In his debut, a former public affairs officer reflects on the U.S. Army’s failed information war in Iraq.
Tasked with informing the world about the training, equipping, and mentoring of nascent Iraqi security forces, Alvarez spent most of his yearlong mobilization battling the chain of command and the entrenched mentality of fellow PAOs, whose outmoded practices, lack of enterprise, and petty jealousies frustrated almost every effort to tell the story straight, both to the American taxpayers and the host nation. Shortly after his 2005 return, he dashed off the first draft of this narrative, described as part memoir, handbook, after-action review, white paper, and catharsis. The intervening decade, though, has done little to cool his anger at fellow PAOs who tried to spin the war instead of dedicating themselves to facts and truth. He scorches the Army’s PR apparatus for failing to understand the information capabilities and vulnerabilities of insurgents, the value of training and mentoring an Iraqi media team, and the need for the Iraqi government to speak to its own people. Using colorful anecdotes drawn from his tour, Alvarez stresses the importance of engaging the Arab media, of modernizing the training and preparation of military communicators, of sustaining interpersonal contact between the military and any victims of collateral damage, and of requiring PAOs to abandon the comforts of headquarters in favor of deeply connecting with our own forces, the local population, and reporters. Alvarez had some successes. Overcoming Pentagon opposition, he authored the first military blog in U.S. armed forces history. Moreover, many of the innovations and reforms he pushed for were later folded into the famous counterinsurgency field manual authored by Gen. David Petraeus, his immediate boss and “a one man communications dynamo.” Nevertheless, the author remains outraged, convinced that lives were lost and treasure wasted by the failure to recognize the critical importance of public affairs operations and the media environment to the success of a modern military mission.
A pull-no-punches critique that spares few in the defense establishment.