1SG Steve Valley; Baghdad, Iraq

MNF-I CPIC Media Officer

MNF-I CPIC Media Officer

Q. What country/area are you stationed in? A. My unit, the 204th MPAD was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq on January 22, 2004. Q. What is your primary duty? A. Public Affairs Detachment based in Orlando, FL. I have also served as a Media Officer and spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I). Q. What has been the most rewarding experience from your time abroad? A. Getting to apply my civilian talents to the military public affairs program and working with the biggest names in journalism. I employ a proactive media relations strategy and it has been a joy to meet so many of the journalists that I get to work with. It has also been great seeing how different the global media work on a daily basis. Most of the international media are extremely intelligent and understand what is going on, but they do not report what they know. Q. What do you miss most about the states? A. The main thing I miss about home is my family and friends. It is very difficult to leave your family for 12 months. My two sons have grown up during the past 11 months, and I cannot wait for the opportunity to climb back in their lives. I miss the daily routine that we had. Mostly I miss my wife because she is my best friend and although we can e-mail and talk to each other on a daily basis it is still not the same as being with her in person. Q. When do you expect to be home? A. I expect to be deployed in theater for at least a full year, so I am hoping to be home sometime in either late January or early February. Q. What was your last (if any) public sector job? A. I am the PR Manager at the Tampa Port Authority in my civilian life. Q. What have your learned about public affairs/public relations from your work abroad? A. Public Affairs is a integral part of the military battle plan in today's 24/7 atmosphere. The media is relentless and we have to provide them with the correct information for them to report on events. The embedding program has been a huge success because it provides reporters unfettered access to the front lines with the troops that are in the fight. However, one drawback of the embedded program is that the reporter has a "tunnel vision" perspective of any operation because he/she is only seeing a particular units activity and does not see how that respective unit fits into the larger picture of the whole operation. This is where holding regular press conferences comes in [handy] to show the media and the American citizens the perspective of the whole operation, not only the small view the embedded reports provide. Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job? A. I practice proactive media/public relations in the civilian world and, in Iraq, we have taken a purely reactive posture when dealing with the media. This has been an ongoing problem, and I see no end to the practice in sight. The Stratcom Section of MNF-I is run by leaders with no PA experience, and, when you combine this factor with the bureaucracy, we have serious problems in the public affairs operation in Iraq. The Army public affairs program was designed on the "maximum disclosure, minimum delay," principle, but we have seem to forgotten this policy in Iraq. Instead of sitting back and answering questions on everything from IEDs [improvised explosive devices] to strategic air operations, we should be emphasizing proactive media relations strategies to highlight all of the positive changes that the MNF [multi-national force] has implemented in theater. There are a multitude of stories that need to be told on topics including: electric generation, infrastructure, schools, medical facilities and the implementation of democracy that go unreported on because the soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors with direct PA experience are held back from doing what they do best. The media will report what we give them, and we should have been providing - pitching - more positive stories to them rather than sitting back and reacting to negative events. I understand that the media must report casualties, but we could and still should be doing a better job of reaching out to the media and controlling the theme or command message coming from the military. Q. What is different about communicating to a US audience, and communicating where you are stationed? A. It is the same for the most part. However, the Arabic media is more likely to use unconfirmed rumors as part of their stories. The Iraqi journalists are discovering what freedom of the press is, and they are stretching the limits of its powers. The western media is the same whether you are in Baghdad or Tampa, FL. They may be bigger names over here, but they are after the same thing: answers, facts, and quotes from subject matter experts. Q. Do you enjoy what you do? Why? A. I love my job because I feel I can make a difference in showing the American public that things are not as bad as they appear in the mainstream media. I do think that the media's reporting has been tilted against this war, but I do understand that the reporters need conflict in their stories to make them attractive to producers and editors. I have made many friends in the media and look forward to continuing these professional relationships upon my return to the States. Q. Is the US winning the communications battle abroad? A. The US has failed miserably in the communications battle abroad and in the US, not because we do not have the talent and experience to win it, but because the Stratcom leadership has been extremely disorganized and ineffective. This is primarily because of the lack of a complete PA strategy by the Stratcom leadership. The main problem is that most of the Stratcom leadership has no direct experience in either civilian or military public affairs. I have over 18 years PR/PA experience but no one has ever listened to any of my recommendations. I have seen the military fumble the ball time and time again during my 11 months in theater and we will continue to lose the battle until someone with direct PA/PR experience can stand firmly and fight for what we should be doing. I have said many times that PA has a seat at the table, not as a policy maker, but as a counselor that offers views and suggestions on the ramifications of a leader's decisions. We have a seat at the table in Iraq, but someone has to do something with it. svalley@baghdadforum.com

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