US Army letter-writing stunt backfires

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon was in damage-limitation mode last week after a PR stunt aimed at boosting domestic support for US involvement in Iraq backfired spectacularly.

The stunt involved a choreographed letter-writing campaign, triggered by an Iraq-based senior army commander, who asked soldiers to sign and send home letters that he himself had written extolling US accomplishments in rebuilding the war-torn country.

Gannett News Service discovered the campaign, which generated more than 500 pieces of mail, when identical letters containing stories of Iraqi people waving at passing troops and how troops were helping life return to normal appeared in at least 12 different papers across the US.

Some papers even got the same letter from two different soldiers.

The actions of the officer, Lt Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, head of the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, closely echoed the theme of the Republican Party’s ongoing effort to counter negative stories in the press by highlighting examples of progress across the country (PRWeek, 19 September).

Both the Pentagon and Caraccilo deny there was any connection between the two.

Army public affairs was at first hesitant to condemn the commander’s actions.

‘We do not see that anything was done wrong in this situation,’ said a spokesman last Tuesday morning.

‘Soldiers and commanders have the right to speak their minds as far as putting forth good army stories because they are tired of the negative reports in the media,’ he added.

However, the following day the Pentagon told reporters that commanders had been warned not to repeat Caraccilo’s actions, and the commander himself sent an e-mail to ABC News apologising.

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