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Soldiers will now be trained in psychological warfare at Fort Jackson in SC

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Students from the U.S Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in front of the Yarborough-Kennedy Statue following the graduation ceremony for civil affairs and psychological operations specialists at Fort Bragg, N.C., on Dec. 18, 2019. U.S. Army/K. Kassens/Provided

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A new and historically controversial unit that trains soldiers in psychological techniques to cause enemies to surrender, mutiny against their governments or support American ideals is now stationed in South Carolina. 

Last month, the Army announced it was moving its Psychological Operations (known as PSYOP) advanced individual training course from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to Fort Jackson in Columbia.

The unit will teach soldiers how to use persuasion techniques and broadcast messages on the battlefield meant to break down enemies. 

While the Psychological Operations headquarters will still stay at Fort Bragg, the training element has moved to Fort Jackson so that recruits graduating from basic training can immediately go into their job instruction. 

Psychological operations undermine an enemy's will to fight and use "native language media, television, radio, leaflets, pamphlets and newspapers" to spread targeted messages, according to information from the U.S. Airborne & Special Operations Museum.

Nearly two dozen Army personnel will permanently relocate to Columbia to teach up to 300 soldiers a year, Fort Jackson said in a media statement. 

Fort Jackson's Soldier Support Institute Commander Col. Steve Aiton said he was looking forward to bringing the "rigorous and realistic training" to South Carolina. 

Psychological Operations soldiers have been involved in tactics that drew criticism and discipline during conflicts in the Middle East and the War on Terror.

The Army's Psychological Operations unit placed interns at CNN and NPR in 1998 and 1999, causing concerns about government influence on America news programs. 

One of the most notable moments during the 2003 invasion of Iraq was the image of Middle Easterners toppling a statue of former dictator Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad. Reports from ABC and the L.A. Times claimed the moment was motivated and stoked by Army Psychological Operations soldiers who urged over loudspeakers for Iraqis to topple the monument.

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Another controversial tactic revealed in 2003 was blaring songs from Metallica and the theme songs from popular children's TV shows such as "Barney" and "Sesame Street" to cause prisoners to break down and share information. 

"These people haven't heard heavy metal. They can't take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them," a Psychological Operations officer told Newsweek magazine in 2003.

In October 2005, soldiers from the 173rd Airborne stationed in Gumbad, Afghanistan, burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters for hygienic reasons. A Psychological Operations soldier used the situation to try to coax enemy fighters into attacking and exposing their position. 

"Attention, Taliban, you are all cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be," the broadcast said. 

Two reserve Psychological Operations soldiers received administrative punishment for the incident, according to the Department of Defense.

Pat Jones, a spokesman for Fort Jackson, said all soldiers go through training courses that include instruction on ethics. 

Psychological Operations has also aided in humanitarian efforts. In the early stages of the Iraq War, units distributed AM/FM radios by air drop to inform Afghans fleeing combat ridden areas on where they could get access to food, water and medical assistance. 

Fort Jackson is the Army's main production center for Basic Combat Training. The installation trains roughly 50 percent of all soldiers and more than 60 percent of women entering the branch annually. 

The first classes for Psychological Operations will begin in late March 2020.

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5715. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly is a political reporter based in Charleston. He also covers the military community and veterans throughout South Carolina. Previously, he wrote for the Courier Journal in Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.

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