BAN DAN LAN HOI, Kingdom of Thailand --
Clad in digital military uniforms and bearing a loudspeaker system, these Americans stick out from the crowd of Thai locals like a sore thumb. Their presence, however, is anything but sore, as they are accepted and welcomed by the population.
These Americans are the Marines of the Expeditionary Military Information Support Operations Team 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The team’s overall objective is simple: gain support of the local populace and give them faith in what the MEU represents.
“We are the roving, interactive megaphone for our commander’s intent,” said Cpl. Kyle Powers, a military information support specialist with MISO Team 31, 31st MEU. “From that intent, we create ways to ensure the local audience is receptive to our presence or operations.”
The team takes the “winning hearts and minds” concept further with full immersion and cooperation with the local nationals. MISO Team 31 takes a proactive role in the surrounding community where their unit is conducting operations, and currently that community is the people of Ban Dan Lan Hoi, Thailand, during Cobra Gold 2013.
“What we do here is give the locals as much pertinent information as possible to inform them of why we are here, and how it benefits them,” said Cpl. Matthew G. Whitesell, an information operations non-commissioned officer, command element, 31st MEU, and a native of Hurscher, Ill. “For example, the 31st MEU held a medical civil affairs project in the area. So, before it happened, we went around the area letting the people know what was available to them, increasing the turnout, and thus allowing the commander’s intent to reach a broader audience.”
MISO falls under the Marine Corps Information Operations Center in Quantico, Va. The center is relatively new to the Marine Corps, but the specialty has a storied history. Marine Corps MISO was activated during the Vietnam War to combat misinformation on the battlefield where victories were determined by the local perceptions instead of tactical results. When the conflict ended, the Army took over all information operations until the height of U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq when the Marine Corps trained and utilized its own MISO capabilities
MISO was established in 2011 and since then its growth has been slow but steady. The current MISO strength is 40 Marines, with the total MCIOC having approximately 100 Marines.
“With our small size, our operational focus was consolidated to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Schaeffer, team leader for EMT-31, 31st MEU. “This was until last year when we started attaching teams to the MEUs, augmenting teams on six-month rotations.”
CG13 is the first time the 31st MEU has deployed with a MISO team, an asset proving its value on the ground.
Each MISO team is a three-man force skilled in engaging a target population. The MISO team has a variety of methods at their disposal to pass information, from loudspeakers to social media sites to pamphlets and flyers. Every method available except misinformation.
“It isn’t propaganda; it’s letting the people know the full facts and how the certain situation is beneficial to them or their country,” said Powers, a native of Hancock, Md. “We take an active role in meeting the people or their local leaders and letting them know what’s going on. We’re not forcing them into believing something; we’re just informing them of what we’re doing.”
As a demonstration of MISO effectiveness, the 31st MEU MEDCAP in Thailand received approximately 800 locals during six days of free medical care. However, approximately 400 came on the last day of the event after EMT-31 engaged the local Thai community. Demonstrating their effectiveness during MEU operations abroad is quickly bringing recognition to the usefulness of the small MISO community.
“We’re experts when it comes to the country and culture our unit will be operating in because we have to fully research it beforehand in order to effectively relay messages to the people,” said the Mountville, Penn. native.
Exercises such as Cobra Gold allow the 31st MEU to collaborate with partner countries in achieving mutual security goals, addressing shared concerns, and continuing to develop and enhance relationships.
The 31st MEU is the only continually forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.