News: PSYOP Soldiers tackle face-to-face communications, gather information skills during training event
Story by Staff Sgt. Sharilyn Wells
ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — You could cut the tension in the air with a knife. The mayor stood with his arms folded across his chest staring at the group of men that had gathered at the village bar.
The U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers nodded, shook the mayor’s hand and headed to the men to gather more information on the recent attacks in and around the village and figure out why there is so much unrest.
In fact, these Soldiers are perfect for the task at hand. During a training event in Arden Hills, Minn., Soldiers from the 319th Psychological Operations Company spent quality face-to-face time with actors portraying the simulated upset village, June 8, 2014.
Psychological Operations Soldiers are responsible for military information support operations, which is the gathering of information and dissemination of truthful information to foreign audiences in support of U.S. policy. The use of military information support operations can be used in peacetime, contingencies and declared war. They’re not forms of force, but are force multipliers that use nonviolent means in often-violent environments.
“The people are upset with the government because they feel like the government isn’t doing its part,” explained Sgt. Jeremy Pouliot, one of the angry village member actors. “They have freedom of speech so it wasn’t them speaking out about the government, it was the fact that the extremists were bombing and instilling violence making the mayor have to put strict rules about the town; rationing food and water. The peoples’ perception of the whole situation isn’t the full picture, and that’s where PSYOP should come into play and say ‘do you realize what would happen if everyone ran amuck,’ and show them the full picture by trying to change their perception on the whole situation.”
Pouliot played the roll of the ‘The Body,’ the extremist group leader. The Soldiers had to gather as much information by talking with the villagers and the mayor. They needed to relate to both sides and also read into each person’s actions to see who could be lying and who could be telling the truth. They also needed to gather propaganda hanging up around the village to later analysis and potentially counter in future missions.
PSYOP Soldiers use persuasion to influence perceptions and encourage desired behavior. These Soldiers are communicators who provide the commander with the ability to convey information to large audiences via radio, television, leaflets and loudspeakers. Their language skills, regional orientation and knowledge of communications media provide a means of delivering critical information to host-nation audiences.
“They basically needed to get to know the town people and the atmospherics… they needed to figure out why we were angry and what things could possibly change our mood. Anyone can do face-to-face, we are the only ones trained to do PSYOP,” added Pouliot.
Pouliot also mentioned that not many Soldiers in the unit have deployed as PSYOP and the face-to-face communication and controllable stress put on the Soldiers is a good practice for real world situations.
“It’s important to know how to get the sort of information we need to report back to the commander and figure out how to help relieve the situation,” he said.
The product development detachment is responsible for developing radio scripts, print products, television ads, events and any other product that will help spread information about ongoing programs and to gain support from the local populace. During the training event, with the information gathered from research and teams’ face-to-face communications, the PDD was able to create products for dissemination as well as come up with ideas to counter untruthful propaganda found around the village.
“Even though I have deployed as PSYOP, I haven’t done this type of training since 2010 while in school for PSYOP. I was the primary radio scriptwriter in the PDD,” said Spc. Travis Brierley, also a full time history and political science college student. “I never really got face-to-face communication time while deployed … this type of training really gives me a different perspective on the job as a whole. I can sit behind a desk and type stuff up all day; that’s not a problem, but actually knowing the doctrine and how it should be disseminated as well as what type of information you get, its huge.
I know the regulations, but as far as face-to-face goes, I don’t know what to say or how to change a conversation or lead one in a direction to exploit certain information,” Brierley continued. “And by doing this face-to-face training, and learning from (senior leaders) who’ve done this before, helps put every thing into perspective.”
“It’s really beneficial learning from the guys who’ve done this sort of thing multiple times (overseas) before because of their experiences and knowledge. They let us take the lead and practice but then give us insight and other ways of approaching a situation, so it’s extremely helpful,” agreed Spc. Colton Fleming, also a college student who chose military information support operations because of his background of church missions and humanitarian support when he was younger.
“Anytime you can practice atmospherics and figuring out how to build rapport with the locals, which is really important because that’s how they develop their perception on us, is important,” added Fleming. “Yeah, you can read about it, but you actually need to go out and do it to really understand it.”
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