News: MISO Marines focus on engaging the people
Story by Sgt. Christopher Zahn
QUANTICO,Va. - The Marine Corps developed and continues to enhance another tool for commanders to have in their toolbox: Expeditionary Military Information Support Operations Teams, whose job is to engage the civilian populace, convey truthful information and amplify the commander’s voice on the battlefield.
“What we bring is [a diverse media] capability to communicate with the local population, whether it’s one individual or a whole group of people,” said Lt. Col. Walter Powers the company commander of MISO Co., Marine Corps Information Operations Center and Yonkers, N.Y., native.
MISO, formerly called psychological operations, is a new capability organic to the Corps. The Marine Corps Information Operations Center was established in July 2009 and the unit is building toward full operational capability. They recently passed another benchmark as MISO Co. completed its first independent, internal field exercise called the MISO Capability Home Station Training.
Prior to this exercise, all Marines trained in MISO developed their qualifications and capabilities with the Army. The Corps hadn’t developed a training package for their MISO Marines until now.
“We have started off so well because we have had the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Capt. Jordan Stern, the officer-in-charge of MISO Detachment 3 and Boston native. “The Army has really done well to support us.”
The five-day exercise, which took place at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain facility at Camp Barrett, focused solely on MISO-specialized training needed to become an effective MISO Marine, using Afghan role players to make the scenarios as realistic as possible.
“The difference between this training and other training is that this [field exercise] is specialized to our job,” said Sgt. Justin White, a MISO noncommissioned officer with EMT-32 and Lexington, Ky., native. “Training like this with role players is broad and generalized a lot of times. The opportunity to have something of this caliber that is specific to us is invaluable,”
“Teaching Marines how to build rapport and interact with Afghans before they go downrange and do it for real; you can’t put a price on that,” White continued.
Despite that this was the first time the unit conducted this exercise, the Marines were not simply learning the information; they also focused on learning what needed to improve among the individual Marines’ skill sets and on improving the exercise for future iterations.
“They understand that this is the first time for all of us, and they are already writing down ways to make it better, instead of complaining about what’s wrong,” said Capt. Calvin Parsons the officer-in-charge of MISO Detachment 2 and native of Stone Mountain, Ga.
A MISO Marine is required to do more than just influence the population. They deploy in three-man teams, typically at the corporal or sergeant level, and must develop rapport with the supported unit and its staff as well.
“Before we can expect a Marine to go out and start influencing target audiences, they have to be able to do give the commander and his staff the confidence that he is capable of doing his job,” Powers said.
“It’s really a testament to the modern day Marine and their maturity level that you can take a corporal or a sergeant and incorporate them into the planning process with staff noncommissioned officers, company and field grade officers, and have them perform at a high level with proven results,” Stern added.
Right now, MISO is a free military occupational specialty designator (0520 for officers and 0521 for enlisted Marines), meaning it is open to all Marines. Being an all-volunteer unit carries certain advantages. As described by Parsons, “They understand that this is their job, and it’s not something they are forced to go into, it’s something they want to do” White added, “I loved being an infantryman, but there is no place I would rather be than here. It’s special to be a part of something that is so small, but has such a large impact.”
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have educated Marines on the need to focus on the non-kinetic side of the battlefield, particularly in counterinsurgency operations, and those relationships with the indigenous population and local foreign target audiences, who can be as important as engaging the enemy.
“War has constantly evolved since the beginning,” said Parsons.
“We are all humans though, no matter how the technology has evolved. Yes, we have planes, guns, bombs, all these different things. But there is always that human interaction. That’s what we are here to do, to influence that foreign target. That target audience is a person.”