Centcom Helps Regional Militaries Build Communication Skills
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
TAMPA, Fla., Aug. 20, 2013 A little-known effort underway at the U.S. Central Command headquarters here is providing communication and public affairs training to the militaries of partner nations located in the command’s area of responsibility.
Recognizing effective communication as vital to a successful relationship between any military and the public, Centcom began hosting five-day strategic communication seminars for regional public affairs representatives about two years ago, Army Col. John R. Robinson, the command’s director of communication, told American Forces Press Service.
Since launching the program, the Centcom public affairs staff has offered training to their counterparts in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen, Robinson said. The militaries of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have expressed interest in similar training, he added.
At the MacDill Air Force Base-conducted seminars, members of Centcom’s Communication Integration Directorate share best practices with the participants, all selected by the U.S. Embassies in their host countries in conjunction with their respective defense departments, Robinson explained.
The course work covers a range of public affairs topics, including media operations, communication planning, message development and social media capabilities. Participants also learn about the importance of engaging key leaders and get practical experience serving as military spokespersons during mock interviews and news conferences.
“The intent is not to create public affairs experts, and it would be impossible to do that within the timeframe of the training,” Robinson said. “We are sharing basic public communications skills that they will be able to use.
“And as a combatant command we gain relationships -- people we can reach out to again and again,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have helped develop trained communicators in partner nations who already know us and have dealt with us, by name.”
Those relationships “are already paying off,” Robinson reported. For example, when the United States deployed troops to Jordan for the multilateral Exercise Eager Lion, trained Jordanian communicators helped clarify what the focus was -- and what it wasn’t, he explained.
“There was a real opportunity for misinterpretation if you didn’t understand what Eager Lion was about,” he said. “This was about U.S.-Jordanian partnership. It was not about Syria. But to make that known, you had to have trained spokespeople who could communicate with the press.”
Participants in past Centcom seminars have rave reviews about the training they and their fellow public affairs representatives received.
“Having the opportunity to learn from other military members who come from a background similar to mine was a great experience because of their knowledge in journalism and operations,” said Brig. Gen. Ali Ghaleb Ali Al-Harazi, deputy director of moral guidance for Yemen’s Defense Ministry, who attended a seminar in March. “I now have more information and knowledge to take back to my shop and share with my workers.”
Lebanese Maj. Simon Chammas, a 27-year veteran of the Lebanese Armed Forces, said he left the seminar more informed about public affairs practices and how to convey command information.
“The American military are the best to learn from and are some of the most knowledgeable about the field because of their past experiences,” he said.
Robinson said he hopes to expand the effort to accommodate a growing regional appetite for communications skills. If all goes as planned, Centcom could begin seminars for some of the Russian-speaking nations in the region as soon as November, he reported.
“People recognize how important information is, and are really eager to learn how to communicate about the issues that affect them,” Robinson said. “Communication can only enhance what we are trying to do in a particular region.”