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Civil Affairs Roundtable Helps Frame the Future of the Force

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

The Civil Affairs Association, in partnership with the National Defense University Center for Complex Operations (NDU-CCO), the U.S. Army Peacekeeping & Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI), Foreign Area Officer Association, Reserve Officers Association, Alliance for Peacebuilding and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, held its annual Civil Affairs Roundtable in Ft. McNair’s Marshall Hall in Washington, DC on the 4th and 5th of April.

The main purpose was the presentation of the 2015-16 Civil Affairs Issue Papers, co-published between the Association, PKSOI, and the U.S. Marine Corps Training Command, on “Civil Affairs: A Force for Engagement and Conflict Prevention.” The Roundtable closes and opens an annual cycle, including the fall symposia and spring roundtables and centered around the Issue Papers as the main deliverable. The cycle serves as a platform for the most operationally experienced community of CA practitioners since World War II to have more direct and visible input on the discussion of the future of CA – as a national strategic capability to end and prevent wars – at the command and policy levels, as well as capture their insights and lessons for future posterity and research.

“The objective of employing this crowdsourcing method,” explains Association president Joe Kirlin, “is to give young leaders and the upcoming generation, something not previously done in a systemic way, an opportunity to have a voice in the future of a force in which they have arguably the greatest interest. So far, it has been paying off very well. People in many places are recognizing the great value of this work because in good part they are recognizing the great values-added of Civil Affairs, regardless of component or branch of service.”

“If in the future we are to fight war among the people, we must understand them. How you do that when you are a global power with global interests … that will be a real trick,” Dr. Joseph Collins, Director of the host NDU-CCO noted in his opening remarks on the strategic value of CA.

NDU-CCO also provided a panel to update the audience of more than 100 on the Center’s research activities in order to provide a broader perspective on topics of interest to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. Panel members Dale Erickson, Doug Farah, Kim Cragin, Nate White and Hillary Matfess presented overviews of their work on a range of subjects which included the integration of civil-military lessons into the Joint Force development system; transnational criminal organizations and armed groups and their effect on states and corruption; terror finance and proliferation; U.S. counter-terror strategy; application and issues associated with metrics and assessments; and the strategic dimension of Boko Haram's abuse of women and girls and humanitarian conditions in Nigeria.

Mr. Thomas C. Hushek, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) provided a keynote address. Based on his extensive personal experiences with development and diplomacy in conflict environments, Hushek concluded that U.S. military Civil Affairs activities provided invaluable support for the other two “D’s.” He opined that future demands were likely to continue growing, with a resultant need for even greater civil-military cooperation in the future in order to effectively address global, complex challenges including such problems as violent extremism, population migration, and the growth of transnational illicit networks. He emphasized the importance of identification and comprehension of the underlying drivers of conflict as a prerequisite to responding to the threats which emanate from them. He exhorted the CA Regiment, especially its Reserve Component, to continue building closer “steady state” planning and professional development relations through the CSO and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Center for Civil-Military Cooperation.

In addition to introducing the 2015-16 Issue Papers, the Roundtable set out to respond to a challenge laid out at last November’s Symposium from Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Deputy Commanding General of Futures for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, to help the Army “think, learn, analyze, and implement solutions” to Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) that would improve the Joint Force’s ability to consolidate gains and achieve sustainable outcomes in conflict management.

To accomplish this, Issue Papers first-place winner Major Arnel P. David from the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group led a professional development workshop to produce CA-related inputs to the AWFC, representing a general consensus of the Civil Affairs Regiment. Overall, the various groups found most CA tasks applicable to nearly all the AWFCs and the new Army Warfighting Function, Engagement. White papers and articles are being drafted by several officers and NCOs to inform the broader community and get integrated into the Army’s ongoing learning campaign by this summer.

Over the past 20 years, national security strategies and foreign policy directives, the workshop noted, “engagement” has been increasingly mentioned. Given this significance, the workshop quickly concentrated on the central question of how CA, as part of a larger set of tools and capabilities, can help improve the efficacy of Engagement for the Joint Force and nation. Groups then broke out to explore a variety of topics —from education to new capabilities—to address this issue.

Sergeant First Class Rob Schaffer led a break-out group discussion and found “current advanced educational opportunities for senior NCOs allow for greater depth of analytical thinking beyond normative expectations. Fellowship opportunities for NCOs should be explored and encouraged for broadening assignments and professional development.”

Captains Mike Karlson and John Karlsson led another group to review the current training and educational model of Army Civil Affairs, identify gaps, and discuss potential solutions. Their discussion found the importance of security cooperation and security force assistance needing to be better taught to CA forces in order to better integrate and support Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs).

In a discussion on the need for CA warrant officers, Chief Warrant Officer Phyllis Wilson updated a group on current efforts and shared the roadway ahead for establishing warrant officers as CA functional specialists for not only the Army but the Marine Corps as well, making the demand and capability joint.

A highlight for this workshop was the various big data analytics organizations that came to share ideas and support the discussions. Colonel Thacker and Master Sergeant Pease reviewed Civil Information Management and discussed new ways to integrate civilian agency, NGO, and civil society knowledge and data into the civil-military common operational picture of the environment.

As every year, the Roundtable discussion panel surveyed developments more specific to civil-military operations. Along with updates on policy, doctrine, and operational developments, activities, initiatives, and lessons, the discussants the morning of the second day also informed the audience of resources for training and other forms of professional development – especially useful to the Reserve members who make up the majority of the CA force.

In addition to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), Institute for Military Support to Governance at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Defense Department Office of Stability and Humanitarian Affairs, PKSOI, and the U.S. Marine Corps Force Headquarters and Civil Military Operations School (MCCMOS), representatives from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Alliance for Peacebuilding were on hand to provide perspectives on civil-military coordination from multilateral and civil society viewpoints.

Among the more interesting resources noted for especially Reserve Component force professional development is the first international civil-military-police curriculum based on a human security of the environment, available for free download, as well as online training in peace operations from the Peace Operations Training Institute.

Many other presentations, documents, and products briefed are available for download from the Association’s online CA Journal. NDU-CCO publishes PRISM, a security studies journal on: complex and integrated national security operations; reconstruction and state-building; relevant policy and strategy; lessons learned; and developments in training and education to transform America’s security and development. Look for more at the NDU-CCO website. PKSOI also hosts a rich array of publications and peace and stability operations resources on its website, as does the Alliance for Peacebuilding.

Among the significant points during the Roundtable discussion came from the Marines, who stressed how the challenges for Army and Marine CA are more similar than different. Colonel John C. Church, Jr., USMCR, commanding the 3rd Civil Affairs Group, began by citing NDU-CCO’s Lessons Encountered: Learning From the Long War, distributed at the event. “Any application of these lessons,” he quoted, “must be done with an understanding situation context, particular circumstance and mission at hand.”

Colonel Leonard J. Defrancisci, Deputy Commander for the USMC Force Headquarters Group, related the consensus that there is no doubt about the high demand signal from especially combatant commanders for CA, nor that strong Civil Affairs of particularly this generation was uniquely and perhaps best poised to assist combatant commanders across a full range of complex peace and national security challenges.

LtCol Steve "Pokey" Brzostowski, Director, MCCMOS, noted common challenges, among them that "both Services are still working to find the right balance of Active and Reserve Component CA forces, best employ them in Phase 0 operations and integrate CA activities with other information-related capabilities to support the overall mission.” Both are also seeking to establish CA warrant officers in functional specialties to provide unique capabilities more difficult to leverage as officers or NCOs.

Finally, the Roundtable discussed the topical theme for next annual cycle for 2016 Symposium, set to take place in Mountain View, CA, home of the 351st Civil Affairs Command, 17-19 November. Generally, the group agreed to look at “leveraging the whole of Civil Affairs” along with Military Information Support and Foreign Area Officers among the GCCs and Special Operations Command for the full range of missions and situations and in closer coordination and cooperation with partner countries and organizations as well as regional, multilateral, and civil society players in peace and stability operations.

A call-for-papers for the 2016-17 Civil Affairs Issue Papers will be published in May, while the save-the-date announcement for the 2016 Civil Affairs Symposium will appear in June.

by Col. (ret.) Christopher Holshek

Photos can be found here.

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