This article was reposted with the permission of Army Times Publishing Co.. All rights reserved.
It was originally published in the 03-27-95 edition of the "Army Times" on Page: 20
WASHINGTON -- Maj. Dennis Thompson remembers well the day in Haiti when he and other military police pulled security for the repatriation of Haitians arriving at the port in Port-au-Prince. A tremendous crowd formed at the only gate leading to the port.
"The crowd was huge. We couldn't make them understand we needed them to get out of the way," said Thompson, formerly the operations officer with the 503d Military Police Battalion (Airborne).
Eventually, the MPs brought in a psychological operations team to help manage the crowd. "They got the word out, and the Haitians were extremely cooperative after that,'' Thompson said. ``From a safety standpoint, it was a godsend.'' ``I didn't anticipate PSYOP [psychological operations] having such an impact," Thompson said. "I had no idea it would be as effective as it actually is." Psychological operations, which use information to influence an enemy or local population to support U.S. military objectives, contributed substantially to the relatively peaceful nature of the U.S. operation in Haiti, Army officials said.
Getting the Word Out
Psychological operations missions typically include disseminating information through radio and television broadcasts, local newspapers, handbills and posters. PSYOP troops, versed in the language, culture and history of the regions they support, also broadcast messages from loudspeakers held by hand or mounted on aircraft and vehicles.
PSYOP troops' understanding of cultural nuances and differences contribute to their ability to affect the behavior of the people they target, be they the enemy or a civilian population. PSYOP is never used on U.S. troops, although PSYOP personnel often provide U.S. troops with cultural information about target populations, PSYOP officials said.
"I knew theoretically what PSYOP could do -- I'd learned that in school. But having experienced it firsthand, I found they're far more valuable than I knew. In the future, I would be out looking for PSYOP support before deployment," Thompson said.
The PSYOP mission in Haiti began long before the U.S. troops streamed onto the Caribbean island Sept. 19, 1994, to restore president Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.
In January 1994, the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), based at Fort Bragg, N.C., began preparing for a contingency operation to restore democracy to Haiti, said Col. Jeffrey Jones, commander of the 4th, the only PSYOP group in the active component.
A Long-Term Mission
In June, the 4th deployed a Military Information Support Team to Washington to work with officials from the Pentagon, State Department, National Security Council and other agencies to develop a coordinated plan. The team taped messages from Aristide, then living in Washington, to be broadcast to the Haitians.
Later, from Sept. 13 to 17, PSYOP personnel disseminated seven million leaflets on Port-au-Prince, Les Cayes and Cap Haitien, to help pave the way for the return of Aristide.
What was planned as a U.S. invasion of the island turned at the eleventh hour into a peaceful occupation when the Haitian military commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, agreed to leave Haiti.
"When the mission changed, we were called upon to broadcast [that change]", Jones said. PSYOP objectives then turned to preparing Haitians for the arrival of U.S. and multinational forces, discouraging violence among Haitians, putting U.S. intentions in a positive light and sowing the seeds of democratic government. Radio and TV broadcasts were used to get out the message.
While some PSYOP troops are fluent in French, few had expertise in Haitian Creole. Thirty-three linguists, most native-born Haitian Americans, from all the services were tapped. PSYOP soldiers with previous experience in Haiti proved invaluable. Staff Sergeant. Mark Crawmer, a French linguist, was in Haiti during the 1991 coup and found himself returning for the 1994 intervention as his battalion's NCO in charge.
"Historically in Haiti, any change of power was a very bloody deal. This was accomplished with minimal bloodshed," Crawmer said. "...I personally feel that because of [the PSYOP soldiers'] ability to influence the media environment in Haiti, the effect was to soothe the Haitians and get their cooperation."