WEEK 24: Messaging isn’t perfect nor is it always consistent. Analyze any US political campaign and you’ll see differences between a national TV ad and the ground game talking points. Conventional military wisdom is that the ground owner always knows what is best. My experience in Iraq was that this wasn’t always true with regard to messaging as the inconsistencies were avoidable.
Me and My Patch Ain’t Always the Message
We often experience friction between Public Affairs and Psychological Operations over which method has precedence. Public Affairs inform internal and external audiences through the media. PSYOP informs and influences foreign audiences. We even have a lot of debate about whether the Iraqi populace is an external audience or a foreign audience.
Lately, I’ve noticed confusion over how to relate to the target audience. We are accustomed to telling our story, ala Public Affairs, with command sponsored new letters. These are focused at military members and their spouses. We have great pride in our unit and our history. We use every opportunity to remind our troops and our families of our military heritage.
Our Community Relations back home follow the same line. Brigades and Battalions sponsor schools and their outreach programs. Divisions sponsor communities. Our leadership attends the town halls. It is a mutual relationship of support and friendship.
In Iraq, we are partnered with the Iraqi Security Forces. We also engage the local government and tribal leadership.
We want to use our community relations techniques, but it isn’t always the best way. Even though most of us will be here up to fifteen months, we are too transient to make our units known to all Iraqis.
For instance, I recently had a request from a commander to identify his unit on a radio product. He believed his unit should get credit for an action instead of using the generic term of Coalition Forces. Unfortunately, I had to inform this commander we needed to stick with Coalition Forces. Iraqis on the west side of Baghdad won’t know a US Brigade from the east side of Baghdad.
While unit nick names can still be a nice talking point embellisher with the Iraqi Security Forces, I don’t think the Iraqis really care what unit is in their neighborhood. Because of their culture, most Iraqis would not disrespect you or your unit in front of you. They are most concerned about security and services. They want the government or us to provide these. The Iraqis want us to leave but not right now. We are all just the Coalition or Americans to them.
In all fairness to the Iraqis, I don’t think they would be able to keep track of it. The people of East Rashid saw at least three different brigades and four to six battalions within three months.
How are they supposed to keep track of COBRA, BLACKJACK and DRAGON brigades?
Sometimes the battalion name doesn’t change and the brigade name does. Our military boundaries shift all the time. How can the Iraqis keep track? Why would they care what unit is their zone? What if the unit has a lousy reputation?
Repeat after me. We are Coalition Forces. We are Coalition Forces. We are Coalition Forces.
A few days ago, I had to review a unit TIP card. TIP cards have phone numbers for the locals to call if they information on criminals and terrorists. It looked like a business card and could have been distributed without a review but the card had a slogan. The slogan read something like “Battalion X – Providing security for the people of the neighborhood”. I recommended deleting the slogan or changing it to highlight our partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces. For instance, “Partnered with the Iraqi Security Forces to provide security to the people” is a good message that supports our overall objectives.
The original message, while well intended, implicitly undermined the Iraqi Security Forces. Until the people see the Iraqi Security Forces as part of the solution, the people won’t trust them.
If the people don’t trust their own security forces, the enemy will thrive. If the enemy thrives, Iraq has no security. If Iraq has no security, we cannot leave. See why the message matters?
Repeat after me. We are partners with the Iraqi Security Forces. We are partners with the Iraqi Security Forces. We are partners with the Iraqi Security Forces.
We should be proud of our efforts in Iraq. We should be proud of our unit, our military and our history. When it comes to engaging the Iraqis, however, we need to keep the message simple. The message needs to be consistent.
Our units and their efforts should be transparent. Our boundaries shift. Our units rotate. We need to set up the next unit for success.
Repeat after me. Coalition Forces are partners with Iraqis for Iraq’s future. Use this message and you’ll be fine.