Telling Soldiers' stories through glass: Army broadcast journalists play important role
October 18, 2010
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Lights, camera ... "incoming'!"
With more up-to-the-minute news coverage and reports being broadcast from Iraq and Afghanistan than during any other American war, Family members, friends and U.S. citizens have a better understanding of what our servicemembers experience than ever before.
The stories of those behind the cameras however, are rarely told.
The 356th Broadcast Operations Detachment is one of only four units of its kind in the Army - one that specializes in highlighting the hard work of America's Soldiers. As a Reserve unit, the BOD's purpose is to stand up an Armed Forces Network station in a deployed location, often going into harm's way to spotlight fellow troops.
When deployed, the unit brings a taste of home to the battlefield through radio shows with popular American music, and news stories featuring servicemembers which can be seen by their Families on local U.S. TV stations.
"That's how we contribute to the mission," said Sgt. 1st Class Bob Mitchell, the 356th's training and operations noncommissioned officer. "We build morale."
Mitchell explained that each job field adds to the Army's overall goal - a BOD does this by being a link to home.
Made up of broadcast journalists and video equipment maintainers, BOD Soldiers do a job that isn't well-known in the Army. In fact, other Soldiers often haven't heard of the field.
"Everybody brings something unique to the table," Mitchell said. He added that as a Reserve unit, the 356th has Soldiers with professional civilian media experience, as well as other areas of expertise, which pays dividends to the unit's success.
Mitchell, who has 20 years of broadcasting experience, also said it's important for servicemembers and their Families to understand what Army journalists do, and stressed that Soldiers of the BOD play a much different role than civilian media.
Sgt. 1st Class John S. Fries, acting first sergeant of the 356th, agreed.
"Getting the story right is important," Fries said.
Fries explained that while not all news stories are 'good news,' Army journalists do their best to focus on the achievements of Soldiers - it is not their place to be critical of the Army.
Fries said being an Army journalist is also fun - broadcasters learn about a new job or facet of the Army each time they shoot footage or conduct an interview. He explained that while deployed, BOD Soldiers might be walking on a patrol with the infantry one day, and flying in a helicopter with a foreign politician the next - the job is far from monotonous.
"It gives us the ability to tell the whole story," Fries said of his field's flexibility.
With the unit gearing up for its second deployment to Baghdad, the 356th will be instrumental in making sure the story of the American Soldier is told during the shift to Operation New Dawn.
"Broadcasters are here because they want to be," Mitchell said. "They take their jobs very seriously, and understand the gravity of what they do."
During the unit's first deployment, members of the 356th went on more than 100 missions, broadcasted 3,500 hours of live radio and filmed 250 episodes of Freedom Journal Iraq. They also provided 18 hours of original broadcasting per day.
Fries, who will bring oversight and leadership to the unit, said this deployment, his fifth, will be hard, because he is used to going out on missions and creating products. However, he said he'll use his experiences from past deployments to make this one rewarding and positive for his troops.
"There is a great amount of fulfillment in what we do," Mitchell said.
He explained that although their job is often overlooked, broadcasters enjoy doing their part in making Soldier's deployments a little more pleasant.
"Building morale with little things like music ... that's important," said Mitchell.