Public Affairs Course Builds International Partnerships
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md., April 8, 2014 The United States works with military and diplomatic counterparts every day in relationships that are central to stability in the security environment.
In the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, nine countries are pooling resources. During rescue operations following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines last year, many countries from around the world - including the United States - worked with the Philippine government to bring relief.
Such partnerships are not limited to humanitarian operations. Operations such as those in Libya, countering pirates off Somalia, in Afghanistan and in Iraq were performed by coalitions.
Getting the message out about all these efforts is a part of the operational picture, and international press officers need to be able to work smoothly with American counterparts.
The Public Affairs Course for International Students is one way that international students and American officers can learn ways to work together in humanitarian operations or on the battlefield.
The Defense Information School here hosts the five-week class. This week, eight officers from Brazil, El Salvador, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Philippines and Jordan are studying public affairs with a view toward leveraging technology and collaboration with a special emphasis on the school's motto: 'Strength through Truth."
The genesis of the course came from conversations among officials at the State Department, NATO, the United Nations and the school about how to better work together in a crisis, said Army Col. Jeremy M. Martin, the school's commandant. "It also fits in with our curriculum in that training international officers supports our national strategic goals," he added. "The 2012 national strategic guidance talks about building partner capacity. "
When a coalition deploys, it is very helpful to have a common operating picture, the colonel noted. "The PACIS program will allow us to do that," he said.
A good example was Philippine typhoon relief. The November storm was a super typhoon that may have killed more than 10,000 people. It leveled whole cities, knocked out communications, crippled essential services and threatened to be a public health catastrophe. Thousands of Philippine and international service members arrived to provide help.
And along with them came journalists from around the world.
Maj. Angelo Guzman was working in his first public affairs job in the Philippine armed forces when the typhoon struck. He is now attending PACIS. He had to learn the extent of the damage and communicate that quickly and clearly to thousands of reporters worldwide. The major said he was aware of the concept of a communications plan, but hazy about how to implement it.
Capt. Rebeca Calles of El Salvador’s air force said she hopes to be an instrument of change in her country's military. In the 1980s, her country was wracked by civil war. Today, El Salvador provides troops for peacekeeping operations around the world. U.S. soldiers fought alongside Salvadoran troops in Iraq.
Calles said she understands the concepts of public affairs and knows what makes a good communications effort, "but nothing is written down."
The Bulgarian representatives in the class - Teodora Garkova and Antoaneta Todorova - already are working with their NATO allies. "But this prepares us to work beyond the alliance," Garkova said.
The Brazilian officers said the course will help them as their nation welcomes visitors from around the globe for the World Cup and the Olympics.
And that is a big part of this effort, Martin said.
"To be able to have that caliber of public affairs professional on the ground in different regions of the world will enhance combatant commanders' theater engagement plans, security cooperation and will help to break down some of those cultural barriers that we always face when we come into a region," he said.
"We don't understand the local culture or the local media," he continued. "Having a public affairs professional who knows how we work and is familiar with our forces would be an advantage."
So it is very much a two-way street, Martin added. U.S. officers can provide subject expertise and technological know-how. International officers can provide the on-the-ground knowledge that often makes or breaks a communications plan, he explained.
The graduates of this class will go on to serve around the world. The school wants to hold two of these courses a year and has room for about 15 officers per class, Martin said.
The colonel cited one graduate of the program - Col. Philip Aguer Panyang of the South Sudanese army – as a success story. South Sudan fought a terribly destructive civil war to break away from Sudan and has been a country only since 2011.
"Philip came here with the intent to develop public affairs infrastructure for the South Sudanese army," Martin said. "He left here and within months - when hostilities commenced again in South Sudan - he was quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post and on television, and his quotes were spot on."
On the air, Martin recalled, the South Sudanese colonel said, "The people must know what's happening, and they have that democratic right to timely, accurate information. It's better to talk to allay their fears."
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)