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.