Recently, a PR magazine emailed asking a lot of questions. Here were the answers I submitted today...
1) What country/area are you stationed in?
Iraq – in the northern city of Mosul. This area is home of the Nimrod ruins and the ancient city of Ninevah. It’s historical significance can be found in the Bible. At first look, the city is quite breathtaking. Three thousand year old buildings. Huge mosques. The Tigris River. And ancient sculptures. It’s a place I plan to visit when I retire – 20 years from now.
2) What is your primary duty?
I have three primary functions: lead and mentor Soldiers, tell the Army story through photos and stories and implement the commanding general’s intent. Just like in the civilian world, we have a thorough communications and crisis plan. Within every one of our stories, we have command messages, which focus on Iraqi Security forces, governance and infrastructure. It’s my job to ensure one of these three initiatives is represented in every story that leaves Mosul.
3) What has been the most rewarding experience from your time abroad?
Well, there are so many, it’s hard to choose. I would say there’s one particular event that really sticks out. I was covering a school opening. The school had no electricity, shoddy desks, blackboards and the teachers had no books or curriculum to teach from. We rebuilt the school, furnishing it with desks and supplied them with hundreds of books. Before we did this, the children attempted to learn in a concrete building that had no air conditioning. Imagine taking finals in 130 degree temperatures. The children were so thankful that one child wrote an essay in English. He read it to the soldiers. He spoke better English than I did at 12 – that’s for sure. It was a very touching moment.
4) What do you miss most about the states?
Obviously, I miss my family and friends. Before I left, I knew these people were special, but their support throughout this deployment has made me feel very loved. I miss my job a lot too. Bader Rutter is a special work place. I was considered the prankster around the office. I’d switch people’s name plates and commit all kinds of April Fool’s pranks. I can’t wait to start another devious string of jokes on my co-workers.
5) When do you expect to be home?
6) Who would you like to send your holiday wishes to?
Every American. People always tell me “Thank you for what you’re doing.” All Americans must realize that we serve the United States because of the great people in our beloved country. The Freedoms we enjoy are unlike any other country. I never want my family or friends to have those liberties taken away. That’s why we do what we do. But since I know that mostly PR pros read this, I want to say hi to all my friends at Bader Rutter in Milwaukee, Wis., and my former professors who believed in me at Oklahoma State.
7) What was your last (if any) public sector job?
Most of my career has been spent in the private sector. However, I spend much of my spare time working with kids. I tutor fifth graders for the Milwaukee Rescue Mission and volunteer for a college prep program for underprivileged kids called Upward Bound, at which I was once a member of.
8) What have you learned about public affairs/public relations from your work abroad?
I’ve learned how incredibly important our job is during war. The media doesn’t paint a pretty picture and certainly doesn’t always tell the whole story. Without us constantly engaging the media and sending our positive news stories to the world, I know there would be a huge loss – because the stories of school openings would probably never be told. For the most part, the media wants to focus on only one aspect of Iraq, and that’s the fighting. There’s more to our mission than just killing terrorists. We are training Iraqi Security forces, rebuilding infrastructure and preparing a government to take over their country.
9) What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?
My biggest challenge has also been the most rewarding. Managing soldiers is much different than managing an account and team members at a public relations firm. I manage a team of five very young soldiers, who put there life on the line every single day. At a firm, people get stressed out because the client isn’t happy with a project or they don’t have enough budget. Here, every mission is dangerous and our unit has executed more than 1,000. At my civilian job, I jump in my Altima every morning and take I-94 to work worry free. In Iraq, any time you are on the road, you could be ambushed, hit with a roadside bomb or car bomb. We are all prepared and ready to pull the trigger if need be, but as a leader, it’s important that I keep my soldiers aware of the risks and eyes on the bigger picture of what we’re doing. We’ve all had friends killed and many of us have had extremely close calls. When something like this happens, the soldiers need a sounding board. I am that guy. They can easily lose focus and wander off course. I always listen to them and encourage them. No matter what happens, the mission must continue. Each of my soldiers has proven themselves in a very stressful environment. The oldest is 23 and the youngest 21, but judging by their actions and work, you could never guess they were just college kids. We’ve all grown up in the last year.
10) What is different about communicating to a US audience, and communicating where you are stationed?
There is a huge difference in culture. Obviously, a lot of words do not translate and you have to be cognizant of this. In addition, Americans enjoy long, in-depth features. Iraqi newspapers only want snippets of information. But, people are people. For the most part, Iraqis want to know what we’ve done for them. So we tell them and they typically run our three or four paragraphs.
11) Do you enjoy what you do?
I love my job, because of the impact we make on Soldiers’ families. I’ve received countless emails from family members who have read my work. It’s difficult for families to watch the news with all the carnage displayed. They go to our web site to download our video interviews and read our news stories. One email I received read, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You really depicted my son perfectly. We are so proud of him.” Those words made everything worth while. I also love mentoring soldiers. From teaching soldiers how to shoot an M-16 to correcting their passive sentences, teaching soldiers is a joy. The difference between a civilian job is that in the civilian world, you never really teach your subordinate everything you know. In the military, if you don’t teach your soldiers everything, then you’re failing them. I’m lucky to have soldiers who are eager to learn.
12) Is the US winning the communications battle abroad?
I think so, especially in Mosul. First, you must understand how our enemy uses information. They tape beheadings and hand out threatening letters to citizens warning them not to work with us. Their tactic is fear. We combat this by flooding the media with positive stories about the Iraqi Security forces and Iraqi kids enjoying new schools. We also have advertised and placed billboards throughout the city. We embellished the city with the face of an Iraqi Olympic soccer player. The idea was to get people to rally behind sport, much like we do in the states. We’ve also helped the local media financially and journalistically. After major crisis, like car bombs, we have reacted with quick live interviews of the local governor with the Arabic stations. We typically beat the wire services with our press releases. And everything we release is factual. The enemy, however, has a different set of standards. The majority of their information is nothing but lies. In November, the media reported that Mosul had been overrun by insurgents and that Multinational Forces had left. They received their information from the terrorists, and we quickly made sure the corrected their stories by simply telling them the truth: We had not left and we were very much in control of the city.