Three Public Affairs Officers from both Tanzania and Mauritania were given a first-hand look at US public Affairs training and operations during a visit to the Fort Meade, Md. and Washington D.C. area Aug. 23-26.

The four-day familiarization visit allowed the officers to tour the Defense Information School, Stars and Strips headquarters, the Defense Media Activity, the Non Commissioned Officers' Academy and the Army Public Affairs Center.

"This trip allowed us to see a good way of doing things and put me in a better position to go back (to Tanzania) and tell my bosses how things should be done," said Tanzanian People's Defense Force Lt. Col. Kapambala Masoud Mgawe, director of Public Relations.

That "way of doing things" was demonstrated to the officers through presentations, lectures, round table discussions, tours and the unexpected 5.8 magnitude earthquake, Aug. 23.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the six officers got an unexpected look at the inner workings of how a crisis communications plan is implemented and how the Fort Meade Garrison Public Affairs Office effectively communicates with the surrounding communities when a problem strikes.

"The earthquake was unexpected, but it opened great discussion on our role in the community," said Chad Jones, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Meade.

Mauritanian Armed Forces Col. Teyib Ould Sneiba agreed.

"I find it interesting that you reach out to the community," the MAF director of Public Relations said. "Learning how this is done will help me when I go back. Letting my commander know how it is done will hopefully change things in Mauritania."

These discussions with the visited agencies was a key part of the visit and helped not only the African officers, but enlightened the staff at DINFOS of some of the issues those officers face back in their home countries.

"We have done approximately 15 visits to DINFOS with various armies around the world," said Jimmie Bell, director of staff. "These visits allow the foreign officers to get an appreciation of our training, but also allows our staff to learn about the Public Affairs programs, or sometimes, lack of programs in other countries. It is truly a learning experience for everyone."

The highlight for all of the participants was the visit and tour to the Defense Media Agency. Their brand new facility on Fort Meade is the home of the Armed Forces News Network Headquarters Pentagon Channel and Soldiers Magazine.

"We have nothing like this in Tanzania, and we won't for many years," said TPD Public Relations Officer, Lt. Abubakari Hemedi Msoffe of the state-of-the art television and production studios.

Msoffe said he was in awe at the ability of DMA to quickly, effectively and professionally tell the stories of the servicemembers from around the world.

"It is something in which we need to strive for," he said.

This was the first Public Affairs familiarization for U.S. Army Africa, and more are planned for the future.

"There are many benefits of these visits," said Bell. "Giving these countries a taste of what we do and how we can help them builds relationships between the nations. There are many training opportunities that we offer and this is a great way to make them known to nations who may not have any way of learning about them."