The merry-go-round of the media circus

Escorting American newspaper journalist and photographer across Kabul in a US Army Black Hawk helicopter
Escorting American newspaper journalist and photographer across Kabul in a US Army Black Hawk helicopter

US Public Affairs Office (PAO) – or what we in the Royal Navy call Media Operations Specialisation (MOS) – exists primarily for media engagement.

So, aside from the wider roles I perform as Deputy Chief PAO, responsible for assisting the Chief PAO (my US Army colonel boss) to coordinate the activities of around 80 PAO staff across Afghanistan, one of my main roles it to interact directly with the media.

Kabul suburbs from the air

Kabul suburbs from the air

When you are involved in an operation as globally significant as the military operation out here, job satisfaction is a key attribute of the role. There aren’t many occupations where what you say or do can reverberate in both the Oval Office of the White House and the Prime Minister’s office in No. 10 – especially if we make a serious error of judgement!

To avoid such career-limiting mistakes, we have clear guidelines to follow. These are agreed for the whole operations and known as the communications narrative. All media engagement we do is designed to promote this narrative.

Therefore, at present we are communicating that the Afghan security forces are in the lead; Coalition forces involvement is in support of the Afghans. Additionally, to explain how the Afghans are maintaining the momentum in their campaign against the insurgents and show that although the role of Coalition forces is transitioning, we still plan to stay and provide an enduring commitment to Afghanistan beyond December 31, 2014.

They say variety is the spice of life and yesterday was a good example. After providing a briefing to our three-star US Army general at his morning update, I chaired our own “morning huddle” for the PAO team at IJC, before heading over to the command building to assist with a magazine interview of the Director Air Operations, an RAF air commodore.

After this I escorted a journalist and cameraman from the internal MoD publication to interview our Chief of Staff, a UK major general, before taking them to lunch and being interviewed myself on my role as a reservist on operations. After a quick check of emails, there were more interviews for senior staff to manage with a journalist from The Economist in the afternoon.

In the evening, after a very quick shower and change into civilian clothes, I was driven in a Foxhound armoured vehicle to the British Embassy for a media reception and discussions with journalists based in Kabul, including the Washington Post, Reuters, Guardian and the BBC.

Once back in the office it was back to the emails and quick text home – and, of course, a few words to write for The Southern Reporter.