May 1st, 2006 09:29 EST
Joint public affairs element improves military communication
By standing up the Joint Public Affairs Support Element, the U.S. military is on its way to greatly improving the way it delivers timely, accurate information from combatant commanders to the media.
"We are able now to go out and provide value added to newly emerging contingency operations, and to provide a capability that will immediately be able to tell our story effectively," said Army Col. Steve Campbell, JPASE director.
The mission of the U.S. Joint Forces Command element is to train joint public affairs professionals to rapidly deploy as a team to help combatant commanders properly disseminates information to the press. Public affairs officers are trained to do this in a variety of ways, including through interviews, press releases, press conferences and the Internet.
The element's officials are also looking at other techniques to get the message out, such as blogging, podcasting and text messaging.
"Everything you can you think of in terms of ways to communicate to our audience, we are looking at," Colonel Campbell said.
"What we provide is not only a short-term requirement, but we're also getting at long-term solutions to our communications challenges," he said. "We're setting standards for joint public affairs education. We are also helping to develop joint public affairs standards of readiness."
The element also specializes in training commanders and their staffs to understand the communication capabilities they have within their own organization, the colonel said.
"What we're really about is 'operationalizing' public affairs as a combat capability," Colonel Campbell said.
Colonel Campbell said that a major problem with past public affairs deployments during emergency situations was that the team was often put together in an ad-hoc fashion. JPASE teams have trained together so they form a cohesive synergized unit, which in turn creates a more proactive group, he said.
In 2004, the Joint Chiefs of Staff determined that serious issues and challenges existed in military public affairs. Colonel Campbell said these issues included a lack of joint public affairs standards where requirements were not fully identified, no institutionalized joint public affairs lessons learned, and no clearly defined roles for strategic communications.
The colonel said the joint chiefs designated JFCOM as the advocate for joint public affairs and asked the command to come up with some solutions. In January 2005, JFCOM began to put a support element together. The element has already been deployed to support joint task force commanders during three 2005 major natural disasters --- Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the massive October earthquake in Pakistan.
The capability was deployed for the first time following Hurricane Katrina.
"We learned from Katrina how we could integrate into U.S. Northern Command to support state and federal authorities," said Col. Donna Pastor, a JPASE training chief. "It's about engagement. It's about having people rapidly available who are trained as a team and are prepared to operate immediately."
She said JPASE then takes the lessons learned and feeds them back into joint training. One lesson learned from Katrina was that more focus needed to be placed on capabilities.
"It's important to understand what capabilities are going to be required for certain types of situations," Colonel Pastor said. "We're trying to make sure we're tailored to provide those capabilities rapidly. That was a big lesson learned for us."
The Pakistan earthquake emergency relief effort was the first overseas deployment for the support element. This mission highlighted the importance of having regional and cultural awareness.
"A key thing in that mission was to explain to the Pakistani people why we were there," said Navy Capt. Rob Newell, a JPASE public affairs specialist. "We needed to explain that we were there to offer assistance and help to deal with this tremendous humanitarian disaster. Our sole focus was to communicate that message."
Since today's U.S. warfighters operate jointly, it is imperative that military public affairs specialists do the same, said Tony Billings, JPASE civilian executive officer.
"No organization like JPASE has ever existed," he said. "The U.S. military up until JPASE did not have the capability to rapidly deploy a team of public affairs professional to support an operation. We are now on track to a new way of military communication."
JPASE officials expect to have full operational capability by September 2007, with a staff of 48 people made up of civilians and personnel from all the military branches.