How do you embed a journalist with soldiers and also keep an operation secure?
How do you plan for media queries before a planned hostage rescue begins?
How do you persuade top military officials that quick responses to the press are important?
These questions and many more were part of a lively dialogue as three representatives from the Mauritanian Army's Directorate of Communications visited their counterparts at U.S. Africa Command, March 21-23, 2012.
The Mauritanian Public Affairs Office, which is just five years old, is developing many of its formal procedures. The visit by Captain Sidi Mohamed Khlil Hedeid, Captain Lif Mohamed Diadie, and Adjudant Ahmed Ould N'Thieh was designed to familiarize them with U.S. methods and doctrine in the area of public affairs.
The Mauritanian team traveled first to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center Hofenfels Training Area, where they observed the public affairs operations for two days. That visit was followed by three days at the U.S. Africa Command Headquarters at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany.
"One of AFRICOM's strategic focuses is military-to-military engagements with host nations, like Mauritania ," explained Colonel Thomas Davis, director of AFRICOM public affairs. "Through these engagements, we assist Africans in building defense
institutions and military forces that are capable, sustainable, subordinate
to civil authority, respectful of the rule of law, and committed to the
well-being of their fellow citizens."
The three Mauritanian representatives all work on the magazine Akhbar El Jeich, or Army News. Diadie is the editor of the French edition; Hedeid is the editor of the Arabic edition; and N'Thieh works on the marketing of the magazine and also writes for the Arabic edition.
"Since we are a fledgling organization, we came with the intent of learning as much as we could. We have been flooded with information," said Diadie, through translator and AFRICOM language specialist Mustapha Kjaouj. "We are very hopeful that it will prove beneficial to accomplishing our mission as PAOs."
The AFRICOM presentations included public engagement, media relations, and operational planning. The U.S. public affairs specialists spoke in English, which was translated into Arabic. The PowerPoint slides were in French. Even Spanish came into play at one point.
Some of the tips were specific and practical. Eric Elliott, chief of the operations, plans and exercises division at the Public Affairs Office, emphasized the importance of being prepared for possible questions and responding swiftly to press queries. "If it takes too long to answer their questions, they may have the impression that you're hiding something. So it's better to have something you can answer immediately."
The three representatives all said they learned many things, such as techniques to help the commander in responding to the media and the importance of being aware of what's going on throughout the command.
"We believe that in these five days we have become more prepared to accomplish our mission and fulfill our duties," said N'Thieh.
Colonel Thomas Davis, the director of AFRICOM public affairs, emphasized that the learning went both ways. "It sounds like this has been productive for you," he told the Mauritanian team. "It has been just as productive for everyone else."