always be just another asset out there.

Paul Carrillo said...

you seem to be on point, but to be pragmatic. The PSYOP community needs to have greater human resources, and specialist. As well as an efficient system for highlighting talent, and putting those with the knowledge in the right place. Regardless of rank, thereby saving the army money, and acoomplishing the mission effectively and efficiently. The new selection process is a good start, but the army and government should learn to train its future leaders, that will rise to power (as you cant fight the youth, it is just a waiting game) Then actively trying to bring them down, and install more of the status quo logic, that many people who control PSYOP's funtcions have.