New International Course Provides Public Affairs Instruction
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
FORT MEADE, Md., Feb. 7, 2012 A new international program at the Defense Information School here is helping partner nations develop public affairs expertise to address challenges not only at home, but also as they participate in coalition operations around the world.
Defense Information School students listen to instruction during
their first day in the Public Affairs Course for International Students, Jan. 23, 2012, at Fort Meade, Md. As the Defense Department’s premier center for public affairs and visual information, DINFOS aims to be the international leader in military public affairs training. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Nelson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Fifteen students from 11 nations are midway through the first international course, a five-week program designed to meet a growing worldwide appetite for public affairs know-how, explained Stefo Lehmann, one of the three instructors.
The coursework parallels much of what U.S. military public affairs officers receive at DINFOS – considered by many to be the premier school of its kind in the world dedicated to military public affairs training.
Although many of the students look to the U.S. military approach to public affairs as the “gold standard” they hope to emulate at home, Army Col. Jeremy Martin, the DINFOS commandant, said the instructors go out of their way to emphasize that it’s just one of many approaches. In fact, almost one-third of the instruction is dedicated to how the United Nations and NATO practice public affairs.
This approach, Martin said, is designed to help in preparing partner militaries to support coalition public affairs efforts.
The instructors all have participated in coalition public affairs operations personally, and they’ve incorporated what they learned into the international course. Lehmann, for example, has served in Angola, Liberia, Bosnia and Guatemala, as well as in the United States.
Regardless of where contingency operations occur, Martin said, the principles remain the same. “You have to be able to effectively communicate to diverse audiences, regardless of what region you may be deploying in, and you have to be able to talk about why you are there,” he said. “You have to be able to say, ‘Here is our mission’ and talk to people about how and why it affects them.”
Ultimately, that’s likely to get people to understand the operation better, Martin said. “You will get better cooperation, for the most part, and that will enable you to do your job better,” he added.
With those broad goals in mind, the DINFOS instructors spent the first two weeks in the international course teaching basic public affairs theory and principles. Students then got hands-on practical experience writing press releases, setting up news conferences and using social media to communicate.
“We are teaching them the basics of public affairs that don’t change from country to country,” Lehmann said. “Giving a successful press conference is the same in Spain as it is in Kuwait, and as it is in the States. Giving effective responses is going to be the same.
“These are basic skills that they need to know as public affairs officers, which they can bring to their country and then tailor to the needs of their individual ministries of defense,” he said. “That is our focus here.”
Halfway through the course, the students have begun work on their final project: developing a communications plan to address an issue or challenge they’ve identified within their own militaries.
A Lebanese student, for example, is working on a plan to get word out about the Lebanese military’s role in a reforestation effort. An Indonesian officer is writing a plan to increase public awareness about force-protection improvements to protect local military bases against terrorist attacks. A student from Taiwan is developing a plan designed to increase volunteerism in the Taiwanese military as it goes from a conscripted force to all-volunteer force.
“The real takeaway from the course, after we teach the basics, is to have the students work on a communication plan for an actual issue in their country,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield, the senior military instructor. “When they leave here, they will have this plan to present to their ministers of defense or bosses and be able to say, ‘This is what I learned, and I would like to get your permission to implement it.’”
Maj. Ali Al-Bairmani of the Iraqi army said he witnessed firsthand how the U.S. military conducted public affairs during missions in his country, and that he looks forward to incorporating some of that expertise as his unit establishes a new public affairs position.
His communication plan will address what he sees as a real need in his country: getting the various intelligence organizations to communicate better and share information more seamlessly.
Lt. Col. Luis Carlos Reichert of Brazil’s army isn’t new to public affairs, but always has approached it as a supervisor. Now, with the hands-on experience and new insights he’s getting at DINFOS, he said, he knows the lessons he’s learning will pay off.
In fact, Reichert plans to put them to use soon after graduation, when he deploys to Haiti to provide public affairs support to the U.N. stabilization mission there.
Martin said he anticipates a ripple effect as graduates of the course take their new insights to their home militaries.
“We are basically building partner capacity so that if there is a contingency requirement, [graduates of this program] could go into an operation with a basic level of expertise about how to communicate with various audiences,” he said. “That can only enhance what we are trying to do in a particular region.”