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The Federal Coach

Balancing protection and access at the Pentagon

Doug Wilson
Doug Wilson is the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. In this role, he leads a worldwide public affairs community of military and civilian personnel. Wilson previously served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs during the Clinton administration. He has twice received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the Pentagon's top civilian honor.

As the leader of the government's largest press shop, how do you manage your staff and the department's message?

We have press operations, the Pentagon channel, the Armed Forces radio network, training for military public affairs officers and community, media analysis, planning and social media divisions. The key to dealing with such a broad range of communication tools is to remember there is room for all of them to engage. One of the life lessons that I have learned is to try to understand and play to people's strengths. A public affairs team of only people who deal with the print press makes no sense, just like a public affairs team of just people doing Twitter makes no sense. The key is to understand what can be done with each of those tools and figure out what the best combination is to achieve a particular goal.

What's been the most difficult issue to communicate for the Secretary of Defense?

I believe the Secretary has been most frustrated when information on foreign policy, budget and other defense decisions appears without attribution and context, provided by people who don't have complete situational awareness.

How do you maintain a good working relationship with the press?

It's always tough as the head of a Pentagon communications department to find the right balance between protection and access, and I think anybody who's in my position wants to provide as much press access as possible. My responsibility is to be as timely, transparent and accurate as I can. But I'm also responsible for ensuring that the welfare and security of the men and women in uniform are protected and respected.

What are the key things someone in your position needs to do during a crisis?

You have to approach a job like this recognizing that daily crisis is the name of the game. You don't expect to have a problem-free day. The key to dealing with crises is focusing on what it is you're trying to achieve. You have to think about who you need to involve as you develop positions and responses. That means understanding that there are many components and players, and making sure you reach out to all of them. I have found that inclusion, tempered by focus and awareness of the need to move expeditiously, usually results in the kind of decision making that enjoys broad support.

How is DOD using social media and what are the effective uses?

There is no single panacea in communications, and those who think that social media are the latest such panacea are making a big mistake. Social media can be very useful in certain situations. I just came back from Kabul, and I saw how most troops communicate with their families through Facebook. It's a fantastic tool to keep families united in ways that didn't exist before.

Social media can also enable you to quickly counter enemy falsehoods. The instantaneous and comprehensive nature of social media are its strengths, and you play to those strengths in situations where you know that the recipients are similarly equipped.

What leadership lessons did you learn from former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and now Secretary Gates?

Respect for the military. Both men have deep respect for our men and women in uniform. Both focused on developing a holistic relationship with [them]. It's not just compartmentalized into the military encounters. It has to do with their welfare, their individual well-being [and] their families. That's made a great impression on me, because the Pentagon truly is a team of diversity: military and civilian, career and political appointees. When it works right, you can put together a truly remarkable team.

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By Tom Fox

 |  August 24, 2010; 11:34 AM ET |  Category:  View from the Top Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Predator Drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used primarily by the Air Force (USAF) and the (CIA). Initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance and forward observation roles, the Predator carries cameras and other sensors but has been modified and upgraded to carry and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat and recon over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen and more recently over the U.S. Mexican border.

They can be used very effectively against our enemies when they are used wisely. When used unwisely they can create a public relations nightmare.

Each Predator air vehicle can be disassembled into six main components and loaded into a container nicknamed "the coffin." This enables all system components and support equipment to be rapidly deployed worldwide. The largest component is the ground control station and it is designed to roll into a C-130 Hercules.

Since at least 2004, the CIA has allegedly been operating the drones out of Shamsi airfield in Pakistan to attack militants in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Since May 2005 the MQ-1 Predator fitted with Hellfire missiles has been successfully used to kill a number of prominent al Qaeda operatives.

The use of the Predator has also resulted in a number of civilian deaths, particularly on January 13, 2006 when 18 civilians were killed. According to Pakistani authorities, the U.S. strike was based on faulty intelligence. This is also known as collateral damage and can inflame public opinion against us.

Posted by: alance | August 26, 2010 12:52 AM

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