Iraqi Public Affairs Team Learns Quickly

When it comes to training Iraqis to assume the duties of governance, the Combined Press Information Center (CPIC) located in Baghdad’s International Zone (IZ, or “Green Zone”) may be on to something.

Jennifer Snyder, retired Army Reserve Major and Bronze Star recipient, who served as CPIC deputy director from December 2004 to 2005, commanding a 20-member mobile public affairs detachment, relates that, whereas for the January 2005 elections, CPIC, complemented by a “huge military presence,” ran press operations countrywide; by the time the December 2005 elections rolled around, the Iraqis were “doing it all.”

But, as this regulatory affairs lobbyist for the corn refiners explains, it just didn’t happen by accident.

The progression is an interesting study in the contrast between the military culture of setting out to complete missions and a management training culture that emphasizes the basic need to build someone’s confidence as they grow into a job and learn, steadily and fully, to assume their duties.

Snyder describes their training template as “right seat riding” — a template that seems all the more compelling given Greg Jaffe’s recent Wall Street Journal reporting (“A Camp Divided,” June 17, 2006), describing the tensions at Camp Taji, one of several camps where Iraqi security forces are being trained, in which Gen. George W. Casey, the top military officer in Iraq, is quoted as saying, "We are so mission-oriented and so focused, we tend to want to do everything ourselves… It is a constant battle… I would hope that when the Iraqis have ideas we try to help them execute them."

Major Snyder buckling up to fly from Basra to Talil, where her team visited a Royal Air Force training site for Iraqi ground forces.

Letting go and letting the Iraqis do for themselves is a management style Snyder’s team adhered to while executing their mission in Iraq.

“It was interesting,” she says because at first the U.S. military, dressed in either uniform or civilian attire, “basically” ran the press functions — “greeting the press, credentialing the press, ensuring the press stood where they were supposed to stand.”

But, “we told them we really wanted the Iraqis to do it themselves and we would show them how we do it and they’ll decide what works best for them.”

And that, says Snyder, is “exactly what happened.”

But, she notes, it took some doing getting everyone “on board” with training Iraqi military, security and government officials exactly how — working with them “side by side at our press desk” — to conduct a successful media operation.

Snyder had a sense of the Iraqi capabilities, describing them as "incredibly well-educated” and “courageous" — wanting to do "what’s right" in the face of "risking their lives everyday just to do their job" because "they know it’s for a purpose." For instance, at the National Assembly, whereas at first she was "working very long hours" helping staff run their press operation, then only at day’s end getting to her own work, “more and more" she says she "kind of pushed them to do it.” And, now she says, “the National Assembly is meeting on a regular basis and we do nothing."

Asked if it was “really seeping into their psyche” that they’re “in charge,” Snyder says yes, interjecting, “And, they do it their own way.”

Now, Iraqi public affairs officials and translators, says Snyder, are “all organized” — helping the Western pool and establishing an Arabic pool — “making all the calls to the Arabic press, getting them all lined up for media tours, scolding them if they don’t show and act right."

Even the U.S. Marshall, says Snyder, while initially inclined, given security concerns, to limit press at the Iraqi Special Tribunal’s Trial of Saddam Hussein, "praised the professionalism of the Arab press, saying what a great job they did.” Snyder’s team trained the lead public affairs officer.

Iraqi senior leaders, too, praised her team’s work, singling them out by name in London for training Iraqis to handle their own press for the December elections that, says Snyder, were “completely Iraqi run… (with) media trips galore at the polling stations, at reconstruction and political events… (with) Minister of Defense and Minister of Interior Iraqi Public Affairs staff taking out both Arabic and Western press…”

Of course, no one would argue press is security. Yet, in waging that “constant battle,” Gen. Casey speaks about, aimed at bridging the cultural divide, this 20-member mobile detachment’s debrief might be a good place to look for some valuable lessons.