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COL Tom Collins discusses “Strategic Communications: Telling the Army’s Story”

COL Tom CollinsCOL Tom Collins, the US Army’s Deputy Chief of Public Affairs, gave a presentation on “Strategic Communications: Telling the Army’s Story” at IWP on Friday, April 13 2012.

COL Collins opened his presentation with a video from the Colbert Report. The humorous video showed the talk show host going through elements of Army Basic Training. Collins used this video to illustrate a point about how the information environment has changed, as the Army used to never support this kind of initiative.

COL Collins then shifted to some basics about the Army. The main role of the Army is to fight and win our nation’s wars. The Army is the nation’s principal force for land power, it has the potential to dominate any operational environment, and it has a wide range of other capabilities, including the Armed Forces’ largest special operations capability. The Army relies on a large reserve component, both in the National Guard and Reserves, and has global commitments.

COL Collins then focused on the issue of strategic communication. He began by discussing some of the communication challenges, in particular the complex communication environment. With so many sources of news, and news items that proliferate so rapidly, it is hard for the Army to get out any necessary clarifications. Exacerbating this issue is the budget crunch and the drawdown to an army of about 490,000 soldiers. Maintaining capability with fewer resources is going to be a significant  challenge for the Army.

On the other hand, confidence in the Army remains high, and polls show that Americans value the service more highly then they did several years ago. This is important to overall confidence in American defense; Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said “Our Army is the center of gravity for the U.S. Military.”

Despite this, the Army faces a key issue when it comes to strategic communication: fewer Americans have military experience, and therefore fewer Americans have direct contact with military culture. How is this going to impact the perceptions of the Army, and the Army’s recruiting, in the future? The Army feels its “everyday military presence” is one of its best tools; states with a lot of bases tend to poll very warmly towards the Army. COL Collins said he felt that the everyday soldier is the best representative of what the Army is about, an idea which ties in very well with the Army’s core message: the Army is about people. Other services tend to focus on promoting and advertising their platforms like jets or carriers, but the Army is human-centric in a way the other services are not. It maintains good re-enlistment rates, and the force is all-volunteer. The second part of the Army’s message is that it is the most decisive land force in the world. Despite the utility of sea, air, space, cyber, and other “powers,” the ability to project land force remains the most “decisive” way to change a hostile entity’s behavior. The Army can use its capabilities to shape the environment before the war starts, for example, by conducting joint exercises with allies. The third part of the Army’s message is that it supports the Joint Force.

COL Collins concluded with a brief 60 Minutes video clip of Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta, the first living Medal of Honor recipient from the current conflicts, as a representative example of the high quality of today’s soldiers.  The interview underlined Collins’ belief that the Army communicates best when it is communicating through the eyes and experiences of its average soldiers.

Colonel Tom Collins is the deputy chief of public affairs for the Department of the Army, the Pentagon. In this position, he helps oversee a large and diverse team of military and civilian public affairs professionals whose mission is to tell the Army story. Col. Collins has been a public affairs officer for over 17 years and has served in a variety of spokesperson and public affairs assignments, to include 18 months as the Army’s chief of media relations, 12 months in Afghanistan as the senior Coalition spokesperson; 20 months as the public affairs assistant to the Secretary of the Army; three months in Liberia as the Joint Task Force spokesperson; and 18 months as the public affairs officer for Army Forces Command, the largest command in the Army.

He began his Army career in 1986 and served in a variety of assignments in armor and mechanized infantry, to include Operation Desert Storm. Collins is a 1986 graduate of California State University at Sacramento and holds a Master of Arts degree in management from Webster University (1996), and a Master of Science degree in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (2008).