DUSHANBE, Tajikistan - Three soldiers left a small city in the midlands of South Carolina to travel an ocean, two continents, and 10 time zones to land in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, a mountain-ringed capitol of more than 670,000 people, to participate in a public affairs information exchange with members of the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense, Emergency Affairs Directorate, National Guard, and Border Guards Feb. 4-8.
The event, one of more than 125 theater security cooperation events Third Army/ARCENT has scheduled for 2013, provided the communications specialists an opportunity to meet with their peers and discuss public affairs and journalism techniques used to support military operations.
“Every person needs to learn every day,” said Lt. Col. Khushnood Rakhmatulloev, public affairs officer for the Tajikistan Border Guards. “I gained a lot of new knowledge, in spite of having 20 years of experience in public affairs.”
Topics covered during the five-day event included media relations, community relations, and social media. The social media discussion provoked a lot of thoughts about what is acceptable to post on the internet and how to best reach audiences.
“There is a lot of competition for people’s attention on social media; we have to use different tactics to get their attention,” said Maj. Myles B. Caggins III, Third Army/ARCENT public affairs plans officer. “Cultivating a two-way relationship with your audience will maintain their attention.”
Participants looked at official and unofficial websites and social media pages as they continued talking about what government offices are allowed to post on the internet and the importance of not giving personal opinions when speaking in an official capacity.
“We can use this information in our future work,” said Rakhmatulloev.
Capt. Orif Nozimov, public affairs officer for Tajikistan Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, shared his experiences from the 2011 earthquake in eastern Tajikistan during a discussion on public affairs in times of natural disasters and humanitarian operations. Later, Caggins told the participants about some of the methods used by the U.S. Department of Defense public affairs during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
Those involved in the information exchange continued sharing their experiences and best ways to handle a variety of situations, allowing them to leave with up-to-date information and ideas.
“This exchange with Tajik public affairs officers enables us to build new relationships and share information as public affairs professionals,” said Caggins.
The Third Army/ARCENT soldiers made the long trip back to South Carolina with a new understanding of what it means to communicate for success.
“Though the culture and languages are different, the principle of communication, getting the message to the audience, is the same,” Caggins said.