By Lt. Cmdr. Jon Spiers, USNApril 14, 2008
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, April 14, 2008) - Students at the Defense Information School and Army Public Affairs Center here recently received a senior operator's perspective on the importance of public affairs in supporting mission commanders' objectives, as seen from his perspective as former spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq.
Addressing students and faculty members in the joint senior public affairs and the public affairs qualification course, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell explained that his understanding of public affairs as an essential mission element changed during his tour as spokesman for MNF-I.
Describing his tour as a "life changing event," Caldwell explained how his perception of both military public affairs and independent media changed. In his current position, which includes responsibilities as commanding general, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and commandant, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, he passes along key lessons to Army leaders, emphasizing being open and honest, responsive, proactive and relevant in "sharing your story."
During his morning session with more than 75 students and faculty, Caldwell encouraged soon-to-be public affairs officers to "challenge assumptions, choose to engage, confront constraints, and consider consequences." A staunch advocate for creating opportunities, Caldwell believes "everybody has to get out and share" what is done in the military services.
The general recommended his audience concentrate on how to best support the warfighter and provided some suggestions. "Let's make something happen - even if it's an 80 percent solution," he said. "It's better to accomplish 80 percent of what we need to than to solve nothing."
Asked by Staff Sgt. Stephanie Carl, a Defense Information School instructor and student in the public affairs qualification course, about integrating his approach in to the basic training curricula for officer and enlisted Soldiers, Caldwell said it is part of the approach he is advocating from the top down.
Caldwell explained that through his tour as MNF-I spokesman he saw that public affairs is a vital mission element working behind the scenes to create opportunities for engagement, training personnel to speak with a variety of media, and most importantly following-up once an engagement has occurred. He compared public affairs follow-up to the follow-through in a golf swing: "hitting the ball is the media engagement, the follow-up you do determines where the ball will go," how the engagement will turn out.
Summarizing his perspective on sharing information, Caldwell said he had heard the phrase strategic corporal in years past, but now strategic private is more appropriate. He encourages Soldiers to share their story, "If not you, then who'"
After a short briefing focused primarily on senior-level training and facility issues, the general discussed media engagement strategies with the audience. An infantry officer who initially shared his branch's distrust of news media, Caldwell developed not only into a dynamic communicator but as a leading advocate of engagement with the press.
"By and large," Caldwell said he considers reporters "professionals," who adhere to ground rules and journalistic ethics. In any case, he explained, "They're going to print their story no matter what. The question is: are we going to have any influence on what they report'
"If we don't share these stories on a daily basis, who's going to'" he asked rhetorically about the service of Soldiers in the theater of operations. "We have an obligation to the mothers, fathers and especially the kids to tell their stories."
Caldwell devoted significant attention to communication opportunities through emerging interactive media such as Web logs or "Blogs." He described "Blogging" strategies he and his team employed and encouraged the audience to engage the public through interactive media. "Treat it like another media engagement because that's what it is," he said.
(Master Sgt. Michael Pintagro serves at the Army Public Affairs Center and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jon Spiers serves as an instructor at the Defense Information School.)