Civil Affairs minimizes burdens, fears around globe

U.S. Soldiers quickly walk through a rowdy crowd of civilians, all of whom are chanting, tossing vegetables and pumping their fists in the dust-clouded air. The outrage is apparent and is reflected in the terse greeting from the local mayor and nod of acknowledgement from the police chief.

The team of four, all civil affairs Soldiers, are led to a large room filled to capacity, and after quick introductions, the meeting begins. Two hours later and several notebook pages worth of notes, the Soldiers stand and shake hands with all of the participants, exchanging cell phone numbers, quick hugs and promises to meet again in the near future.

While only a scenario injected into Combined Resolve X at Hohenfels Training Area, this accurately portrays the work of civil affairs. During conflict or directly following hostilities, civil affairs Soldiers work to minimize burdens and fears of the local civilian populace.

Civil affairs is a robust force that traces its roots back to World War II, when the Army first enabled Soldiers to work directly with local civilian authorities in post-war Europe and Japan. Unlike other military occupational specialties, civil affairs was originally established specifically for the Reserve force and remained as such until the demands in Iraq and Afghanistan required it to expand into the active component in 2006.

“In a nut shell, we are party planners because our job consists of bringing several entities together in order to make stuff happen,” explained Staff Sgt. Marjorie Cisneros, assigned to 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Civil affairs units are designed to bring outside entities together to support the civilian populace in order to lessen the impact on them from military operations.

While civil affairs units have deployed in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is a worldwide initiative, and this specific tactic is desperately needed in nearly every U.S. Army operation, to include initiatives in Central Africa, Europe, and South America.

Effectively planning for global operations is a time consuming task. While the Army has been pushing the “back to basics” initiative, civil affairs Soldiers must remain vigilant on their country of assignment. Situations can escalate quickly, and civil affairs Soldiers must comprehend the political, economic and often religious implications if escalation results in the deterioration of stability, explained Cisneros.

Combined Resolve X, an exercise that helps increase the readiness of U.S. forces and its allies, provided an opportunity for Reserve and active duty civil affairs units to train together. At Hohenfels Training Area, the teams combined and operate together in a hostile scenario against a near-peer adversary.

“Just like we would in Africa, South America, or Afghanistan, during this training we are attempting to provide a clear understanding of the civilian populace and capture how the conflict is affecting them and how the U.S. can help them, in coordination with Unified Action Partners,” explained Sgt. 1st Class Justin Hoffman, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and assigned to the 407 Civil Affairs Battalion. Hoffman is a reservist who is concurrently deployed in support of Atlantic Resolve, a rotation of deployments and exercises where the Army maintains a presence in Poland and the Baltics.

The scenario in Combined Resolve X allows Hoffman’s team practice engaging in the pre-war phase against a near-peer threat. The scenario includes actual representatives from legitimate governmental agencies, such as USAID, Red Cross, and government officials. This valuable component of the training brings real-world experience and lend a level of credibility that helps Soldiers get more engaged.

“The Soldiers may think that the training doesn’t feel real but when the USAID guy explains that this is his real job and he’s here for two weeks to help them learn how to do their job better, they become much more excited and committed to the training,” explained Capt. Jimmy Dalaigh, a civil affairs team leader assigned to 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, headquartered in Upland, California. The team spent a few days with the Frankfurt Consulate Officer, and when they finish this training, they will be returning to Atlantic Resolve and will need to work directly with her, Dalaigh said.

“This training is allowing the team to build real relationships with real-world people, and the experience is invaluable,” said Dalaigh.

The civil affairs mission is broad, but the civil piece isn’t always about reconstruction. Many of the countries civil affairs Soldiers operate in are permissive environments in modern nations.

“This training exercise allows Soldiers to practice developing relationships, enhancing interoperability, and setting the stage for how to best work together if the environment does become kinetic,” explained Dalaigh.

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