CAMP PHOENIX, Afghanistan - Winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people has become a critical component of the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, and perhaps equally important is winning the hearts and minds of the American people.
In a war where the public can access news and information on demand through the media, three members of the 196th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade's public affairs team have been executing this strategy by telling the story of their South Dakota Army National Guard unit, as well as other U.S. forces serving here.
"Communicating the mission of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is imperative in helping the American public, as well as the international community, to understand the challenges, successes and sacrifices our men and women make in helping the Afghan government to establish a secure and sustainable peace for their country," said Army Capt. Anthony Deiss, 196th public affairs officer. "It's our job to tell that story."
Armed with pens, photo and video camera equipment, the 196th public affairs team has told more than 100 stories during the course of their year-long deployment, and have helped to facilitate the reporting of the U.S. military through civilian news media.
"Establishing relationships with the civilian media and helping them to report the U.S. efforts here – positive, negative or indifferent – is essential in ensuring public trust and confidence in our military, said Deiss.
"We have a responsibility to the American people to provide timely and accurate information that communicates how the war effort is progressing."
As the 196th finishes up their tour in the coming month, the public affairs team has reported on nearly every aspect of the unit's mission as the installation management command for the Kabul Base Cluster in the nation's capital of Kabul.
From base security and force protection upgrades to new building construction and improvements, the public affairs team has reported on the significant progress the 196th has made to the 11 military bases of the KBC; helping to set the conditions for success for follow-on U.S. forces, and eventually the Afghan National Security Forces.
"We have a responsibility to our Soldiers – to let the public know what they did here and the contributions they made to the Afghan people," said Army Sgt. Rebecca Linder, 196th journalist.
"Emergency services, communications and logistical support, billeting and infrastructure upgrades – the list goes on – eventually the ANSF will take over these bases and have a secure and solid infrastructure from which to conduct their own operations," she said.
Through print and broadcast journalism, the public affairs team has captured the story of not only the 196th, but also National Guard units from other states, U.S. active duty Army and Air Force units, and a number of coalition forces.
"Many units do not have internal public affairs support and are performing important missions such as humanitarian missions and training of the ANSF," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Joe Hulscher, broadcast journalist. "When we are able, we try to support them and share their story with audiences around the world."
"Sgt. Linder and Sgt. 1st Class Hulscher are in a low-density, high-demand field in the military," Deiss said. "They completed the tough Defense Information School a month before we deployed as a unit, and provide a unique capability to our mission here."
"As first-year journalists, they have performed admirably," he said.
While the South Dakota media has been the biggest supporter of publishing the unit's stories, the public affairs team has also reached a larger audience by distributing their products to national media outlets.
"Many of our products have been published by the Associated Press, USA Today, Stars and Stripes, and, of course, a number of our daily and weekly newspapers back in South Dakota," Deiss said. "We also had the opportunity to help facilitate major television media such as NBC and CNN, and even a few Afghan media. It all goes back to relationships and getting the media the story."
While public opinion on the war will always be formed through multiple variables, keeping Americans informed on the efforts of U.S. forces in Afghanistan – and helping to win their support of the military – is a mission of importance and relevance to these public affairs Soldiers.
"Public support for the military is vital to ensuring U.S. forces have the equipment, resources and time they need to complete their mission here," Deiss said. "It's our responsibility to ensure the service and sacrifices of our military members are communicated to the American people so they get the support they deserve."