Air Force Lt. J. Elaine Hunnicutt; Afghanistan

Public Affairs Officer Herat Combined Press Information Center

Public Affairs Officer Herat Combined Press Information Center

Q. What country/area are you stationed in? A. I am traveling throughout Afghanistan; thus far, I have been to the provinces of Kabul, Samanagan, Kandahar, Parwan, Oruzgon and Herat. Q. What is your primary duty? A. I am a Public Affairs Officer for the coalition forces. My mission is to let the American people know what is happening to their sons and daughters, both good and bad, in the fight against terrorism. I am also helping to get the Afghan government and military to take the lead with media in regards to their operations and procedures. We are providing mentors for their public relations staffs like we are [providing mentors] to their government and military. They are starting from scratch; the goal is to get them started and let them run the show, but we are not completely there yet. The enemy is waging an aggressive information operations campaign as we wade through the process. Q. What has been the most rewarding experience from your time abroad? A. The most rewarding experience for me in Afghanistan has been highlighting the outreach programs set up by military troops on their own time to help the children of Afghanistan. I have covered literacy programs with the local schools and adopt-a-village programs. Our troops routinely visit children's hospitals, refugee camps and orphanages. The children here are the most beautiful children I have ever seen. They were born into a war-torn nation, yet they smile and play. When I shoot photos of the children, I see the truth in their eyes. I see the seriousness of their situation and the pain of their past when I review the photographs. I am constantly reminded of the refugee girl on the cover of National Geographic, shot during the Soviet-Afghan War, which sat on my coffee table before I left to come here. I see her through their eyes. The most rewarding historical moment was seeing the Afghan presidential inauguration Dec. 8, 2004 and seeing the seeds of democracy take root. Q. What do you miss most about the states? A. I miss my 8-year-old twin daughters, Gabby and Shelly. But, I am thankful that I am here and if I can help the Afghan children in any way then I know my daughters will be proud of me. Everything I do is for my daughters. I want this world to be a better place and for them to understand how important it is to be aware of the pain and suffering of others. I want them to be part of the solution ... not part of the problem. Q. When do you expect to be home? A. I expect to be home by summer. Q. Who would you like to send your holiday wishes to? A. To my daughters: Merry Christmas and happy New Year baby girls! Mommy misses and loves you very much. Q. What was your last (if any) public sector job? A. None. I have been in the military for 13 years, straight from college. Q. What have your learned about public affairs/public relations from your work abroad? A. I have learned the value of a good interpreter while I have been abroad. We have been blessed with one of the finest interpreters around; he eliminates miscommunication and enhances our relationship with the local media. Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job? A. Crisis communication is the most challenging part of our job. In a war zone, bad things sometimes happen to good people, and it isn't fair. The hardest part is convincing everyone in the chain of command to go forward quickly and accurately to let people know and help the audience understand why it happened. It is a painful part of the mission for the leaders, the troops, and the audience, but it is important to tell the truth accurately before the enemy can manipulate the situation to their favor. Our communication reaction determines our success in any mission. Q. What is different about communicating to a US audience, and communicating where you are stationed? A. It is much harder to work the simplest of issues here in Afghanistan. There are no hard phone lines; all communication is done over a cell phone with less than adequate reception. There are obvious difficulties when you are dealing with two parties from different parts of the world via this means of communication. Questions have to be repeated and clarified to ensure the reporter gets what he or she needs. Technology is not as easily used here and press releases have to be sent sparingly because reporters get irritated when they spend time downloading a press release via their satellite phone and it isn't newsworthy. You should never send something that isn't newsworthy, but you are all that much more mindful in a situation where resources scarce. Q. Do you enjoy what you do? Why? A. I enjoy what I do and find it extremely fulfilling because I am helping to show the world the good things that we are doing here to help the Afghan people eliminate terror and to make our parents proud by being decent human beings. Q. Is the US winning the communications battle abroad? A. No, the US is not winning the communication battle in Afghanistan. There are so many good news stories here and in Iraq, but you rarely if ever hear about them. The good is always overshadowed by the negative or the misinformation of our enemies. I spoke to several reporters about this issue and was told that they couldn't sell the good news. It is such a shame. If you could only see what I see, you would understand my frustration. I want all of our parents to know that we are good people doing the best that we can to make this world better. phil03@yahoo.com

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