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February 8, 2012
By Amy Newcomb (Fort Leonard Wood)

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- At some point during a military career, service members may be exposed to news media, which is why future anti-terrorism officers from installations nationwide attended the Crisis Communications Course Jan. 31 at Fort Leonard Wood.

This course is geared toward teaching service members and Department of Defense civilians how to deal with news media before, during and after a crisis. Key points discussed were the importance of crisis preparation, spokesperson selection, message development, message delivery and more.

Shatara Seymour, Public Affairs specialist and Crisis Communications Course instructor, said this course will help the ATOs learn how to interact with the media in the time of a crisis and prepare them for what they should expect, what messages and information they need to disseminate and how working with the media can be a good thing for those being affected by a crisis.

"This helps them to have a better relationship with the media, so they are both trying to reach a common goal -- to put information out there that people can use, whether it is where to evacuate, where to get food or that type of thing," Seymour said.

At the end of the course, Seymour breaks the class into two groups for a practical exercise in which each group selects a student to be their spokesperson. These two individuals conduct an on-camera interview with Seymour and have to respond to questions pertaining to mock terrorist events that have occurred in front of their peers.

Ralph Hudson, anti-terrorism instructor, said that under normal circumstances, the news media is usually handled by the public affairs office; however, there may be instances where the media will want to talk with an anti-terrorism officer because they are the subject matter experts.

"As an anti-terrorism officer, there may be times where you may have to talk to the media in the event of a terrorist incident," Hudson said. "PAO helps prepare the future ATOs with dealing with the media, so that they can speak clearly, concisely and with confidence when dealing with the media."

Master Sgt. Richard Brentson, 563rd Military Police Company, Fort Drum, N.Y., said he attended the Anti-Terrorism Basic Course last year and filled the position of alternate ATO for his unit. This course is more advanced, and due to a pending deployment, he was sent to attend the Crisis Communications Course to gather more information to help protect his fellow service members.

"I think this gives you additional tools in the event that something happens or there is a story out there that something may end up happening. It gives Soldiers that may have to interact with the media more of a foundation of how to interact with the media," Brentson said.

Hudson said the hardest thing for service members is thinking before they speak.

"Service members are men and women of action. They are good at accomplishing the mission and say what is on their mind; however, words can be taken out of context. Once something is said, it can't be retracted," Hudson said. "Having this kind of class and practical exercise provides some very good examples. We all want to portray ourselves in a professional manner as members of the Armed Forces."