Thursday, January 8, 2009

Afghan media learn about close air support

by Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/8/2009 - BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, together with the Bagram Media Operations Center, hosted its first Afghan media day Jan. 5.

Fourteen journalists and cameramen from various Afghan news agencies received an up-close look at close air support in Afghanistan, complete with tours of the F-15E Strike Eagle and the A-10 Thunderbolt II and a briefing from Brig. Gen. Mike Holmes, 455th AEW commander.

According to General Holmes, the conflict in Afghanistan is just as much an information war as it is a kinetic one. Department of Defense Public Affairs strives to provide timely and accurate information; however succeeding at the information war becomes a challenge when competing with an enemy who is not concerned with facts. Since the insurgents are good at getting their story out, in order for balanced media coverage it becomes essential for U.S. and coalition forces to engage the local media.

"To our knowledge, the Afghan media had not been engaged like this before," said Army Capt. Jennifer Martin, from the Bagram Media Operations Center. "It's really important we engage the Afghan media because we're in their country. They need to understand what we are doing, how we are doing it, where we are doing it and how it affects them."

The BMOC hosted multiple Afghan media days in the past year, however this was the first time the event focused on air power. The day's events were intended to provide the media representatives with a better understanding of how the 455th AEW executes its close air support mission.

"A lot of coverage is slanted in a negative nature against us," said Army 1st Lt. Meagan Newsom of the BMOC. "It's not that they are trying to make us look bad but how can they report fairly on something they don't fully understand?"

As the media representatives had a chance to see the jets up close and ask questions, they gained a better understanding of CAS execution.

"There are many civilian casualty concerns, but I have learned how the Air Force tries to avoid it and how much they make the aircraft effective in fighting the insurgents," said Sharif Khoram, an Afghan reporter with Agence Free Press News Agency. "It was all explained to me."

With plans for additional Afghan media days and more engagement with local news agencies, the 455th AEW and BMOC hope to build trust among the Afghan population through media coverage on the U.S. and coalition missions.

"We want (the media) to know so they can go out and tell the Afghan people what the Air Force is here to do," said Lieutenant Newsom. "It's very important to tell the coalition story through the Afghan eyes - they tell it best."

Before ending media day, General Holmes thanked the group for their time and interest in the Air Force.

"As a wing, we are proud and happy to host a media day," the general said. "The media helps us do our job by keeping us in check and reporting on what we do. It's important the people of Afghanistan understand how we operate, how we are here to help - and the media plays a key role in accomplishing that."


Members of local news agencies are shown around an A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron during Afghan Media Day at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, on January 5, 2008. This was the first time the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing has invited Afghan reporters to learn about the close air support mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse) Hi-res

Lt. Col. Derek Oaks, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, is interviewed by a reporter from the Kabul division of BBC. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse) Hi-res

Staff Sgt. Rachel Martinez, public affairs specialist, provides guidance during an interview between Lt. Col. Derek Oaks, an A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, and members of the Afghan media. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Morse) Hi-res

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