Major Neal E. O'Brien; Tikrit, Iraq

Public Affairs Officer 1st Infantry Division

Public Affairs Officer 1st Infantry Division

Q. What country/area are you stationed in? A. Tikrit, Iraq Q. What is your primary duty? A. Public Affairs Officer for the 1st Infantry Division Q. What has been the most rewarding experience from your time abroad? A. Working with the international media to communicate the mission and successes of the 1st Infantry Division to the American and Iraqi public. Q. What do you miss most about the states? A. My family, Chipotle Burritos, and Starbucks. Q. When do you expect to be home? A. Valentine's Day. Q. Who would you like to send your holiday wishes to? A. My wife Maureen, daughter Maura, and son Connor and our friends and family members who have taken up the slack for me at home while I have been gone. Q. What have your learned about public affairs/public relations from your work abroad? A. Credibility and how you treat people is everything. There are some in the military who are highly skeptical of the news media. If you're up front and honest with the media, provide them with the information and access to be successful, and treat them with the respect they deserve, they will produce accurate stories, which is all you can ask for. Q. What is the biggest challenge you face in your job? A. Convincing a sometimes skeptical media that progress is being made in Iraq. Q. What is different about communicating to a US audience, and communicating where you are stationed? A. There are two challenges. Getting the news media out of Baghdad and into the "field" where they can see what is happening first hand versus relying on wire reports and unreliable stringers. The second is overcoming the Iraqi people's tendency to believe everything they see, hear, and read, regardless of what the actual truth is. Q. Do you enjoy what you do? Why? A. Absolutely. Because the US Army made up of our generations finest young men and women. Everyday in Iraq they do extraordinary things that will shape the future of Iraq and America. And it's a tough, challenging job. Q. Is the US winning the communications battle abroad? A. Iraq represents the most challenging communications battle that has ever been waged by our country, let alone the US Army. There is probably not enough space in this column to articulate the challenges. The challenges range from interaction with local nationals, to the Arab press, to the international media. While an operation such as Fallujah could be a military success as communicated to the international press, it could be articulated to Iraqi's by international Arab press as another attack on the civilian populace by the occupying forces. The advent of local newspapers, radio, and television has begun to undermine and discredit large Arab media outlets like Al Jazeera by offering an accurate portrayal of what is happening in Iraq. It will take time before that question can be answered. The first success can be judged in the days after election day.

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