By Angie Thorne, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerJanuary 23, 2009
FORT POLK, La., -- Communication doesn't come naturally. From birth, human beings learn the skills needed to interact with each other and convey information.
Communicating well is a complex skill filled with nuances and subtleties that can be practiced, organized and perfected. All that's needed is a will to learn and a little help from your friends.
That's why delegates from the countries of Tajikistan, on the border of China and Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan, on the border of Russia, visited the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Jan. 13-15 for a public affairs information exchange.
Maj. Tom Alexander Jr., Public Affairs plans officer for United States Army Central, explained that delegates were here to learn how the JRTC Public Affairs Office works and to better communicate within their own armies.
"The United States Army Central Public Affairs does something they call 'theater security cooperation' events. The program works with partner countries -- our operations area includes 27 countries, the majority of them from the middle east, central Asia and south Asia -- to share information that enables them to do whatever they need to do. This, in turn, allows us to gather information to better understand their way of life by working with them," said Alexander.
This isn't the first time an event of this nature has taken place, according to Alexander. Tajikistan also attended a video and photography information exchange at Fort McPherson, Ga., where some of the topics discussed included media operations and how to deal with media, taking photos, using video and communicating a story.
This time, the information exchange focused on how public affairs operates within a brigade. "We worked with Maj. Robert Phillips, JRTC Operations Group Public Affairs officer, to coordinate this event. He gave the delegates a brief about what public affairs does for the training team and gave them an overview of JRTC.
"They will take what they are seeing here at JRTC -- which is the best place to bring them because they can see the units coming through -- and this will help them when they go back home. They may take this information and possibly implement some training that better prepares their public affairs office and brigades," said Alexander.
Accordings to www.jrtc-polk.army.mil, Fort Polk's JRTC provides rotational units training in highly realistic situations by using host nation and civilian roleplayers across the full spectrum of conflict. JRTC provides these scenarios to replicate unique situations and challenges a unit may face including contact with host national officials and citizens, insurgents, terrorists and news media coverage.
With the help of a translator, delegates from Tajikstan discussed their experiences at Fort Polk. First Lt. Hayrinisso Komilova, chief, PAO National Guard of the Republic of Tajikstan, spoke about why they were here. "Our Army has never had a public affairs department. It is an absolutely new thing in our Army. That is why we came here, to gain the information, to learn from you," said Komilova.
She stated that she liked the way PAO worked with the community to enhance cooperation and was impressed with Fort Polk's public affairs operation and training center. "I like Fort Polk because it runs at a very high level. It is well organized in accordance with Army standards. I also like the people who work here. They are professionals. They are good at what they do. At briefings, they don't review their notes. They know what they are doing," said Komilova.
Tajikistan delegate Capt. Faridun Mahmadaliev, chief PAO of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Tajikistan, said that he works with local and international news agencies for his country and everything he saw was of interest to him.
"I think this exchange of information among countries is very valuable. It gives me new skills. I am noting how you do things. As a result, I will be analyzing all of this for a long time. Then I'm going to see how I can improve my work. I think that I like the speed and efficiency of your work. So, this is probably the main thing that I'm going to take home with me. The second thing is to tell the truth. It's a new thing for us. When you speak to people with the press, you tell them the truth. It's more useful, more beneficial for the country," said Mahmadaliev.
The Kazakhstan delegation also seemed impressed with the information exchange. "They feel this exchange is very important. They are impressed with JRTC in terms of how they train their Soldiers," said Alexander. Maj. Scott Jackels, state partnership program coordinator with U.S. Army Central Command, explained some of the Kazakhstan's impressions about this event.
"They are looking to make public affairs work at brigade and below, so this is a very good learning experience for them. They get to come here and get the theory, as well as see the actual execution phase through JRTC. That gave them a really clear picture of how seriously we take training. They looked at it and said that they have to do something like this too," said Jackels.
He stated that both countries asked for this type of event specifically. "This isn't something we asked them if they were interested in. They came and told us they really wanted to do public affairs," said Jackels.
In the end, maybe the pen is mightier than the sword... "I think the most important things these countries will get from this information exchange is how important public affairs is at the lowest level of brigade and combat and how that affects their armies. They know they need a professional public affairs corps to learn how to communicate what their army is doing, not only internally to their Soldiers, but also externally to Family members and the population," said Alexander.