For those living under the thumb of militant Islamic terrorists, word from the outside world can be difficult to come by. Where improper beard length or smoking can lead to imprisonment, possession of a cell phone, radio or television use can lead to much worse.
Imagine living under such harsh prescriptions and seeing a coalition aircraft cross the sky over your city. In its wake, rather than bombs raining forth, instead is a downpour of knowledge — leaflets that provide information on coalition plans, areas of safety, and where and when to expect help to arrive. For the members of these terrorist groups there is a warning to flee or face death and a reminder that their leaders care little for their well-being.
Across Syria, Iraq and numerous other countries under siege by terrorists, these messages penetrate the thin veil of control. The clearly-drawn images and simple messages are passed hand to hand throughout the community. Even those who can’t read, understand the concise illustrations. They provide more than valuable information — they provide hope.
Psychological operations paratroopers working closely with their coalition counterparts out of far-flung bases and embassies across the Middle East, request these products from the media operations team working at the Military Information Support Task Force - Central, in Al Udied Airbase, Qatar. This section, smaller than a platoon, has designed, printed and shipped millions of products.
Six months ago, Soldiers from Company A, 3rd Military Information Support Battalion, 4th Military Information Support Group, deployed to the MISTF-C to provide their product development and print production skills in the fight against these extremists. While there, they processed over 200 print requests and produced over 23 million leaflets in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in both Iraq and Syria.
Those leaflets relayed critical information to civilians and terrorists during the liberation of Manbij, Syria, and the capture of Mosul, Iraq.
Since the advent of the internet, the use of leaflets had dropped off. Once a go-to tool of the PSYOP Soldier to influence battlespace, the leaflet had taken backseat to other messaging mediums in recent years.
The operations sergeant major for the MISTF-C explained why the pendulum has swung back so heavily towards leaflet use.
Each new threat and environment creates different challenges. Sometimes, the best technique isn’t the newest technique available.
“The ability to continue messaging has been conducted with successful leaflet use,” he said. “Creative ways to communicate must be found and used to ensure our message is received in denied territories.”
In some areas, communication isn’t as restricted but it is still not as open as in the United States. Leaflets can play a viable role in broadcasting messages in those areas, while online feedback provides valuable confirmation.
“Recipients on the ground will sometimes take photos of the leaflets and post them on social media thus amplifying our message,” the sergeant major added.
The designers on the production development team play to their strengths, leveraging artistic and technical abilities to produce comic-style illustrations, short films, or radio broadcasts as required. They serve customers throughout the U.S. Army Central Command area of operations.
As each order is unique, the design team is constantly revising their work and creating new products that will speak to their target audiences. The senior enlisted advisor for the team explained their customer, service-oriented approach to this important mission.
“Our artists work under tight deadlines making multiple revision as necessary to get the products out,” she said. “We know we’re resonating with the audience because we see certain products being requested again and again.”
She also explained the benefit of having a print and production team forward in Qatar, rather than relying on the significant resources housed at 3rd MISB’s Media Operations Center in Fort Bragg.
“Having this asset forward is important because we can be more responsive,” she said. “And since we’re on the same time zone, we’re working when the customer is. That helps a lot.”
While many envision the real differences being made by small units of action gaining and maintaining direct contact with the enemy, in today’s non-linear environments, there is room for real gains to be made by dedicated Soldiers of all skill sets.
The operations sergeant major for the MISTF-C offered high praise for the print and production teams as they wrap-up their deployment.
“The team has done amazing work,” he said. “The professionalism of the team led to every job being timely delivered even if it meant working extra hours or during scheduled down time. It was a pleasure working with a dedicated, mission-focused team.”
The team redeploys to Fort Bragg soon, and will be replaced by a fresh group of artists, photographers, broadcasters, printers and technicians who will have to hit the ground running. This current team has set the bar sky high. And while the enemy may still own the ground for a while longer, they cannot stop coalition messages from getting through.