FORT HUNTER LIGGET, Calif. –
Soldiers attending the 80th Training Command’s TASS Psychological Operations (PSYOP) Reclassification Course at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, went to the village market as part of their field training, Feb. 1, 2021. Soldiers and Marines in the course are reclassifying their military occupational specialties (MOS) to Psychological Operations Specialist 37F, and undergo classroom training and field scenarios with role players in the fictional village of Pine Branch.
At the market, Soldiers show a friendly face to the villagers, buying their products, gleaning information through casual conversation. They also combat misinformation. In this scenario, “enemy propaganda” in the form of pamphlets distributed among the townspeople portrayed Americans as hostile forces. One pamphlet, posted on the market wall, stated “BEWARE – The U.S. Forces are the Bringers of Death.”
Winning hearts and minds is a huge part of psychological operations when troops are sent into conflict areas, said Staff Sgt. Eric Bartlett, PSYOP instructor 5th Battalion, 95th Regiment out of Lubbock, Texas.
“They’re supposed to identify the propaganda on their own, then take it back tonight and break it down to find out who put it out, what message it’s trying to convey,” said Bartlett. “That’s part of their main objective here today.”
The Soldiers also created handbills providing important facts to counteract the propaganda and misinformation. “They’re trying to get the local population to stop growing marijuana illegally,” said Bartlett. “It’s relevant to what we do in the real world because we go out and try to persuade change and influence behaviors.”
Bartlett was attached to the 1st Marine Division in Afghanistan doing psychological operations. “We were trying to have the locals stop growing poppies and illegal crops, trying to create stability and trust with their police force and their army,” he said. “There was a lot of distrust so we tried to instill confidence and change their attitude. We also ran radio stations and tried to combat enemy propaganda, same thing the students are doing here.”
The village market was set up at Milpitas MOUT, which stands for military operations in urban terrain. Shipping containers, walls and other structures are arranged to simulate a village atmosphere for exercises such as these, or for combat simulations.
Students come from many different Army Reserve units all across the country, and several are also Reserve Marines. At the end of the course, the role players drop their often antagonistic or distrustful roles and welcome the course graduates in a friendly meet-and-greet. While the students receive feedback from their instructors, the role players often give critiques that will guide the Soldiers in their new roles as psychological operations specialists.