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Iraqi Ministry Workers Take American Course in Baghdad

By Petty Officer 1st Class Joel I. Huval, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 28, 2004 – At a time when media outlets around the world are focusing on stories involving mortar attacks, improvised explosive devices and uncertainty in Iraq, members of the Iraqi government are now better prepared to tell the world their stories of growth, hope and newly found freedom.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Kristine Coan was second in charge of the mobile training team dispatched from the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., to train Iraqi ministry workers in public affairs, journalism and media relations. She said the classes were successful in bringing people together who may not have otherwise spoken to one another due to cultural backgrounds and differences. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Joel I. Huval, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Twenty-two Iraqi ministry workers graduated from a 14-day public affairs course July 21 at the Convention Center in Baghdad.

A mobile training team of six instructors from the Defense Information School, a Defense Department school that teaches journalism and public affairs to U.S. service members, government employees and foreign nationals, arrived in Iraq June 26. The team's mission was to teach students from nearly every ministry in Iraq's government practical knowledge of democracy, public affairs, media relations and journalism.

"The main goal of this program is to train Iraqi public affairs personnel, who have never been trained in formal public affairs techniques, and provide them with public affairs procedures and knowledge," said Army Col. Hiram Bell, DINFOS commandant, who deployed to not only support the team, but to provide assistance to senior public affairs officers in the theater of operations.

"This is a unique opportunity for DINFOS," he said. "We have a history of MTTs, but this is the first time in a combat zone. This team is doing the best they can in making a contribution to the progress here."

While only expecting about 24 students and having ordered enough supplies to support that number, more than 30 people showed up for the first morning of class, making it clear to the team that a second iteration and possible future ones would be necessary.

"(The number of students) proved to me this mission had purpose," said Army Maj. Robert H. Tallman Jr., DINFOS instructor who was in charge of team. "There was no longer a question in my mind of whether or not we would have students to train. Some of these students are risking their lives to be here and understand the enormous impact this course can have on the Iraqi people. There is a need to begin placing Iraqi faces with what is going on in this country versus Americans telling their stories."

Once the class began, students were immediately confronted with homework and questions regarding their ideas of democracy and other aspects of government.

"This class has taught me that the (U.S. military) is really here to support the Iraqi people," said one student, who wished not to be identified. "The training is meant to give us information to build new Iraqi ideas about democratic ways."

Although students may have developed an understanding of open communication, classes meant to improve teamwork and interaction between the students were included in the course.

Army Maj. Kristine Coan said the classes were successful in bringing people together who may not have otherwise spoken to one another due to cultural backgrounds and differences.

"The teamwork exercises set the stage for the course," said Coan, second in charge of the team. "The students were able to express their opinions openly and learned to use techniques to work through disagreements."

"After the teamwork exercise I felt more confident," said a female student, who did not want to be identified. "I feel more encouraged in facing interviews and working with the media."

One message the team wanted the students to grasp and never forget was one of credibility and the impact dishonesty can have on an agency. "One of the most important classes during the course was public affairs ethics," Tallman said. "Based on the way the Iraqi government used to be run, ethics is incredibly important."

Other classes included how to write basic press releases, how to respond to media queries, and setting up and executing press conferences, all of which culminated in a staff exercise the last day of the course.

"In addition to a need to understand ethical considerations, the students needed to learn how to communicate with intent," Tallman said. "This was accomplished through basic journalism and media training. The staff exercise brought all of this together."

Armed with their DINFOS graduation certificates, the students placed the training in high regard. "All of the lectures were useful, and we are thankful," said one student. "This course has given us the skills and knowledge so as to serve our ministries, and most importantly, Iraq. (The military) can be seen as having a direct or a not direct relationship with the Iraqi people. I felt a direct relationship."

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joel I. Huval is assigned to the Defense Information School, Fort Meade, Md.)

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