MOFFETT FIELD, CA: A special Army Reserve unit is offering soldiers a crash course in Iraqi community relations intended to help them defuse potentially hostile situations when they arrive in the region.
At three military locations in California, the 7th Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) group has trained more than 300 Army Reservists since April of last year with skills intended to help them communicate effectively with Iraqi citizens, as well as to let them know American soldiers are in their country for their benefit, said Lt. Col. Steve Goto.
"We're the military's version of Madison Avenue," Goto said. The 7th Psy Ops group is responsible for producing the posters and leaflets that are frequently dropped over hostile territories to communicate with locals.
The training is taking place at simulated Iraqi towns populated by Arab-Americans hired by outside contractors to play the role of curious, sometimes disgruntled Iraqi citizens. The training marks the first time actual Arab Americans have been recruited to take part, Goto added.
The training exercises include simulated meetings with local tribal leaders and attempts to enforce crowd control. Soldiers also practice coming under attack while traveling between towns.
"We want [the soldiers] to have the feeling that they've been there before," Goto said. "We're helping [the civilian population] understand why we're there ... and building support for our presence."
Thomas Donnelly, a resident fellow in defense and national security at the American Enterprise Institute, took issue with the training, saying American community relations practices won't likely translate to Iraqi sensibilities. "Whether you call it PR, propaganda, or anything else in an American context, it is not immediately transferable to an Iraqi context."
Lawrence Korb, a senior adviser with the Center for Defense Information, said that it's imperative for troops to communicate that the US presence in Iraq isn't permanent.
"The main thing [you have to get across] is that you're going to get the government up and running, but then you're going to get out of there," explained Korb, who was an assistant secretary of defense in President Reagan's first term.