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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


by Thomas P. Odom, Civilian Military Analyst,
Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) Observation Detachment

In 1992, a select group of officers, led by then BG Robert Scales as the Desert Storm Study Group, was charged by the U.S. Army Chief of Staff to write the Army’s story on Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Provide Comfort. The result was the book, Certain Victory: The U.S. Army in the Gulf War. One of the greatest challenges in writing the book was finding photographs from any source on U.S. Army ground operations in the conflict. It was the day of the tightly controlled media pool, a method that virtually excluded media access to the battlefield once the war, particularly ground operations, commenced.

Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) Newsletter 92-7, In the Spotlight Media and the Tactical Commander, captured many of the insights and lessons learned relating to media and media relations in that war. For the most part, media relations and public affairs (PA) were viewed as an adjunct to operations. Developing and sustaining a positive media atmosphere were viewed as a combat multiplier for existing battlefield operating systems (currently referred to as warfighting functions).

As the end of the 1990s approached, U.S. Army involvement in operations in the Balkans grew. Interest in media operations as part of information operations (IO) and as a stand-alone subject grew accordingly. Media relations and PA came to be seen as a warfighting tool to support decisive operations. CALL published Newsletters 99-2, Information Operations: IO in a Peace Enforcement Environment; 99-15, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Information Operations; and 03-18, Task Force Eagle Information Operations (a follow-up to CALL Newsletter 99-15). The media approach taken in 1990 and 1992 proved to be inadequate for PA operations in the new millennium.

MAJ James E. Hutton, as Chief of Media for U.S. Transportation Command, wrote a thought-provoking article for CALL titled, “Producing Change in Army Public Affairs: Ideas for Refocusing Operations” (News from the Front, September-October 2001). Major Hutton’s article serves as Chapter 1 of this 2006 newsletter. Much of what Major Hutton called for was soon to happen, accelerated by the events of 9/11.

With the collapse of the World Trade Center towers and the simultaneous strike on the Pentagon, both seen virtually live around the globe, media relations and PA became the fourth dimension of modern warfare as practiced in the 21st century. Rather than a combat multiplier for lethal warfighting functions, PA, especially as a component of IO, became integral to decisive operations. It was no longer a question of considering the media’s role on the battlefield. More properly stated, the media had become part of the battlefield. Major Hutton’s 2001 article heralded that change.

Certainly the JRTC was well aware of the changes Major Hutton wrote about; the JRTC was a key training center for Balkans mission rehearsal exercises. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Defense issued guidance emphasizing the need for timely and accurate media and command information coverage of U.S. military operations (see Appendix A). Media-on-the-battlefield training was something JRTC rotational units and leaders could expect (“dread” was a word sometimes heard). Some of the changes Major Hutton called for are evidenced in “Public Affairs Operations: Brigade Task Force Level” (Chapter 2), written by MAJ Darryl Wright, the JRTC PA officer (PAO) observer/controller (OC). Writing in 2002, Major Wright drew heavily on the methodology put forward in CALL Newsletter 02-3: Targeting the Rakkasan Way: A Complete Guide on the Brigade-Level Targeting Process, battle-tested that same year in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The JRTC Operations Group has continued that focus on media operations. In 2005, MAJ Randy Martin, the current PAO OC, published two articles on media-related issues. They serve as Chapters 3 and 4 of this newsletter. As a new PAO in Kosovo, Major Martin benefitted from a visit by Major Hutton during an intensive IO effort. In Chapter 5, now Lieutenant Colonel Martin addresses media relations training for units, Soldiers, and leaders. Chapter 6, by CPT David Connolly, examines the impact of media operations in contemporary operational environments. Chapters 7 and 8 look to actual operations in Iraq and hurricane-relief operations in 2005 for related lessons on media relations and PA.

In 2006, the media is indeed part of the battlefield, and commanders must look at it that way. War in the 21st century is certainly fought in the fourth dimension. All commanders, leaders, and Soldiers must understand that and train for that fight.

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