ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 16, 2017) -- Given the value that public affairs, combat camera and military information support operations bring to tactical and strategic situations -- a value that can be traced through history, especially those instances when effective use of these assets was decidedly absent -- the struggles of leaders and Soldiers in these career fields to equip their Soldiers is a potential mission hindrance.

The Tactical Digital Media program, managed by Project Manager Mission Command at APG, seeks to correct this deficiency by standardizing the acquisition kits for these career fields. The goal is to make procurement, lifecycle management, maintenance and disposition of camera equipment easier and more cost efficient.

ESTABLISHING RELEVANCE

Historically, the absence of established public affairs functions has had dismal consequences. At a 2009 military history symposium at the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, CBS television journalist Bill Kurtis recounted his experiences covering the Vietnam War.

"The relationship between the military and the media really started going bad in '65-66," he said. "Then the reporters . . . got into the country and began seeing this contradiction between what was happening at the MACV, where the word was in press conferences in Saigon, and what was actually happening in the field. . .So Tet comes along in '68 and Walter Cronkite happened to be there. . .Cronkite. . . said, 'This is going to be a long struggle and we're not going to win it.' And LBJ said, 'Well, if I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the war.' But what he was really saying is that it's much worse than we were being told. The minute you lose the trust of the media, you're dead, because they'll never trust you again. It's like a cover-up, a lie."

The result was the loss of the American people's support for the Vietnam War as well as Soldiers.
"When the veterans got home, they couldn't wear their uniforms going back into the neighborhoods because they would be spit on," Kurtis said. "They were called baby killers. They were blamed for the war. There was this lash out, illogical and unreasonable, as if they asked to be over there so they could go and kill Vietnamese and be baby killers. It was a terrible time for then military and for veterans especially. There were no homecoming parades, not even a thank you."

President Abraham Lincoln once said: "Public opinion is everything. With it, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."

TOOLS TO SUCCEED

However simple and self-explanatory, every job has tools associated with its execution. Cooks use pots and pans. Mechanics use wrenches and screwdrivers. Infantrymen use rifles.

Public affairs is no different. Tools of public affairs specialists include cameras -- both still and video -- and another, less obvious tool -- relationships with the media (local, national, international and adversarial). Public affairs professionals shape the Army image, craft the Army message and tell the Army story. To expand public affairs specialists' ability to transmit their stories, photos and videos to as large an audience as possible, they make those stories available to the media, which possess a significantly larger audience than any single public affairs specialist. The public affairs mission, as stated in Army Regulation 360-1: "The PA fulfills the Army's obligation to keep the American people and the Army informed and helps to establish the conditions that lead to confidence in America's Army and its readiness to conduct full-spectrum operations."

The ability to communicate the Army message far and wide depends largely on the PA practitioner's ability to take compelling photos, shoot relevant video footage and write meaningful stories.
Yet, while the importance of the public affairs functions is evident throughout military history, the professionals of this career field have struggled for years to acquire the equipment necessary to execute their missions.

LAUNCH OF TACTICAL DIGITAL MEDIA

Through feedback from the field, this discrepancy has been recognized and sparked the inception of the Tactical Digital Media program. In December 2016, PM Mission Command, under Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, tested potential equipment to be included in the acquisition kits that will be fielded to the public affairs community and the entire Army inform and influence community (i.e., public affairs, combat camera and military information support operations).

"We were hosting Soldiers from combat camera, public affairs and military information support operations, and they were helping us assess the latest digital media equipment that we're going to use in selecting the components for the further on acquisition and procurement," said Col. Troy Crosby, the project manager for Mission Command. "We are focusing on user feedback and what these Soldiers and experts thought would be the best kit design and the number of components included in these kits. And we're looking to leverage everyone's expertise to find efficiencies to save resources over the life of the program."

While there are program managers at Department of the Army-level assigned for national stock numbers throughout the Army supply system, there is no one responsible for digital media equipment. Public affairs offices acquire and maintain equipment however they can.
"The TRADOC folks out at Fort Gordon worked to get a standard of requirements and pushed that forward, and what that'll do is allow them to put some rigor behind what is put out to the entire Army force, so now each public affairs unit will get the same authorization for equipment, the same with combat camera and MISO," Crosby said.

Fielding the same kits across the three communities is another way the program is gaining efficiency in the way it goes about equipping the force. This will standardize the equipment packages, making training the Soldiers easier, when they are not falling in on a completely different type/brand of camera from one duty station to the next, creating a learning curve.

"Prior to the TDM program basically units would get equipment through a number of different ways," Crosby said. "If they were forward-deployed, they could use an operational needs statement to obtain it, and then they could try to leverage multiple other contracting mechanisms to field the gear, but it was not really centralized, and it was kind of hodge-podge across the Army. One unit may like a certain brand of camera. The other one likes a competitor. I may get a variety of lenses. I may get night-vision lenses, and other organizations may not have the funding or the knowledge to get those components. So before you did the best you could, and you got resources and procured it anyway possible so that the mission could be done."

Procuring the equipment any way possible translates to anything from initiating the purchase request process (where the full span could take from 30 days to a year) to Soldiers purchasing equipment or repairing old, obsolete equipment with their own money to execute their Army-mandated missions.

"It'll be a full lifecycle management program of record," Crosby said. "Part of that is working with the Communications-Electronics Command to make sure all of the supportability and sustainability aspects of the program are put into place, so if a piece of equipment's broken while you're forward deployed or on a training mission, there's a way to go ahead and use the standard Army logistics system to have that piece of equipment repaired and returned back to the unit."

Going the purchase request route to field equipment to the Soldiers depends largely on whether the unit has the money. Put simply, if the unit doesn't have the money (or opts not to spend it), the Soldiers don't get equipment. Commanders may balk at the price of high-end photography and video equipment, suggesting the job could be done just as well with a smartphone.

"While there's a place for smartphones and that capability on the battlefield, the public affairs and combat camera and the MISO community has a very important job for the Army. It's their mission to tell the Army story, not only to ourselves in the organization but to everybody else in the U.S. While there's that niche area for a smartphone, having the right equipment to capture the proper media and be able to disseminate that to get the Army message out is of vital importance," Crosby said. "It's no different resourcing public affairs and combat camera than it is ground combat people. It's an area that has been overlooked for some time.

"We're looking to leverage efficiencies in procuring equipment and getting it out to the force, ultimately giving Soldiers the tools they need to do their mission and to get the Army story out there for everybody to see."

Conversely, the importance of cooks, mechanics and Infantrymen is not a question that comes up in conversations of where taxpayer dollars can be saved and where spending can be cut. These military occupational specialties don't generally struggle to get fielded their equipment. Neither are these Soldiers usually resorting to bringing their own spatulas, lug wrenches or assault rifles to work to get their mission accomplished.

If it's unacceptable for these Soldiers to dig into their pockets and pay their own money to meet mission, then it is and should be equally unacceptable for the public affairs and combat camera Soldiers.