In four months handing out free medical care to six South American countries, the USS Kearsarge assault ship and its crew of sailors, doctors and engineers will see just a few tens of thousands of patients, including at most a couple hundred surgical patients. Considering the millions of people the ship will never see, how does Commodore Frank Ponds expect to effect the “generational change” that is at the heart of the ship’s, and the Pentagon’s, “soft” strategy for the region?
Through me, that’s how.
Okay, so that’s not entirely accurate. But what Ponds calls “strategic communications” is critical to Kearsarge’s mission. For every one patient the ship treats, Ponds wants hundreds or even thousands, all over the planet, to hear about that treatment, and to walk away with a wider view of the world — and a more favorable view of the United States.
Hence the bloggers and other journalists embarked aboard Kearsarge. There have been around a dozen of us so far: the civilian milblogger “Boston Maggie,” Chris Albon from War and Health, Danny Glover from Eyeblast.tv, and representatives of several political sites including Red State. And when we hit the beach, the doctors and engineers will be interacting with loads of local media.
I was worried that a looming shortage of Spanish interpreters – seemingly a result of poor planning – would cause friction at the point of contact between the Kearsarge and local reporters. Ponds insists it’s not a problem. “We’re not trying to tell our own story,” he says. “We’re letting each country tell their own story.”
That doesn’t require translators to mediate the conversation? No, Ponds says. “The story begins at the point of contact between us and the patient. Strategic communications is not what you put on paper. It’s what you do.”