FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The Army has dropped the Vietnam-era name “psychological operations’’ for its branch in charge of trying to change minds behind enemy lines, acknowledging the term can sound ominous.
The Defense Department picked a more neutral moniker: “Military Information Support Operations,’’ or MISO.
US Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw said Thursday the new name, adopted last month, more accurately reflects the unit’s job of producing leaflets, radio broadcasts, and loudspeaker messages to influence enemy soldiers and civilians.
“One of the catalysts for the transition is foreign and domestic sensitivities to the term ‘psychological operations’ that often lead to a misunderstanding of the mission,’’ McGraw said.
Fort Bragg is home to the 4th Psychological Operations Group, the Army’s only active duty psychological operations unit.
Alfred H. Paddock Jr., a retired colonel who was the head of psychological operations in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 1986-88, says the term has always had some baggage.
“Somehow it gives a nefarious connotation, but I think that this baggage can be overcome,’’ said Paddock.
Psychological operations have been cast as spooky in books and movies, portraying the soldiers as master manipulators. The 2009 film “The Men Who Stare at Goats,’’ starring George Clooney, for example, was about an army unit that trains psychic spies.
But the real mission is far more mundane. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, psychological operations units dropped leaflets urging Iraqis to surrender.