Field marketing in Fallujah
PSYOP teams build trust with patience, determination
By ALLISON BATDORFF | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 28, 2007
FALLUJAH, Iraq — Getting into the Iraqi male mind-set requires a shift in focus for the average American, said U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Duprey.
For instance, you wouldn’t self-aggrandize when recruiting Iraqi men to join the local police force.
The lone-hero-with-badge-and- gun appeal wouldn’t work here.
You would talk about how joining the Iraqi Security Forces would reflect honor on their families, tribes and community.
“The concept of honor is paramount,” explained Duprey, 44, from Ardmore, Pa., “Instead of emphasizing the individual, it’s the collective that counts.”
If he wasn’t a psychological operations team leader in the Army, Duprey’s job would be marketing, he said. Like marketers, he tries to exert influence to get a certain outcome. Like marketers, he uses “product,” “demographics,” and “lines of persuasion” to do the job.
And, like marketers, his field is growing as more and more people plug in to the Information Age.
“Information warfare is a big part of fighting this war out here,” said Sgt. Stephen M. Burnham, 31, a team leader from Mount Upton, N.Y., who works in Fallujah. “Every day is a new battle.”
By law, the military cannot use psychological operations on the American public.
The law also stipulates that messages geared to influence foreign nationals must be factual and “beyond reproach,” Duprey said.
In Iraq, this means everything from blasting the enemy with Western music from Humvee-mounted loudspeakers to promoting adult literacy programs. Leaflets are air-dropped into communities where insurgents are suspected. Loudspeaker announcements tell people to stay away from their windows during a raid.
But now that Fallujah is relatively secure, PSYOP teams are more likely to be out of their Humvees and mingling with Iraqis, they said.
“Our job now is to go out and talk to Habib, Mohammed and Mustafa to see what they think about the situation in their communities and country and tell them that we are working to make things better for them,” Burnham said.
They also combat misinformation, he said. Even in Iraq – where electricity is dicey — a lot of people have access to the Internet, Burnham said.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq uses the Internet and bin Laden posts his messages there all the time,” Burnham said.
“We also have to combat the idea that we’re waging a war against Islam. A lot of people don’t understand why Americans are here.”
Duprey, extended twice in Iraq for a 17-month stay, works in a Tactical PSYOP Team based in Ramadi. His shining moment was a campaign against toy guns, he said.
Last Ramadan, people were giving their children plastic guns that looked like AK-47s. Duprey’s unit immediately circulated leaflets targeting mothers telling them not to let their children on the street with them, lest troops confuse the toys with the real thing.
“I know that there are probably kids alive today because we got the message out and people listened to it,” Duprey said.
But operations don’t usually see immediate results, he said. They’re in it for the long haul.
“Attitudes and behaviors take a long time to influence,” said Duprey. “Firing a gun is instant — with our job, it’s ‘wait and see.’”