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Media is the Battlefield

Newsletter 07-04
October 2006

CALL Handbook No. 06-08: Catastrophic Disaster Response Staff Officer's Handbook Cover

A Successful Brigade Public Affairs Officer

Chapter 3

by LTC Randy A. Martin, Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Observer/Controller,
Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) Operations Group

It seems like my unit is surrounded by all types of media: unilateral television, print, and radio reporters. There are public radio stations, major-market newspapers, and television stations. I can see that there is a propaganda campaign against us or, at the very least, a serious problem with misinformation in my area of operations.

My brigade’s mission is to bring stability to the chaos while fighting a determined enemy on the streets. The public is hungry for information. They will devour lies or, in the absence of information, fill the void with rumors unless I provide the truth as I know it.

For the past six months brigades have entered the JRTC with a resource never before available. The JRTC allows brigades to conduct public and command information in support of combat operations at the tactical level, with the media as a condition of the battlefield, rather than a separate training event. Some PAOs do very well and others struggle.

The Role of the PAO

Brigade-level PAOs are now a part of the norm, and an Army at war will require PAOs to succeed. Clearly, there are lessons learned that should be shared. There are four common themes of successful brigade PAOs at the JRTC:

  • PAOs organize for and conduct future and current operations on the staff.
  • The PAO team develops stringers and unit public affairs (PA) representatives (UPARs) to support command information and public information.
  • PAOs are resourced with communications and electronic news-gathering equipment to accomplish their tasks.
  • PAOs understand and know how the local information environment works.

Doctrine already describes the role of the brigade PAO. Chapter 8 of FM 3-61.1, Public Affairs Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP),says that “Working as both a special staff officer and as a member of the brigade’s planning team, the brigade PAO acts as the spokesperson for the unit, advisor to the commander, and provides PA guidance and planning to commanders at all levels.” Today, brigade PAOs sit side by side with psychological operations officers, a civil affairs (CA) team, intelligence officers, and information officers as members of the U.S. Army’s new modular brigades and brigades who have organized for success in an information environment.

The brigade’s staff battle rhythm includes lethal and nonlethal targeting meetings under the emerging doctrine of effects-based operations. Arguably, nearly every operation becomes “a brigade fight with a brigade plan.” There are three or more daily briefings to the commander or his designated representative. There are rehearsals of all types: combined-arms rehearsals, logistics rehearsals, communications rehearsals, and rehearsals for rehearsals. Given all the meetings, some PAOs might start to consider public and command information as a distraction. The PAO decides where he should be and, given the gravity of future operations and the need to set the conditions for his battalions’ success tomorrow, successful PAOs are serving primarily as planners.

Getting the Job Done

The first dilemma facing the brigade PAO is how to divide and accomplish the tasks at hand. Soldiers are responsible for any perceived success. A successful brigade PAO organizes to conduct future and current operations. He takes the responsibility of planning future operations and allows his Soldiers to conduct current operations. He looks 24, 48, 72, and 96 hours out. In conjunction with other staff officers, he develops plans that direct battalions to perform PA tasks. This planning is accomplished through the effects-based operations process. He continually refines his plans based on feedback and analysis and shares his analysis with other staff officers. In turn, the PAO contributes to or writes fragmentary orders, separate plans, and annexes.

The PAO anticipates challenges and makes recommendations that allow the brigade to fight and win in an environment that is dominated by real-time news and information. He helps shape the environment by conducting embedded media opportunities, hosting media events, and developing public information products – engaging the media personally or through designated members of the unit.

PAOs are only successful because of the superb noncommissioned officers and young Soldiers working alongside them. Often these Soldiers come directly from advanced individual training. They are skilled at broadcast operations and print journalism, but they are new to the process of being on a staff. The PAO trains his staff, and on-the-job experience refines how they function. The PAO continues planning for the future and relies on his Soldiers to conduct PA current operations (i.e., anything that happens in less than 24 hours). PA Soldiers track the battle in the brigade tactical operations center. They play a major role in producing public and command information. They focus on the close fight by monitoring the local media, receiving media contact reports, analyzing trends, and making assessments. They help staff PA products and keep the PAO informed while the PAO attends meetings, briefings, and planning sessions.

Brigade PA Soldiers create products such as press releases, video news releases, and radio spots in support of the PAO’s plan. They read, understand, and enforce PA policies and procedures from the tactical to strategic level. They prepare for and execute media opportunities such as interviews and media events. Likewise, they train others to perform PA tasks.

Recently, one PA Soldier determined that there was a pattern for misinformation on the local radio station through careful tracking using a staff duty log. The Soldier gave the information to her PAO who, in turn, was able to use other brigade resources and minimize the effects of misinformation and propaganda. Some might argue that it was someone else’s job. The PA Soldier, however, was the only one besides the public who was paying attention.

The brigade is very large in terms of number of troops and expanse across the battlefield. How do they increase their range and effectiveness?

Stringers and UPARs

PA Soldiers are well-trained in developing news for the commander and enabling a better understanding of lessons learned, tasks, and purpose throughout the Army. Evidence from brigades recently deployed from JRTC directly into theater shows that command information remains crucial. However, the brigade PAO team’s time and range are limited. To accomplish the commander’s goal, brigade PAOs use stringers and, in some cases, UPARs to support command information and public information. UPARs are trained at home station by PA Soldiers. They learn how to prepare subject-matter experts for interviews. UPARs learn and apply communications skills with media embeds or during select media opportunities.

UPARs submit media contact reports during and after scheduled and chance encounters with the media. As part of its current operations function, the PA office refines reports and keeps the chain of command informed of the local media environment. At JRTC, one PA Soldier identified uncredentialed media through a contact report and, with the help of other staff members, was able to prevent imposters from gaining access to a forward operating base.

UPARs serve closely with battalion commanders as lower-level subject-matter experts on PA plans and policy on embedding the media, engaging the local media, and conducting media opportunities at the battalion level. This added expertise gives the commander more time and flexibility to engage the media at the time and place of his choosing, often resulting in better preparation.

The “additional duty” of UPAR is often assigned to the battalion S1. Experience at the JRTC has shown that the best UPARs are not necessarily members of any one designated staff section; rather, they are volunteers who are motivated for the task and are reliable. One battalion commander selected his fire support officer to serve as the UPAR. Another chose a CA Soldier assigned to the battalion. In both cases, the UPAR had skills and expertise the commander preferred over his S1. The results were better interviews because both UPARs were better prepared and more comfortable in the media setting.

UPARs and stringers are the brigade PAO’s direct link, a liaison of sorts, to battalions. UPARs function best when they are equipped with digital cameras and reliable communications equipment. Although UPARs broaden the PAO’s effective range, without the necessary equipment, neither the PAO nor the UPAR will effectively aid their commander. A successful brigade PAO is resourced with communications and electronic news-gathering equipment to accomplish his tasks.

Brigade PAOs are constrained by time, terrain, and the enemy. At the JRTC, the PAO operates in an area where battalions are dispersed over 2,700 square kilometers, with a determined foe who uses all tactics available to kill U.S. Soldiers. The PAO often lacks language skills to communicate with the local media, but he still must accomplish a mission.

Tools of the Media Trade

The brigade PAO uses his own Soldiers, stringers, and UPARs to gather images and stories with digital cameras to support urgent information requirements. Images are passed electronically from the point of action to the release authority rapidly through secure and non-secure mediums.

Digital cameras are supplied to the brigade and battalions for the specific purpose of gathering and developing news products. The brigade PAO uses the Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System and a dedicated video editing system to produce and distribute video products to local television and the higher headquarters.

One brigade commander chose to announce the arrival of his brigade on local television and radio in an area of operations (AO). His message clearly had public information value and did not violate the PAO's integrity. The PAO cleared the release through his staff and the release authority. The public met the brigade commander early by virtue of his PAO.

Dedicated voice communication is a must. The PAO relies on his higher headquarters for senior PA guidance. One PAO was denied a dedicated phone, causing the local media to be frustrated when they called the tactical operations center, where either no one spoke Arabic or Soldiers did not want to speak with them. A better-resourced PAO used his phone to contact the media following a deadly attack on a newspaper office. He was able to build rapport with the journalist through an act of compassion.

One brigade commander who saw his PAO as a key asset resourced the PAO with an interpreter. With proper training, time, and trust, the interpreter helped the staff gain cultural understanding, served as an assistant for media analysis, and communicated directly with the media when the PAO could not.

The Information Environment

All the resources in the world are insufficient if a PAO does not understand the capabilities he brings and the dynamics of his information environment. As the staff’s expert, the PAO must understand the local information environment in detail. Successful brigade PAOs build estimates for their AO. They consider and use all available resources for gathering news and disseminating information. They know and understand the news cycle in their area so they can make an impact on news products at the right place and time.

One brigade PAO knew the time and place for an upcoming combat operation and prepared preapproved press releases to coincide with the production of the daily newspaper. He anticipated consequences, and when the time was right tactically, he released information to the public and filled the void.

The brigade PAO understands the dominant news mediums and their constraints. He makes recommendations to the command on how and where to engage the media. He builds information folders on the media in his AO. With the help of his PA Soldiers, he continuously assesses the local media and refines the overall plan.


Doctrine is in place. Brigade PAOs are a powerful addition to the brigade combat team and its staff. Successful PAOs are practicing planning as a primary function with a well-organized staff. They are developing their organization through training at home station and gaining effective stringers and UPARs. They are resourced with personnel and technology to communicate with their command and the media. Successful brigade PAOs are experts in their craft and prepared to operate at the tactical level of the military information environment.

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