By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan – A senior NCO deployed to Afghanistan from the Air Force Academy uses social media to document the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban while mentoring Afghan public affairs officials.
Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, the NCO in charge of media relations in the Academy’s Public Affairs Office, is a photojournalist and mentor on a three-person public affairs advisory team, or PAAT, to help Afghan National Security Forces build a sustainable public affairs capacity in the Northern Regional Afghan National Police Headquarters and Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps.
The team has covered route-clearing and medical missions and squad tactics training with Afghan National Army soldiers, Sergeant DeWitt said.
“Often, outside the wire, we’re faced with challenges that we typically don’t encounter at home, but we’re thankful for the security conditions here in the north,” he said.
Sergeant DeWitt is part of the second wave of advisory teams there, so they’ve got a good base of knowledge in place from their predecessors. Part of that is the use of “Web 2.0” sites such as Facebook and YouTube to share their stories.
“Regional Command – North PAAT led the way in the use of social media to highlight both achievements with our Afghan National Army counterparts and other mentor team’s accomplishments with the ANA,” Sergeant DeWitt said.
And like the Academy’s recent forays into the realm of social media, individual units in Afghanistan are making efforts to put this newer communications medium to use, highlighting both their own missions and the Afghan National Army’s accomplishments.
“Leveraging social media sites … allows us to keep people informed in a timely manner without using traditional methods,” Sergeant DeWitt said. “Such methods are driven by current news events, and in the case of hard-hitting stories, the news about our progress here might not get out there. Using social media also lets the viewer check for updates at their convenience versus missing the only airing on a specific news channel.”
“We’ve had success by initially inviting our own family and friends to become fans of our Facebook page but also by showcasing the site to our hometowns and the respective bases of our four-person team members. In less than a week we approached nearly 100 fans on Facebook and nearly 200 views for videos uploaded to YouTube,” he added.
In addition to combat operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida, servicemembers from the U.S. military and multinational forces also continue to help rebuild Afghanistan’s economic and government infrastructure and train and prepare the Afghan military and security forces to assume full authority and responsibility in defending and preserving Afghanistan’s sovereignty.
Learn more about Sergeant DeWitt’s team and their accomplishments at http://www.youtube.com/TheRCNorthPAAT and http://www.facebook.com/pages/RC-North-PAAT.