Army trains soldiers for wartime interviews

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 1, 2007

ROOSTER 8 TRAINING AREA, South Korea — The 2nd Infantry Division’s soldiers combined firepower with South Koreans and wrested territory from the enemy within the past 48 hours, according to the Iron Focus script.

Before refueling and moving toward the next engagement, soldiers participating in the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team’s battalion evaluations were tested with something less familiar than guns and explosions.

Staff Sgt. Eliodoro Molina, a public-affairs specialist, gave Sgt. 1st Class Terry Schutz a few last pointers before he faced the notepads and cameras of public-affairs soldiers posing as civilian reporters Wednesday.

Introduce yourself and let the folks back in America how the troops are doing, Molina said. If there were any casualties, let them know that, too.

The staged interviews were a product of the Army’s “Media on the Battlefield” training, which officials say aims to get soldiers comfortable talking with journalists, while keeping operational security in mind.

Soldiers aren’t required to stick to one opinion or another; however, they shouldn’t misrepresent what they know, said Master Sgt. Kanessa Trent, 2nd ID public-affairs chief.

“We tell soldiers that they need to stay in their lane,” she said.

In other words, “Pfc. John Doe” shouldn’t be declaring war on behalf of the United States. He also shouldn’t be talking about what’s it’s like to be a company commander if he’s a gunner.

Sgt. Keith Drewitz said he and his soldiers had spent too much time waiting around in a hot, muddy patch of nowhere without action.

A South Korean remote-control airplane target drone had been buzzing loudly overhead for four days, annoying him and others. But it still beats being back at the garrison, he said. Drewitz’s message probably wouldn’t make an Army news release, but it doesn’t break any rules either.

“It’s his right to say that,” Trent said. “It’s honest.”

Soldiers aren’t obligated to participate in interviews, Trent said. But they are obligated to greet credentialed reporters courteously and facilitate their story gathering, she said.

Schutz’s interview went smoothly, though he received softer questions than he might get from actual journalists in a war zone. Schutz worked with embedded reporters in Iraq and said he’s relatively used to it; however, 80 percent of his soldiers were new and needed some practice, he said.

“They love to speak their mind,” Schutz said. “Good or bad, they’ll say it.”

His soldiers proved that Wednesday when asked by a real reporter about the importance of media training.

“I really don’t like the media,” Pvt. Daniel King said. “They don’t need to know my business.”

Pvt. Ervin Trower, sitting a few feet away, disagreed with King.

“What we do is everybody’s business,” he said. “I think everybody should know what’s going on back home. Somebody has a son or a daughter serving this country. They want to know what’s going on with their family members.”

The "media on the battlefield" training was incorporated into Iron Focus II, a 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team exercise that evaluates battalion commanders and their soldiers.

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