WASHINGTON: They may not get as much attention as their media counterparts, but dozens of Pentagon public affairs officers are "embedded" right alongside the reporters in Iraq.
Each military division in the region has approximately 40 to 60 journalists in tow, and between five and six public affairs officers behind the scenes, according to a Pentagon official. It's their job to get the reporters to their assigned units safely, keep tabs on them, and provide them with backup equipment or help filing their stories should there be any complications.
"They are a backup," explained PA officer Major Timothy Blair. "We told journalists that were coming to the embedded program that they needed to bring whatever tools or assets they needed to transmit their products, and that we would assist them if their primary needs failed, i.e., help charge their batteries or run their tapes back to a distribution point."
The Pentagon also maintains the Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) in Kuwait, a base of operations for public affairs officers not traveling with troops.
A 24-hour operation designed to keep up with news cycles in every time zone, the CPIC maintains contact with the bureau chiefs of embedded journalists and disperses information to other journalists in the region. Indeed, one of the CPIC's most vital roles is to discourage "rogue" journalists from venturing into dangerous areas by providing the information they might otherwise attempt to get on their own.
"These are service members. They are used to doing this full time with their units," Blair said. "But the size and breadth of what we are doing right now is larger than anything anyone has done before."