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Consolidating Gains in the Civilian Domain: Leveraging Relationships for Prevention and Response

Updated: Feb 8, 2020

U.S. Army Civil Affairs must be ready for a range of national security priorities in a post Iraq and Afghanistan world. Violent extremist organizations are growing to become a top national security priority. As demonstrated in the PACOM and AFRICOM areas of operation, natural disasters and public health crises can severely afflict vulnerable populations and drive local communities toward a state of instability. In the European Theater, Russia, with its highly capable, conventional military capabilities, demonstrated its competence in conventional and unconventional warfare as exemplified in Georgia and Ukraine and continues to pose a threat to NATO partners such as Latvia and Estonia.[1] General David Perkins, the Commander of TRADOC, insists that the Army will have to face unknown threats and maintain multiple options to inflict multiple dilemmas against the enemy.[2] This unknown threat is outlined in the Army’s Hybrid Threat doctrine which defines this future threat as a combination of regular, irregular and criminal forces in a single area of operations. Therefore, for the purpose of framing these issues the problem statement is as follows:

Due to the current complex environment in which exists a hybrid threat of armed conflict and unpredictable humanitarian disasters, U.S. Army Civil Affairs forces must both shape an environment to prevent conflict and respond should crises or combat operations ensue.

This paper will focus on the importance of the concept of engagement and its role in both peacetime and combat operations—where leveraging relationships is a fundamental skill of CA Soldiers and CA organizations— and how it can best impact Army and Joint Operations.

Persistent Engagement

The Army Operating Concept published in October 2014 re-focuses on shaping the environment and preventing conflict.[3] In order to shape the environment to prevent future conflict and prepare the U.S. for possible humanitarian crises, persistent engagement within the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational (JIIM) environment is required. CA units are well-equipped to develop and maintain relationships in order for U.S. forces to use the JIIM environment’s resources to accomplish missions. Currently, the Civil Military Support Element (CMSE) and Civil Affairs Engagement Program (CAEP) meet this persistent engagement criteria in order for CA forces, whether active duty or reserve component, to best serve supported unit headquarters during limited contingency and major combat operations. When Nepal was struck by a violent earthquake in April 2015, CA personnel assigned to the CMSE in Kathmandu immediately began coordinating rescue efforts between U.S. interagency and host nation partners including USAID OFDA, DoD and the Nepalese Army.[4] In his book, Out of the Mountains, David Kilcullen identified the impact of population growth and its risks for terrorist infiltration.[5] CA elements assigned to U.S. Embassies are adept in understanding the civil environment to mitigate these security risks. In Peru, CMSE 823 and CAEP 8223 demonstrated its ability to conduct mutually supporting efforts in support of its respective Theatre Special Operations Command.[6] Persistent engagement of the civil populace and JIIM environment through combined CMSE and CAEP efforts provide access emplacement for the DoD to respond to crises involving humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), violent extremist organizations (VEO), limited contingency operations and even major combat operations.

During major combat operations, engagement conducted by CA forces captures a significant proportion of conflict mitigation and prevention efforts. Current Army doctrine lists six specific warfighting functions.[7] The currently conceptualized Engagement function addresses the synthesizing of an Army Brigade Combat Team’s (BCT) CA, MISO, IO and Public Affairs elements. During 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s Decisive Action Rotation 15-08.5 at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center, Civil Affairs, PSYOPS, and IO established a “Civil-Military Cell” to engage with national, provincial and local political leaders. Engagement with these leaders facilitated the minimizing of civilian casualties and inclusion of friendly local police officers and militia fighters into the Brigade Combat Team’s security efforts.[8] Although focused on major combat operations, this rotation demonstrated the capabilities that CA, PSYOPS and IO bring to a BCT by providing an array of force multipliers to deny the enemy access to the civil populace and minimize further armed conflict.

Leveraging Relationships

As members of Special Operations Forces, CA Soldiers use non-traditional methods in supporting an engagement strategy in a foreign country. CA forces build upon a network of relationships within the JIIM environment to achieve the commander’s goals. CA forces are required to build an extensive relationship network with the State Department, USAID, various international NGOs, and host nation representatives to establish and sustain the civil-military environment. The strength of these relationships can further political and military objectives as the various “nodes” in the network can provide CA forces an early-warning mechanism to detect potential sources of conflict. In order to further capitalize on and maximize the benefits of relationships and continue expanding the civil-military network, Civil Affairs forces must be trained on a variety of organizational and social analytical methods and strategies in order to garner a more comprehensive foothold in the civil environment. This will not only better assist command staffs in planning, training and executing future contingencies but also support a long-term strategy aimed at preventing conflict.

Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak identified key roles within a social network that can be useful for potential intervention or improving efficiency. The Central Connector is defined the “go-to person” for most individuals in the organization. Although another may be the official department head, the Central Connector is the actual person who has developed the informal work relationships required to complete the mission or task. Boundary Spanners connect networks together through their relationships with Central Connectors of other networks and invest the time to connect these networks into a unified effort regardless of affiliation. Information Brokers keep the larger informal network together as they have relationships with various individuals within normally separate networks. Lastly, the Peripheral Specialists work on the fringes of the network and provide subject-matter expertise to the organization.[9] Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the The Tipping Point, discusses the concept of connectors who are integrated into social networks and greatly impact the growth of trends.[10] With this level of analysis, CA Soldiers can identify key stakeholders and leverage relationships to achieve common objectives.

Figure 1. The military organization (green) has an organic Civil Affairs assets (purple)

Figure 2. CA Soldiers build relations with host nation (yellow) and IGO/NGO community (blue)

Upon arrival of relief forces in the event of a humanitarian disaster, CA Soldiers integrate with the military unit responsible for providing relief (Figure 1). Once integration is complete, CA forces conduct liaison and coordination efforts with host nation officials, interagency groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other entities to develop an appropriate and efficient response (Figure 2). As Boundary Spanners, CA Soldiers identify the Central Connectors who best represent their respective organization and integrate them into an ad hoc network. All stakeholders including foreign military, host nation and NGOs are then able to produce a unified effort for an efficient and rapid response (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Civil Affairs forces develop an ad hoc network of relationships to meet military objectives.

This is an ideal scenario in which CA provides a unique capability of understanding the civil environment to not only integrate U.S. military forces into a foreign theater but to impart a working organizational network for long-term solutions. Other relationship-building tools include Bruce Tuckman’s group development model broken down in the five stages of Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing and Ajourning which is currently taught at the Civil Affairs Qualification Course.[11] Understanding Tuckman’s model provides a level of competency for Civil Affairs Officers and NCOs to not only develop their own CA Teams, but also ad hoc teams and organizations to facilitate shaping operations. Civil Affairs forces must be professionally trained to conduct this level of analysis if it is to leverage relationships in a way that can maximize benefit to mission objectives.

Civil Affairs in Phases

In order to enhance CA forces’ ability to conduct engagement activities, build relationships and shape the civil environment, it is necessary to understand the different types of Army CA units and their roles within operational doctrine. The current Army Civil Affairs Regiment including the 95th CA BDE under USASOC, the 85th CA BDE under FORSCOM and U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) CA units under USACAPOC is somewhat fragmented inhibiting the sharing of knowledge and expertise which can enhance a CA unit’s ability to meet the demands of their higher general purpose forces’ (GPF) and special operations forces’ (SOF) headquarters. In a CSIS report, Hicks and Wormuth identified the existence of “active component-reserve component tensions [which] fueled the perception that reserve civil affairs personnel were somehow second class citizens.”[12] The establishment of the 85th CA Brigade further divided the Regular Army’s (RA) CA Regiment. Organizationally without unity of command, this may cause further issues with regards to tensions and negative perceptions. Even so, over the course of their careers, all active duty CA Officers and NCOs are expected to serve in both SOF and GPF units and be interchangeable between both brigades in the CA Regiment. However, the reality is that the Civil Affairs Regiment has a designated USASOC, FORSCOM and USAR CA units and will be distributed as such in the near future. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a common understanding of each type of CA unit’s role within operational doctrine.

Joint doctrine defines operations as having six phases: Phase 0 – Shape, Phase 1 – Deter, Phase II – Seize the Initiative, Phase III – Dominate, Phase IV – Stabilize, Phase V – Enable Civil Authority (See Figure 4).[13] With three distinct types of Civil Affairs units, it is necessary to provide focus to their operational efforts based on joint doctrine. As military operations progress from peace to war, CA forces begin with shaping activities within a persistent engagement environment, deploy additional CA assets to mitigate the effects of crises and limited contingency operations and finally deploy the bulk of CA forces in support of major combat operations. During Phase 0, active duty CA forces including the 95th and 85th CA BDEs conduct shaping activities through their respective CMSE and CAEP missions. This allows these shaping elements to conduct persistent engagement through a whole-of-government approach as they conduct deployment rotations to U.S. Embassies around the world. Simultaneously, active and reserve CA planners on Army and Joint Command staffs shape operational CA plans. By supporting foreign internal defense (FID) activities and contributing to crisis action planning, CA forces are able to work with host nation and interagency partners to shape the environment and promote regional stability. During this phase, elements “[participate] in security cooperation activities to support fragile states, avert crisis, or prepare for future operations.”[14] CA elements accomplish this by working with interagency partners including its MISO and IO counterparts, conducting Nation Assistance and preparing for Foreign Humanitarian Assistance. Similarly, active duty CA forces can quickly support flexible deterrent options through CMO and gain access to significant theater infrastructure during Phase I.[15]

Figure 4. Civil Affairs Participation in Army and Joint Phases of the Operation. Note that the figure’s shaded areas depicts the proportion (%) of effort from respective CA units.

As combat operations begin to take place during Phase II, the 85th CA BDE and USACAPOC units conduct operations in support of deploying GPF brigades and higher echelons as CMSE, CAEP and rapidly deployable CA units begin supporting operations in theater. As units deploy for limited contingency and major combat operations during Phase III, the 95th CA BDE is capable of supporting SOF units while the 85th CA BDE and USACAPOC are capable of supporting Brigade and higher echelons. As Stabilizing and Enabling Civil Authority Activities occur during Phases IV and V, active duty CA forces can transition its efforts to USAR CA units to provide functional CA expertise in the areas of rule of law, economic stability, governance, public health and welfare, infrastructure, and public education and information.[16] Notice in Figure 4 from Phase IV to Phase V, that the proportion of effort from USACAPOC units dramatically increases as the proportion from active duty units steadily decrease.

This is not to say that each component of Army CA forces should remain in their respective roles. Training exercises should be inclusive of all types of CA forces and attempt to simulate all 6 doctrinal phases of the operation. For example, exercises on the Korean Peninsula have successfully demonstrated that active duty CA in support of SOF and GPF along with its reserve counterparts are able to train in support of USFK and SOCKOR within the same area of operation. However, this training remained disjointed where each type of CA unit stayed within the narrow training scope of its respective supported units. CA units whether RA or USAR should be mutually supporting efforts to maximize situational awareness of the civil environment. Exercises should include efforts to increase interaction between active and reserve CA forces whether supporting SOF or GPF. This will only enhance the training value for CA units and the effectiveness of Brigade and above echelons throughout all phases of the operation.

Conclusion & Recommendations

CA forces must shape the environment and be prepared to respond to crises involving humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR), limited contingency operations and potentially major combat operations which can be achieved through persistent engagement using CMSE and CAEP. The Army must continue to expand the CMSE and CAEP programs as it focuses on preventing conflict. Joint Functions and the Army’s Warfighting Functions are essential to developing operational plans as efforts are typically organized through the six basic functions. As a specific function during the execution of all phases of operations, the Engagement function currently in concept would unify the efforts of traditionally non-lethal capabilities of a Brigade Combat Team including CA, PSYOPS, IO and PAO. As it is already central to SOF training, engagement should be further emphasized during GPF training rotations at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk and Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.

Since CA forces have a wide range of capabilities for a variety of contingencies, CA training should focus on baseline skills. As subject matter experts of the civil environment including entities such as the HN government, DoS, USAID, other interagency partners, and the NGO community, CA Soldiers must be highly skilled in interpersonal relations, organizational management, and information gathering. Using social network analysis methodologies to develop relationships and build ad hoc organizational networks represent a baseline for all CA Soldiers whether in the SOF Community, S9/G9/J9 at the BDE/Division/Corps/GCC echelons or USACAPOC. CA units in active duty and reserve components should train to this standard.

Active duty and reserve Civil Affairs forces should have specified roles with regards to the 6 Phases of Army and Joint Operations. Training exercises should include RA CA units supporting SOF and GPF as well as USAR CA units in order to maximize training value for the entire Civil Affairs Regiment with an emphasis on transition preparation, civil expertise, and an overall shared understanding of the civil environment. As a regiment dedicated to supporting SOF and GPF units’ shape the civil environment and respond to local, regional and global crises, CA must continue to adapt to an unpredictable environment with multiple aggressive actors and vulnerable civil populations.


[1] Scheifer, T., & Sciutto, J. Top army leader: Russia is “most dangerous” threat facing U.S. CNN. Retrieved from

[2] Clark, C. S. (2014). Army’s doctrine chief: Expect the unexpected. Defense One. Retrieved from

[3] U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. (2014). The U.S. Army operating concept: Win in a complex world 2020-2040 (TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1). Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, October 31, 2014.

[4] U.S. Pacific Command. (2015). U.S. military role in assistance to Nepal. Retrieved from

[5] Kilcullen, D. (2015). Out of the mountains: The coming age of the urban guerilla. Oxford University Press.

[6] Hernandez, F. M. (2014). An application of foreign internal defense through civil affairs operations in the Upper Huallaga Valley, Peru. Small Wars Journal. Retrieved from

[7] U.S. Department of the Army. (2011). Unified Land Operations (ADP 3-0). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Army.

[8] Major Edward B. Lescher, U.S. Army, of C/84th Civil Affairs Battalion, interview by author, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, August 5, 2015.

[9] Cross, R., & Prusak, L. (2002). The people who make organizations go – or stop. Harvard Business Review. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2002.

[10] Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point. New York: Little Brown and Company.

[11] Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small group development revisited. Group and Organization Management, 2(4), 419-427.

[12] Hicks, K. H., & Wormuth, C. E. (2009). The future of U.S. Civil Affairs forces. Center for Strategic and International Studies.

[13] U.S. Department of Defense. (2011). Stability operations (Joint Publication 3-07). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense.

[14] U.S. Department of Defense. (2011). Joint operations (Joint Publication 3-0). Washington, DC: U.S Department of Defense.

[15] U.S. Department of Defense. (2013). Civil-military operations (Joint Publication 3-57). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense.

[16] U.S. Department of the Army. (2011). Civil Affairs Operations (Field Manual 3-57). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Army.

About the Author:

Captain Justin V. Padua is currently assigned to Charlie Company, 84th Civil Affairs Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Captain Padua graduated the Civil Affairs Qualification Course in 2013 with an emphasis on the PACOM region and Chinese Mandarin language. As a Civil Affairs Team Leader, Captain Padua has conducted exercises with the 201st Military Intelligence Support Brigade and a National Training Center Rotation with 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team. During these exercises, Captain Padua focused on developing the role of Civil Affairs supporting General Purpose Forces. In addition, Captain Padua participated in Key Resolve 2015 in Camp Casey, South Korea focusing on Noncombatant Evacuation Operations. Currently, he is expected to take over as the Future Readiness Officer for the Civil Affairs Branch at Human Resources Command.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government or the Civil Affairs Association.

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