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Media on the Battlefield (MOB)

by MAJ Jim Marshall
Our deployed units on any military operation are likely to have several encounters with reporters and camera crews. This is pretty much expected these days with all the media coverage. Units can also expect to have these encounters during a deployment to the National Training Center (NTC). Rotational units must deal with the reporters of the International News Network (INN), questions from scheduled VIPs, on-the-spot interviews, and live taping of an ongoing operation.

This article presents some trends regarding how rotational units are dealing with media on the battlefield (MOB) and provides some pointers on how to prepare for them.

POSITIVE TRENDS:

1. Enlisted soldiers and junior NCOs are consistently the Army's best, most believable representatives.

  • They come across genuine and forthright during an interview.

  • They speak from the heart, maintain good eye contact and provide the media (and ultimately the American public) with a solid impression of the Army.

2. Rotational units generally have a plan to deal with the media.

  • Soldiers are briefed on media awareness and issued "media cards" that outline what to do during a media interview.

  • Most leaders have read the Division base order, including the Public Affairs Annex, and have disseminated the key information to subordinates.

  • Higher level leaders (battalion and brigade) understand and use the command messages in the annex.

  • Several units have identified and trained media escorts to battalion level who escort media through their unit's area to ensure positive control, a quick visit and a record of the questions and answers.

NEGATIVE TRENDS:

1. There is an overall tendency for units to just confirm what the reporter already thinks he knows rather than taking charge and telling the Army's story.

2. Many officers and senior NCOs tend to side-step embarrassing or upsetting issues, fearing negative press coverage. Avoiding questions often gives the appearance that the Army is covering something up, indecisive, or, worse yet, incompetent.

DISCUSSION:

Telling the Army's Story is about telling the reporter more than the command message in the Public Affairs Annex. It's about taking charge of the interview and telling the reporter what you want him to know about your unit.

Yes, reporters generally have an angle when they conduct an interview. When they ask questions, it's for a specific purpose that may or may not be obvious. If all you do is answer the questions asked by the reporter, then yeah, sure, you did OK, but you did not take charge.

We must get the Army's Story out to the American public. The media is our method. Tell your story, don't just nod your head up and down to some reporter's pre-conceived ideas.

Sometimes there are embarrassing or upsetting issues that become topics for the media. It may be a maintenance problem, an accident or a death. While it is not pleasant to discuss, it is a newsworthy item and reporters will be looking for the scoop. Avoiding the interview and dodging the questions may get you personally off the hook, but can make the Army look bad. Remember, that reporter will go with his story with or without the Army's input. If you don't talk, don't expect the American public to get the Army's story.

TTPs:

Good plans, if not continuously emphasized,
will degrade over time and become ineffective.

1. To sustain the positive trends and improve on the negative trends, units should conduct MOB training as part of their preparations for a NTC deployment. Coordinate with your Division Public Affairs Officer (PAO) to conduct MOB training in conjunction with normal field training.

a. Have role players act as reporters and "interview" soldiers on camera. This can be done during lulls in field training to minimize the impact on the primary training goals. Your PAO will be able to critique their performance and provide useful feedback.

b. Develop and disseminate a Media Card with approval from your Division PAO. Information on the card can vary, but may include:

  • Who to contact and how to contact him if a reporter arrives in the unit's area.
  • Responsibilities of a media escort.
  • What information can or cannot be discussed.
  • When to allow a media interview.
  • How to treat reporters.
  • How to conduct an interview.
  • Techniques to best tell the Army's Story.

2. Media Awareness training is probably best done in two parts, a classroom phase and an interview phase in a field environment.

a. In the classroom phase, discuss how the enemy can use media reports, teach the DOD Information Policy, cover the key areas of the Public Affairs Annex and types of media that will be encountered, issue and explain the Media Card and provide initial training on interview techniques.

b. In the field phase, conduct actual interviews using soldiers who role-play as reporters (preferably ones who have Public Affairs training). Do this in conjunction with regular field training to add realism to the process.

3. Media Tasks for a Brigade Combat Team:

a. Facilitate escorted/unescorted media in your area of operation.

b. Participate in a media briefing/conference.

c. Participate in a media interview.

d. Implement a Public Affairs Plan.

e. Integrate imbedded media into Brigade Operations.

4. As with all training, this media training will only be effective if immediate feedback is given to the interviewee. You can do it verbally or, if possible, play back the soldiers interview and show him where he did well and where to improve.

CONCLUSION:

Public support of military operations is essential in our democracy. Having soldiers who are competent and confident in their ability to tell the Army's story ensures that the American people get the information they need. The media is the only way for us to get the story out; we must make sure they get the right story. With proper planning and preparation, you can have a positive encounter with media on the battlefield.



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Focused Reconnaissance



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