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The Branch Formerly Known As PSYOP
By Edward Lopacienski, MAJ, PO
This article does not refute the directive to change the name of ARSOF's Psychological
Operations force or its refined task, but strives to support the change to one that
is suitable of the branch's purpose before finalization is determined. With
the encouragement of COL Dave Maxwell and other senior leader mentors, I'm sharing
these thoughts with the greater community for consideration in establishing a more
appropriate brand and name for the US Military's foremost experts in influence warfare.
It could very well be perceived that we are being deceptive with this name change.
Names, more specifically brand names, are crucial in establishing an organization's
effectiveness and competitive place in its operating and target market environments.
The branch identity can still be shaped, and should assume a name that enhances
the PSYOP force rather than serve as an equivocal impairment the PSYOP label is
determined to have on the community.
Re-branding the branch is now an order, and should be embraced with initiative
versus sitting back and waiting for a decision on what it will become. It's
a well established principle within the marketing and public relations communities
that re-branding an established organization is a risky venture at best. Re-branding
risks forsaking the development and retention of a truly professional and consistent
brand identity that is clearly recognized and understood across the many environments
it operates within. Organizational self identity and target market environments
have direct impacts on the organization.
Re-branding risks stakeholder and audience doubts about the company/organization.
It can create confusion about what the organization does. Such a change creates
confusion about what the new brand does and how it can help target markets and stakeholder
support. Changing names/brands can create indecision about working with the
re-branded organization, and may even create distrust.
A perception of what a company does and what it is perceived at doing can create
a gulf between an organization and its own environments. Cautionary principles
aside, re-branding must choose a successful standout identity.
A standout identity is one that solidifies the very foundation of an organization's
internal self identity, and also resonates within target market in such a way that
the brand identity itself is sufficient to stand against its external competitors.
With a standout identity in place, trust is developed faster, positive word of mouth
spreads, and stakeholder and audience buy-in build more effectively. More
importantly, an organization is only as effective as its personnel quality and leadership.
It is common knowledge that organizational self identity and motivation enables
recruitment of more competitive and qualitative employees. Google, Apple,
the Marine Corps, Army Rangers, Special Forces, and other such prestigious entities
are prime examples of how brand recognition directly impacts the internal and external
operating environments of these organizations.
Names matter; they reflect how we think of ourselves and how others think of
us. Potential recruits don't aspire to join the maritime expeditionary group,
the parachute force or gifted forces; they volunteer to be Marines, Rangers, and
Special Forces. Young kids don't root for the Chicago Butterflies; they grow
up wanting to play for the Chicago Bears or New York Yankees. We need to take
greater ownership of this order to change the PSYOP name by taking the initiative
and owning the process to develop a new identity and more advanced role for the
force. It almost seems as if PSYOP's new purpose is being shaped as a benign
information supplier subordinate to IO (who are less experienced and trained to
execute these tasks or manage them) rather than an entity designed to proactively
affect foreign audience behavior, perceptions, and dispositions in an effort to
disrupt the mass of hostile and malicious influence efforts conducted by our enemies
The new name should resonate across internal and external organizational and
operational environments. In this case, PSYOP's new name isn't a case of whether
it is "cool enough" but more of one that captures what the branch is intended to
do or should be doing; influence warfare against hostile enemy influence attacks
to subvert the United States and its partner nations. PSYOP is an Army
maneuver and fires force designed to directly confront or prevent enemy efforts
from maliciously influencing and affecting target audiences. The new name
(i.e. brand) and/or refined function must be one that resonates in accordance with
the warrior culture of the military, and doesn't create uncertainty of value or
purpose. The new brand must resonate within the greater military environment,
and more specifically with its SOF community. It should be one that can develop
prestige, builds organizational pride, and attracts the educated and intellectual
type-A personality Soldiers into the influence warrior culture.
The name should be less concerned about the vocal minority's criticism and the
fickle media's interest for sensationalized stories, and more focused on owning
the purpose of influencing embattled target audiences based on the positive ideals
of freedom the U.S. and its military stand for. Names matter and it is even
reflected by our adversaries. Al Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, Taliban, and Quds
force all reflect the intent to influence their own members and audiences that support
and opposed to these groups. The new brand should be one that sends a message
to those who attempt to misinform and maliciously manipulate the human terrain for
We need to move away from the information moniker and theme, and focus more on
what our SOF function is: Influencing specific audiences for desired affects that
shape the operational environment and stand against the enemy's influence efforts.
The PSYOP is specifically defined and designed as a force meant to operate and affect
the cognitive processes of foreign and enemy audiences by disrupting/defeating hostile
and malicious influence efforts by our adversaries. A title incorporating
"Information" further creates confusion with Information Operations, Public Affairs,
Information Technologies, Information Systems, and Public Information Services.
All of which are military and civilian professions (domestic and international)
whose definitions and purposes differ from (what was) PSYOP is tasked to accomplish.
The comparison, or more appropriately blurring, between PSYOP and IO already
creates vast levels of confusion throughout DoD and the interagency system.
IO itself seems somewhat fractured or disoriented.
Their generic and limited experience base, short training program, and the elusive
task as coordinator between the so-called IO pillars vs. becoming an adhoc execution
agent are problematic at best.
Re-branding the PSYOP branch as Military Information Support would further cloud
the identity and comprehension dilemma with IO and its pillars.
It also does not encompass the full spectrum of what and how the former PSYOP force
is capable of and designed to influence audiences through planned "psychological
operations" synchronized with events and actions that become "psychological acts."
This synchronization of influence activities directly and indirectly affects the
target audience's behavior, perceptions, beliefs, and disposition.
It is extremely unlikely Military Information Support or Information anything
can coexist with Information Operations without creating substantially more confusion
and friction. The "Support" title is also misleading. Support by definition
is an association with sustainment forces and operations. We've used
MIST in place of PSYOP teams for so long we've forgotten it was hastily created
more than seven years ago. The term was enacted to achieve initial buy in
from State in order to get time sensitive missions off the ground, and smooth over
internal political sensitivities with various country teams. It fits
for team identity, but does not accurately reflect the branch itself.
Given PSYOP is a shaping force; it remains a core function within the maneuver
and fires environment. The brand/name should establish the force; delineate
it clearly from IO, PA, and others; and maintain the SOF context of the force itself.
This is an ideal opportunity for the community to evolve from its initial establishment
phase as a branch, and solidify itself as the foremost experts in influence warfare.
More suitable names that meet the intent for the change from PSYOP should adopt
a theme along the lines of Special Influence Group/Forces, Influence Warfare, or
even Special Influence Warfare. These names are transparent, capture the special
operations design and purpose of the force, and avoid the perception that PSYOP
is hiding within a new name. More importantly, they speak to the mission of
confronting enemy and hostile misinformation and disinformation endeavors that seek
to discredit and adversely affect US and Coalition efforts to conduct operations
against insurgents, terrorists, rogue states, etc.
Biography: Major Edward Lopacienski, U.S. Army, is a veteran Psychological
Operations officer with career command and staff assignments in CONUS, the Middle
East, and East Asia. The opinions he expresses in this paper
are his own and represent no U.S. Government or Department of Defense positions.
 Laurent Muzellec, Mary Lambkin,
"Corporate rebranding: destroying, transferring or creating brand equity,"
Corporate Rebranding, European Journal of Marketing, 2006, 803.
 Changing names and brands
should create clarity, not create further confusion.
 Jay Lipe, "Stand Out from
the Crowd: Secrets to Crafting a Winning Company Identity,"Chicago,
IL, USA: Dearborn Trade, A Kaplan Professional Company, 2006.
 Lipe, "Stand Out from
the Crowd: Secrets to Crafting a Winning Company Identity."
 The influence superiority
concept was developed in cooperation with MAJ Tom Scanzillo based on shared
operational experience and interrelated theses research.
 COL Curtis Boyd, "Army IO
is PSYOP: Influencing More with Less," Military Review, May-June
 Boyd, "Army IO is PSYOP:
Influencing More with Less."
 US Department of Defense,
"Psychological Operations," FM 3-05.30 and FM 3-1-1, USAJFKSWC, Fort
Bragg, NC, 2005/2007.