"Current Challenges and Future Roles for
US Army Reserve PSYOP Forces"

Lieutenant Colonel Jack C. Guy and Lieutenant Colonel Steven Collins

15 March 2000

Accepted for Publication by the Special Warfare Magazine

(Reprinted with the author's permission)

Introduction and Background

There is growing recognition of the importance of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) to the success of any military mission.1 PSYOP has been an important contributor in every major conflict during this century,2 and, while the precise impact of PSYOP in the past can certainly be debated, its increasing relevance and importance today and tomorrow cannot. However, like other Army Special Operations Forces, PSYOP forces are a low density, high demand force. Because Theater Commanders-in-Chief (CINCs) are increasingly engaged in vigorous engagement activities and long-term peacekeeping efforts where information activities often play a key role, requests for PSYOP forces have increased dramatically over the last few years – while their numbers have remained constant. There are only approximately 4500 PSYOP soldiers in the Total Army Force (Active and Reserve), nearly 70% of which are in the Reserves (the 2nd and 7th PSYOP Groups). More importantly, the number of 37F (enlisted PSYOP specialists and 39B (PSYOP officers) personnel is a small fraction of the total PSYOP force. Yet, it is the 37Fs and 39Bs that make up the bulk of the Reserve PSYOP deployment requirements.

Further exacerbating the high Reserve PSYOP Personnel Tempo is the current PSYOP structure – an outdated Cold War construct. Of the eight PSYOP battalions in the Reserves, only six are tactical PSYOP battalions – oriented primarily towards supporting forces on the ground in the role of loudspeaker operations and face-to-face communications. Plainly, the current challenges and future roles of US Army Reserve PSYOP force (hereafter RPF) deserves detailed examination. The RPF must be wrested from the stagnant embrace of the Cold War and catapulted into the Information Age.

Trends and Challenges

The sophisticated and ubiquitous nature of today’s global information environment and the importance of the "media message" have been demonstrated repeatedly in military crises against adversaries as diverse as Manuel Noriega in Panama, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Additionally, because of increasingly restrictive rules of engagement, violence is often an option of last resort for military commanders – especially in the growing number of peace operations.3 PSYOP forces offer the warfighter a more discreet, and often more politically palatable tool than conventional military activities fixated upon putting ordnance on a target.4

As many sections of the world enter the Information Age, US forces can no longer expect to deploy to an area and dominate the local media venues.5 In many cases, local media in foreign lands are as sophisticated as that seen in ‘small town America.’ Moreover, international media organizations, even more technically adept, are often in place and operating in a robust fashion prior to the first US soldier getting into the action. These ‘competitors’ make it increasingly difficult for US PSYOP forces to gain and hold the attention of the foreign target audience.6

Nevertheless, given the increased velocity of information at every level, and the need to react more quickly to local situations, local US military commanders have come to rely upon PSYOP forces as their conduit for information to local populations. These commanders depend upon their PSYOP officers and non-commissioned officers to communicate information and expectations, irrespective of local or international competition, in a manner that challenges the PSYOP organizational structure created at the tail end of the Cold War.

Due to the increased number and length of US military operations around the world, the RPF has been increasingly called upon to pick-up the lion’s share of the load for the Joint PSYOP Task Force (JPOTF). As a result, the RPF has been forced to dramatically depart from its past training template – virtually re-defining its mission. PSYOP Reservists are now adding "unconventional" training requirements to weekend drills. Although commanders are beginning to mention them in training guidance, buried below recruiting, retention, unit status reporting, and required yearly briefings – desktop publishing, use of the Internet, and schooling in modern mass communications techniques demand the attention of all RPF soldiers facing mobilization today.

Typical Past Roles of Reserve PSYOP Forces

Until the early 1990’s, the RPF was composed of a diverse mix of PSYOP product development (regional expertise) as well as tactical PSYOP dissemination capability. In retrospect, the decision to strip the 2nd and 7th Reserve PSYOP Groups of their PSYOP product development capability was shortsighted. This decision, perhaps motivated more by an Active Force chauvinism rather than a requirements based analysis, concluded the RPF incapable of conducting the sophisticated training essential to effectively perform the duties of regional PSYOP soldiers.

As a result, the current PSYOP structure is too heavily oriented toward tactical PSYOP. This structure makes it difficult to support the Theater CINCs, especially in an age where the power of electronic media has, in many areas of the world, overwhelmed the print alternative. Within the current PSYOP organizational structure (see Figure 1), the PSYOP regional battalions are the most heavily deployed segment and struggle to make manning requirements for contingency and training missions. Each PSYOP regional battalion has an authorized strength of 151 personnel, but the ‘for duty’ strength each day is often substantially less. In addition, manning spaces were subtracted from each regional battalion in the summer of 1997 to build a task organized regional battalion dedicated to US Pacific Command (PACOM). This task organization reduced the number of authorized personnel allotted to each PSYOP regional battalion from 151 to 126.

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The most challenging requirement for the PSYOP regional battalions are the long term peace operation operations and continuous Theater Engagement Activities (e.g.: Bosnia, Kosovo, mine awareness and counter-drug efforts, etc.). Clearly, the RPF should be a force available to assist in the regional PSYOP role. With enough PSYOP tactical forces to support seven Army corps equivalents (one PSYOP tactical battalion is allocated to a corps equivalent), the imbalance between regional and tactical PSYOP forces in the current force structure is obvious.

Until recently, PSYOP tactical battalions were almost exclusively restricted to conducting local PSYOP support with loudspeaker operations and face-to-face discussions. Excepting the most rudimentary PSYOP products, the tactical PSYOP forces were formerly dependent upon the JPOTF for all product development and production. Fortunately, PSYOP tactical forces are now being fielded with a capability to produce some limited PSYOP products at the division level. Future fielding of sophisticated equipment like the Special Operations Media System-B (SOMS-B) will allow the RPF to play an increasingly significant role in AC/RC integrated activities. Nevertheless, it is clear the RPF is too tactically oriented, and the organizational and training paradigms for the RPF must be re-considered.  

Future Roles and Missions of RPF

The authors of this article argue for a ‘Back to the Future’ role for the RPF. These recommendations are summarized here:

  • The equipment and tactics of tactical PSYOP soldiers is outmoded, potentially placing these soldiers at tremendous risk in mid- to high-intensity conflicts. New equipment and procedures for PSYOP loudspeaker operations need to be studied.
  • Regional PSYOP expertise needs to be re-vitalized in the RPF, and the RPF must be utilized in the regional role to help mitigate the tremendous Personnel Tempo experienced by the four task organized regional PSYOP battalions.
  • The delegation of PSYOP product production capability to tactical PSYOP units (both Active and Reserve) is welcomed by the authors and should be accelerated.
  • Beyond the return of regional PSYOP to the RPF, training in the Reserves must also focus on building the capability to ‘reach outside the wire’ during military operations. PSYOP soldiers, even at the tactical level, should focus on influencing the foreign target audience’s key decision makers and communicators, and capitalize on skill sets Reservists bring from their civilian occupations.
  • The 13th Enemy Prisoner of War PSYOP Battalion in the 2nd PSYOP Group and the 17th Dissemination Battalion in the 7th PSYOP Group are assets plainly needed now and in the future. Their roles should stay substantially the same.

Upgraded Tactical PSYOP Equipment and Revised Procedures

One can certainly argue more study needs to be done to re-consider the survivability of tactical PSYOP during mid- and high-intensity conflicts. With the lethality of the modern battlefield, the life-span of the PSYOP three person tactical team, in a lightly armed HMMWV equipped with a loudspeaker with a range of a mere thousand meters, would probably be measured in terms of hours, if not minutes. In future mid- and high intensity conflicts, for reasons of personnel survivability, traditionally equipped tactical PSYOP soldiers might be relegated to operating solely in the rear areas. Should PSYOP loudspeaker operations need to occur at the front lines of the future in such difficult threat environments, they will need to be accomplished remotely via a more heavily armored manned vehicle or an unmanned vehicle (either aerial or ground).

Revitalizing Regional PSYOP Expertise in the RPF

The authors support the allocation of some RPF tactical forces toward regional PSYOP missions. If need be, these spaces need to be created by re-orienting some RPF tactical PSYOP toward regional PSYOP. Organizational designs currently under analysis at the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) propose making the regional PSYOP battalion a multi-component unit – a mixture of Active and Reserve Component Forces. One design calls for adding as many as 77 Reserve Component personnel to each regional PSYOP battalion. This is an admirable concept, but it should not be done in lieu of adding additional Active Force structure to the regional PSYOP battalions. By internally task organizing to create an USPACOM-oriented regional PSYOP battalion, the 4th PSYOP Group ‘hollowed out’ the three original regional PSYOP battalions. Adding RPF spaces to redress this ‘hollowing out’ is only part of a total solution. Many missions regional PSYOP battalions undertake are under the rubric of theater engagement. Unless a Presidential Selective Reserve Call-up is in effect, which is not the case for engagement activities, RPF participation is voluntary. Consequently, more Active Component PSYOP spaces are needed in the regional PSYOP battalions as well. Furthermore, care should be taken to integrate AC/RC command possibilities. No one should assume that the skills required to conduct regional PSYOP lie only in the Active Force. 7

Therefore, the USASOC should attempt to recover the Active Component spaces lost due to the internal re-organization of 4th POG (approximately 75 personnel), and complete plans to make the regional PSYOP battalions multi-component. This option would give the Theater CINCs of USEUCOM, USCENTCOM, and USSOUTHCOM the same Active Component regional PSYOP capability they had prior to the creation of the task organized USPACOM regional PSYOP battalion. In the event of a Major Theater War or long term contingency operation where PSRC is instituted, the extra 77 Reserve Component personnel would then be available for deployment. In normal peacetime activities, a RPF unit dedicated to regional PSYOP could train with their Active Component counterparts and some will occasionally volunteer to deploy either as part of their annual training or under Temporary Tours of Active Duty (TTAD).

Delegation of PSYOP Production Capabilities and Product Approval Authority

Because of the increased leeway given to local tactical commanders, especially in peace operations, and the recognition of the value of PSYOP, a small Tactical PSYOP Development Detachment is now present in the PSYOP Tactical Company (by doctrine, supporting a division equivalent) (see Figure 2). Moreover, PSYOP doctrine may soon encourage some PSYOP product approval be delegated to division-level commanders by the Joint Task Force Commander. A delegation of some PSYOP approval authority to the division-level will significantly assist in producing more timely and targeted PSYOP products. While there are dangers in this delegation, the benefits far outweigh the potential harm. 8 The authors support both of these initiatives and encourage accelerated implementation.

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‘Reaching Outside the Wire’ – Taking Advantage of Civilian Skills

An additional advantage of adding RPF to the regional PSYOP mix is that it will take advantage of the multiplicity of civilian skills often resident in the RPF. Numerous members of the RPF are involved in advertising, marketing, videography, desktop publishing, and advanced computer and Internet skills. To force most of these soldiers to remain confined to tactical PSYOP with little opportunity to use their valuable civilian skills – both in creating state-of-the-art PSYOP products for US military commanders and to teach new techniques to the Active Component soldiers – is absurd and wastes precious talent. 9

In the rapidly evolving Information Age, the RPF must be prepared to work beyond the ‘leaflet and loudspeaker.’ US PSYOP forces have seen the heightened use of local FM radio and television stations (e.g.: Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR).10  Occurrences like the purchase of Radio Galaxia in Pristina, Kosovo, by KFOR, and its operation by the PSYOP Support Element (PSE), will happen increasingly in the future. The PSE Chief in Pristina, a US PSYOP Reservist with a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, is essentially operating in a regional PSYOP role, using innovative means to deliver the messages of Commander, KFOR, as persuasively and broadly as possible. Interaction by PSYOP personnel with local civilians will continue to offer combat commanders a unique perspective and opportunities for effective information dissemination.

While tactical PSYOP soldiers must continue to interact with the foreign population in the area of operation, offering tactical commanders a unique perspective of the mood and likely actions of the people, they must take these links with the local population a further step. Close relationships built between PSYOP soldiers and local political organizations, television and radio stations, and prints media outlets need to be leveraged to advance the supported commander’s PSYOP plan. Because of civilian skills, often in the disciplines of marketing, advertising, and business negotiations, many soldiers in the RPF are especially adept at creating these links to the local community. 11 PSYOP doctrine should call for honing and exploiting these skills; it does not. PSYOP forces must key training on marketing and advertising techniques, broadcast media like radio and television, and journalism. No one in the world matches America’s ability to convince people they should buy things they do not need! PSYOP forces need to capitalize on any existing civilian skills within the RPF to train others in the Total Army PSYOP force. This training should be for regional and tactical PSYOP soldiers.

The authors argue PSYOP training must reflect the work Reservists will be asked to accomplish when deployed, using innovative methods and technologies to achieve necessary levels of expertise. We should consider using university based marketing and advertising classes taught through distance learning programs, public affairs training for officers and NCOs at the Defense Information School, continued emphasis on WARTRACE training with its concomitant cultural and language training, and a creative look at training opportunities at JRTC and CTC. This is the way of the future, and the goals outlined above are attainable. Further, there is also no reason why a PSYOP personnel data base has not been developed by the US Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command in order to track the existing skills and abilities possessed by each Reservist, opening the door to improved mission planning and tailored Reserve personnel call-ups.

Battalions for Now and the Future

Two battalions in the RPF should stay as they are. The 13th EPW PSYOP Battalion provides a unique capability to the US military, and this capability is only resident in this one battalion. During conflicts, this battalion assists in helping control Enemy Prisoner of War camps through the use of targeted PSYOP plans and programs. Members of this battalion are trained in interrogation and can assist military intelligence in gaining vital information. They also serve an additional PSYOP function, helping in the process of establishing Measures of Effectiveness for PSYOP products through pre- and post-testing PSYOP products among the EPWs.

The 17th Battalion is a PSYOP Dissemination Battalion and is the sister battalion to the 3rd PSYOP Battalion in the Active Force. Like the 3rd, the 17th contains substantial print, audio-visual, and signal specialists that are instrumental in developing and producing PSYOP products. While not regional specialists, these PSYOP soldiers are masters at manipulating equipment and software. They are absolutely vital in getting the PSYOP products produced.

Concluding Thoughts

Traditional tactical RPF paradigms are beginning to change, but there are many challenges ahead. As early as the 1996 deployments to Bosnia-Herzegovina, RPF Tactical PSYOP Teams conducted non-traditional PSYOP missions, foreshadowing the current PSYOP roles and missions. Happily, positive changes are taking place. During a recent rotation of personnel for the KFOR mission in Kosovo, the 2nd POG and 4th conducted an impeccable exchange of in-place Active Component PSYOP forces and RPF soldiers replacing them. This coordination was comprehensive, from warning order to mission hand-off. The 4th POG ensured a mobile training team readied the RPF replacements with extensive preparation, suggesting a new paradigm to be expanded and codified for future rotations. 12 Successful PSYOP AC/RC interaction clearly requires more opportunities for multi-composition training. The RPF must begin training with their Active counterparts during IDT periods, at Combat Training Centers, and in pre-mobilization train-up periods. Generally, this requires no more than the commander’s emphasis and competent staff work.

Finally, the greatest perceived obstacle for the RPF, the extraordinarily high deployment PERSTEMPO, may be leveling, as the Reserves become more proficient with mobilizations and as Combat Readiness Center training requirements become standardized. The Department of Defense can help by continuing to work toward making the RC transition to AC more seamless. All Reservists should receive the same benefits as Active Component personnel when on Active Duty. For example, family dental and eye care plans must not be denied anyone. For their part, Reserve Commanders must insure the proper mobilization climate during phase I mobilization requirements are met at home station. This begins with the weekend IDT period. Additionally, more creative uses of PSRC orders are also in order, allowing Reserve commanders the opportunity to move personnel in and out of theater as required by the mission. This will save resources and allow RC planners to better use the personnel available.

The authors’ 'Back to the Future' is a proactive call for a progressive, innovative examination of PSYOP. The RPF must move towards the future and not be trapped in the past. PSYOP must focus available assets, capitalize on the existing civilian skills of soldiers in the RPF, learn from the lessons learned on previous PSYOP deployments, and train and equip soldiers to succeed an extremely sophisticated media environment. The secret is to integrate the entire PSYOP force, capitalizing on the strengths of all.


1 The Army After Next (AAN) wargames held over the last several years has established conclusively the vital contribution PSYOP will make to the future use of military force. See: Robert B. Killebrew, "Learning from Wargames: A Status Report," in in Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly (Spring 1998). Regarding the importance of PSYOP actions in Bosnia, see Pascale Combelles Siegel, Target Bosnia: Integrating Information Activities in Peace Operations. NATO-Led Operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, December 1995-1997 (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, 1998).

2 For example, a discussion regarding the contribution of PSYOP during the First World War: George G. Bruntz, Allied Propaganda and the Collapse of the German Empire in 1918 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1938); Second World War: Daniel Lerner, Psychological Warfare Against Nazi Germany: The Sykewar Campaign, D-Day to VE-Day (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press, 1971); Korea: Stephen E. Pease, Psywar: Psychological Warfare in Korea, 1950-1953 (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1992); Vietnam: Taro Katagiri, "A Former PSYOP Group Commander in Vietnam Looks Back," in Daniel C. Pollock, eds. The Art and Science of Psychological Operations: Case Studies of Military Application (DA PAM 525-7-1) vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army , April 1976), 137-44.

3 "Low-intensity conflict is basically a struggle for people’s minds…. And in such a battle, psychological operations are more important than fire power." Quoted by Chris Hables Gray in Postmodern War: The New Politics of Conflict (New York: The Guilford Press, 1997), 35.

4 General (RET.) John Sheehan stated: "...the Pentagon is still too focused on fighting wars with ‘kinetics’ -- missiles and bullets. Instead, the wars of the next century will be won by which nation uses, controls and manipulates information the best." From James W. Crawley, "New Tactics Needed in Persian Gulf, General Says," in San Diego Union-Tribune, January 15, 1998.

5 See Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and William A. Owens, "America’s Information Edge," in Foreign Affairs 75 (March/April 1996): 20-36.

6 In July 1996, during an hour-long trip from Task Force Eagle Headquarters in Tuzla to the NORDPOL Brigade in Doboj, one of the authors counted no fewer than 125 satellite dishes on the roof-tops of houses along the way. Many of these buildings were war-damaged and just beginning to be resettled. But the first addition to the home was often a satellite dish, underscoring the fact that this was a society that had moved into the information age. Prior to the recent actions in Kosovo, the Kosovar Albanians had one of the highest per capita satellite dish rates in Europe.

7 Currently on the staff of the 2nd POG are two officers who are native Spanish speakers and work in businesses where they are responsible for daily marketing and advertising decisions; a third officer is fluent in Russia and teaches economics.

8 For a more complete analysis of the dangers and advantages of this delegation of authority see Major Steven Collins, "’Centrally Planned and Decentrally Executed’ – A Dilemma Facing Military Psychological Operations," in Cybersword: The Professional Journal of Joint Information Operations (Fall 1999): 19-21.

9 A cursory look at the 15th Battalion staff during mobilization planning for the Kosovo mission found the following: three independent business owners, a MBA trained administrator from a large medical corporation, a stock broker, and a professional intelligence analyst and computer programmer. All were fully PSYOP qualified and two had previous deployment experience.

10 For instance, in Bosnia, local PSYOP commanders supporting the American-led Multi-National Division North (MND-North) arranged for the division to pay for radio time, affording the MND-N brigade commanders the opportunity to speak with the local population. These "call-in" shows were well-documented in the local and international press.

11 In the summer of 1996 several Reservist NCOs organized an innovative town meeting among competing ethnic groups near Brcko, Bosnia-Herzegovina. One PSYOP sergeant was a Ph.D. candidate in history at the Mershon Center at the Ohio State University; another was an Honors candidate at the Ohio State University, finishing his senior thesis in psychology. The authors argue that the non-traditional PSYOP act of conflict resolution attempted by these enlisted personnel made more of a difference in positively modifying behavior in this tense area than the hundreds of hours they were forced to spend pasting posters to walls in the traditional tactical PSYOP role. For a similar call for PSYOP soldiers to act in such roles, see COL Robert M. Schoenhaus, "The Application of National Power and the Role of Psychological Operations in the Information Age," in Cyber Sword: The Professional Journal of Joint Information Operations (Fall 1999): 17-18.

12 LTC Robert Stall, the current PSE Chief in Kosovo writes that "from loaning equipment, [to] contact teams, [to] information transfer as well as extending the AC soldiers in NATO to insure mission accomplishment until a force-cap issue was resolved and the RC PDC could arrive in theater, the AC and RC PSYOP leadership cooperated and insured the overall integrity of the PSYOP mission in both KFOR and TF Falcon." This was a text book deployment in every way, suggesting the AC/RC paradigm is changing