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Psychological Operations Team Makes Friends Through Newspaper

By Sgt. Mark S. Rickert, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2003 – As soldiers here drop a bundle of the latest "Baghdad Now" newspaper onto the sidewalk, Iraqi children pounce on the newspaper heap as if it were a fumbled football during the Super Bowl.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Staff Sgt. Richard K. Wilson, team chief with the 361st Psychological Operation Company (Tactical), and Sgt. Cornell W. Yell, who is part of the security detail with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 237th Support Battalion, 1st Armored Division, distribute the "Baghdad Now" to local citizens. Photo by Sgt. Mark S. Rickert, USA

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

Whether they are concerned citizens or just children who like to read, "Baghdad Now" is drawing an enormous fan base. The newspaper's promotion and its remarkably low price -- it's free! -- make the paper a useful tool for the 361st Psychological Operations Company (Tactical) here, an Army Reserve unit from Bothell, Wash., which is supporting the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, a subordinate unit of the 1st Armored Division.

Every month, the psychological operations team distributes 70,000 issues of the newspaper to the people in Baghdad. The paper not only increases public awareness toward safety hazards, such as celebratory fire, but it also keeps the community informed on what the U.S. and coalition forces are doing for Iraq.

"The paper shows how we interact with the Iraqi government during this transitional period, and how we, together, are improving life in Baghdad," said Staff Sgt. Richard K. Wilson, who is the tactical psychological operations team chief. "More importantly, we want the people to know what's going, so they can see how they are making a difference. This way they can say, 'Hey, my community made this happen.'"

Distributing the paper creates an effective medium for communication, opening many doors previously closed to the soldiers, unit members said. According to Wilson, handing out newspapers gives the soldiers "instant access" to the community.

"Any time you give these people something, their defenses come down it's human nature," said Wilson. "We gain instant access by giving them something, and they spread the message expressed in these newspapers."

A fellow soldier agreed. "The act of giving anything to these people is an act of goodwill," said Sgt. Owen J. Jungemann, "especially for people who don't get a lot of anything, especially information. Papers cost money, and they don't have money. So any access to information is good."

By showing the Iraqi people how the coalition forces are helping to improve Baghdad, the psychological operations team hopes to increase positive attitudes toward the coalition and, in turn, decrease anti-coalition behavior. "It's important for us to show what the coalition is doing here," said Jungemann.

"Positive feelings toward Americans here result in fewer of us dying," he said." When people see that we are rebuilding schools and improving their way of life, they are less likely to act violently toward us."

Through face-to-face encounters, the psychological operations team also forms ties with religious leaders, medical practitioners and professors. Befriending these key voices of the community is an effective approach for spreading a positive message, Wilson said.

"It is extremely important that we gain the support of these key communicators, and so far, we've built strong, solid relations within the community," he added. "This way, they will speak on our behalf, and people will listen."

(Army Sgt. Mark S. Rickert is assigned to the 372nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)

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