FORT McCOY, Wis. –
The U.S. Army Reserve’s 326th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment was the main public affairs element here recently in support of the 78th Training Division-led Combat Support Training Exercise 78-21-04.
CSTX is a large-scale training event designed to assist combat-service and combat-service support units in the planning, preparation, supervising, and execution of pre-mobilization collective training in tactical scenarios specifically designed to replicate real-world missions.
With more than 4,000 Soldiers from the U.S. Army Reserve and Army National Guard participating, spread out across 60,000 acres, 326th MPAD Soldiers quickly realized the only way for their mission to succeed would be to divide and conquer.
“I've felt what it's like to take on a massive endeavor alone in the past, but I never felt like I was doing this [exercise] alone,” said First Sgt. Michel Sauret, 326th MPAD noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
“Establishing good order early on by assigning roles, give Soldiers purpose, and maintaining good communication will allow you to take on a larger mission without overwhelming anyone,” Sauret said, emphasizing the significance of proper assignment.
Taking on an entire CSTX with a fully manned MPAD would be a formidable task for any unit, but bringing in additional Soldiers from 354th MPAD and 356th Broadcast Operations Detachment to add the much-needed personnel to run the media operation center created another obstacle to overcome.
For Staff Sgt. Dalton Smith, 354th MPAD public affair mass communications noncommissioned officer and a team leader for the exercise, working with Soldiers that he had just met during CSTX, made it essential to determine the most efficient method to get products out to audiences: Soldiers on the ground, the Army overall, and the broader public.
“Soldiers in public affairs must recognize that social media is critical, and we must maintain quality control over it,” said Smith. “We need to tell the Army's story using themes and messaging, as well as capture powerful images and videos, so that people will go ‘wow’ and click on the link to read more.”
Some reservist may not be accustomed to employing the abilities required of public affairs officers, or they may be new to the military occupational specialty and getting their first impression of what it's like to be a PAO. They're now thrust into an environment where they're expected to take professional photos and videos, and they're in a position to learn a lot and thrive in situations where there's a lot at stake.
When asked what one thing he wanted his Soldiers to carry with them to their next annual training, Sauret said that there is more to this job than just taking pictures.
“I want them to understand that when they take a photo, it’s not just a photo,” he said.
“They probably won't get it right away because it takes time, but I want them to see that when we produce content with a strategy and implement public affairs guidance, their work actually changes and shapes the world around them for the better, influencing decision makers, leaders, and the public,” he added.
Throughout CSTX, the 326th MPAD published 10 print stories and 12 video products which told the Army story and the stories of the Soldiers who lived it.
Soldiers said the unit left a lasting impression with stories ranging from "Diesel," an animatronic canine used to introduce Soldiers to canine medical care, to the impact the USO had as they provided Soldiers in the field with snacks and drinks to boost their morale.
Sgt. 1st Class Neil Hunkins, a civil affairs instructor with 5th Battalion, 98th Regiment, was excited to see how his interview would be used.
“I'm already looking forward to seeing what they do with this interview so that I can tell my family and girlfriend back home, but also to send it back to my own unit.”
Rarely do you hear about the impact a story had on a Soldier, a unit, or the community; as a leader, you must focus on your Soldiers and the impact that training has had on them.
“When Soldiers tell you that they're learning so much and that this is one of the finest annual training experiences they've ever had because of how well-organized we are and how much effort we put in, you know you're doing something right,” Sauret said after teaching his Soldiers how to make a time-lapse video.
“To me, seeing Soldiers having a good time, putting in the effort and being mentored means more than anything else they can achieve in the military.”