Upper Keys, Florida — The United States Army Special Operations community has dropped the name “psychological operations” for its branch in charge of trying to change the hearts and minds behind enemy lines, acknowledging the term can sound ominous.
The Defense Department picked a more neutral moniker: “Military Information Support Operations,” or MISO. Sounds like soup, doesn’t it?
U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw said Thursday the new name, adopted last month, more accurately reflects the unit’s job of producing leaflets, radio broadcasts and loudspeaker messages to influence enemy soldiers and civilians.
“One of the catalysts for the transition is foreign and domestic sensitivities to the term ‘psychological operations’ that often lead to a misunderstanding of the mission,” McGraw said.
Fort Bragg is home to the 4th Psychological Operations Group, the Army’s only active duty psychological operations unit. Psychological operations soldiers are trained at the post.
Psychological operations have been cast as spooky in movies and books over the years portraying the soldiers as master manipulators. The 2009 movie “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” staring George Clooney, was about an army unit that trains psychic spies, based on Jon Ronson’s nonfiction account of the U.S. military’s hush-hush research into psychic warfare and espionage.
But the real mission is far more mundane. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, psychological operations units dropped leaflets urging Iraqis to surrender.
In Vietnam, a psychological operations effort called the Open Arms Program bombarded Viet Cong units with surrender appeals written by former members. The program got approximately 200,000 Viet Cong fighters to defect.
McGraw said the name change was approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Eric Olson, the Special Operations commander, in mid-June.
Reportedly there are elements in the psychological operations community who dislike the new name, or, in other words, resistant to change.
But the constant aura that hangs in the air is still remaining — It makes it even more difficult for psychological operations personnel to explain what they do. That they still have the capability to employ programs and themes designed to influence the behavior of foreign target audiences.
(Note — the author who resides in Eden Isles, Slidell, Louisiana completed his basic and advanced airborne training and assignment with “America’s Guard of Honor”, the 82d Airborne Division, HHB, 3rd Bn, 4th ADAR, 1984 – 1989; and was further assigned to Special Operations forces, 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, North Carolina as an airborne qualified psychological operations specialist from 1989 until his retirement at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 2003. His deployments include Operation JUST CAUSE (Panama); Operation RESTORE HOPE (Somalia); Operation DESERT SHIELD; Operation DESERT STORM; Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.)