Tactical media kit boosts military news capabilities in Afghanistan

Sgt. 1st Class E. L. Craig uses the Canon EOS C video camera during a key leader engagement between the Danish Ambassador to Afghanistan Jean-Charles Ellermann-Kingombe, the Resolute Support Command’s Chief of Staff German Lt. Gen. Johann Langenegger, and the Afghan Judges of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center in Kabul, Afghanistan. Craig serves as the Public Affairs noncommissioned officer in charge with Combined Security Transition Command -- Afghanistan. | Photo by Danish Army Capt. Michael Marquard Kristensen, CSTC-A

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The U.S. military is preparing to widely field a new, standardized visual information kit that will improve capabilities for its front-line reporters and Public Affairs teams.

The Tactical Digital Media, or TDM, program completed its first fielding in July to the Public Affairs Office of the Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, which helps to build stronger relationships and trust between the Afghanistan government and its people.

The goal for TDM is to ensure American service members in Combat Camera, Public Affairs and Psychological Operator career fields are properly resourced with updated equipment and network tools. These military occupational specialties have struggled to procure standardized equipment necessary for the Army’s front-line operations.

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jim Wiltraut, CSTC-A’s PAO director, faced this obstacle. He said a critical component to CSTC-A’s success is effectively telling the story of the command’s work in support of the Afghan people. His team travels frequently throughout Afghanistan, often in austere conditions, to produce photos, videos and social media products to lead communications efforts for NATO’s Resolute Support, which has the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.

“Our previous equipment, which consisted of a borrowed Nikon 300, a lens and a flash, is about four or five years old,” Wiltraut said. “Unfortunately, the environment in which we operate can be pretty rough on even the best equipment. Temperature and sand, among other things, have taken their toll on our equipment.”

Wiltraut and his team needed new and higher quality gear to complete their missions in theater. They turned to the Army’s Project Manager Mission Command, which oversees the TDM program, for an upgrade. TDM allows PA teams to gather, process and deliver audio files, digital imagery and visual media through a kit composed of still and video cameras, video-editing equipment, tactical laptops, memory cards, night-vision devices and audio capabilities. TDM technology has the ability to interface with U.S. tactical networks available at the supported unit.

From left, Navy Cmdr. Jim Wiltraut, Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan’s Public Affairs director; Army Maj. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, CSTC-A deputy commanding general; and Army Sgt. 1st Class E. L. Craig, CSTC-A Public Affairs senior noncommissioned officer, show off their new Tactical Digital Media equipment in July 2017. | U.S. Army Photo

“This shipment of new equipment is a real force multiplier that opened up a whole new world of communicating possibilities,” Wiltraut said.

Col. Troy Crosby, Project Manager for Mission Command, said providing a standardized kit for military reporters has been a need for several years.

“We’re looking to leverage efficiencies in procuring equipment and getting it out to the force, ultimately giving Soldiers the tools they need to do their missions and get the Army story out there for everybody to see,” Crosby said.

Kyle Perkins, product lead for TDM under PM Mission Command, said the benefits units and the Army will realize through this program include:

• TDM provides a full, state-of-the-art media kit to capture, process and transmit visual information, versus acquiring the equipment piecemeal.

• Because the equipment is acquired through a program management office, it will be easier to obtain accreditation to connect to Army computing networks and software. Also, procurement, lifecycle management, maintenance and disposition of equipment will become more efficient.

• PM Mission Command’s contracting strategy enables the Army to buy gear at wholesale prices, creating cost savings for the Army.

• Standardization of equipment packages will also standardize training for Soldiers. Previously, they learned different types and brands of gear from one duty station to the next.

• Fielding the same media kits across the three career fields — PA, Combat Camera and PSYOP — will create efficiencies by reducing the number of requirements and acquisition strategies across the force.

CSTC-A PAO personnel used the new gear during a recent NATO meeting with representatives from Germany, Denmark and Afghanistan at the Afghan Judges of the Anti-Corruption Justice Center in Kabul. U.S. Army Maj. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, CSTC-A deputy commanding general, stepped in to expedite the effort between his team and PM Mission Command.

“There is much to capture when it comes to telling our Soldiers’ stories as we work with multiple partners from around the world to help strengthen a nation,” Thurgood said. “When our PAO staff came to me with the proposal, they had already accomplished much of what needed to be done,” Thurgood said. “Acquiring the PA equipment was a team effort.”

While TDM is funded to procure and field to tactical units, other visual information professionals can also directly purchase kits through the Army’s Common Hardware Systems effort starting Oct. 1, 2017, by going to https://www.kc.army.mil/chs/default.aspx and searching for Tactical Digital Media. A Common Access Card, CAC, is required to log in. For assistance, call 443-395-1734 or 443-395-2458.

CSTC-A, which is composed of the United States and more than 20 coalition partners at its Kabul headquarters, has the mission to enable a responsive and accountable Afghanistan government to flourish through the creation of sustainable and effective security forces. Peace and stability in the country is the ultimate goal. Follow CSTC-A on Twitter @ResoluteSupport.

The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, or PEO C3T, develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army’s mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army’s joint, coalition and other mission partners.