Civil Affairs Support to Decisive Action: Challenges and Opportunities

Updated: Feb 9, 2020

U.S. Army Civil Affairs (CA) is the primary force trained and educated to shape the civil component of the operational environment. CA forces work through, by, and with host nation institutions, governmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations to engage the civil dimension of the battlefield.[i] They interact with the civil populace to develop the common operating picture (COP) while leveraging Unified Action Partners (UAPs) to accomplish the mission. [ii],[iii] Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) incorporate a whole of government approach to achieve U.S. strategic, operational, and tactical objectives.[iv],[v] Through defense, diplomacy, and development (3D) lines of effort integration, CA forces facilitate support to conventional and special operations, enabling commanders to influence the civil environment.[vi] This was Charlie Company, 84th Civil Affairs Battalion’s (C/84th) goal in July 2015 when it supported 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California.

NTC prepares Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) for combat through tough, realistic Unified Land Operations (ULO) encompassing the complexities of modern warfare.[vii] At NTC BCTs carry out Decisive Action operations consisting of offense, defense, and stability operations against a hybrid threat that includes near-peer military forces, insurgent groups, and criminal organizations. Soldiers must work within a complex environment consisting of multiple host nation, interagency, and intergovernmental actors that each have their own interests, capabilities, and requirements. To support 3-2 SBCT in this operational environment (OE), C/84th tailored a CA support package that consisted of a Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) and three Civil Affairs Teams (CATs). Throughout NTC rotation 15-08.5, C/84th partnered with 3-2 SBCT across the full spectrum of DA operations to achieve success within the 3D framework, enabling US forces and UAPs to successfully coordinate and cooperate throughout the 3-2 SBCT area of operations (AO).

To achieve this, C/84th began training and integrating with 3-2 SBCT months before the rotation. As is common when forming new teams, we went through the gamut of the development process. However, by training alongside the soldiers and leaders of 3-2 SBCT, from the brigade down to the fire team level, we formed an effective team that was able to overcome numerous challenges and achieve mission success. By establishing a common vision of success, developing supporting processes, and learning what everyone brought to the fight, our organizations achieved a high level of integration that facilitated mutual trust, credibility, and strong relationships. This resulted in our ability to influence the brigade's planning and staffing operations. Significantly, it gave us freedom to develop CAO lines of effort nested within the 3-2 SBCT mission and commander’s intent.

Integration Challenges

While C/84th successfully integrated with 3-2 SBCT leading into NTC, barriers existed at the beginning. Those barriers stemmed from misunderstandings and misconceptions about the role of CA. Supported units often had wrong assumptions about CAO and how it supports the big picture. Most 3-2 SBCT soldiers we encountered were unfamiliar with CA, while those who had worked with CA forces in the past brought up familiar stereotypes. Upon introducing ourselves, common refrains were "You have the money" and "You guys like to dig wells everywhere." So it was critical for us to dispel these notions and ensure supported units understood how we could facilitate mission accomplishment. Failure to incorporate CAO into the brigade’s lines of effort would have cut out a critical aspect of planning and coordination, especially in relation to Phase IV. This in turn would have hampered 3-2 SBCT’s ability to establish a stable civil environment, enable HN authorities, and create the conditions to transition responsibilities back to the HN.[viii] Against this backdrop, CATs often integrated into new units across the AO, challenging the ability to synchronize CAO both horizontally and vertically. However, these challenges proved to be excellent opportunities to show CA's ability to facilitate mission accomplishment. By the end of the rotation, we were the lead organization for planning, coordinating, and conducting civil-military operations throughout the entire 3-2 SBCT AO.

Before getting to this point, we prepared ourselves internally to support 3-2 SBCT. Even before our initial link-up, we began identifying tasks for supporting a conventional BCT during ULO. A review of previous NTC rotations provided us with model for how we wanted to shape our role, and a look at 3-2 SBCT’s training plan provided opportunities to inject ourselves into it. We also made it a point to remain flexible and open to new opportunities to work with 3-2 SBCT leading up to NTC. For these reasons, our efforts at integration proved successful. Our experience demonstrates how effective CA professionals can become part of the supported unit. It provides both a model for integration and a starting point for CA forces tasked to support BCTs in the future. Our experiences do not provide a comprehensive checklist for success, although they do highlight the ways C/84th achieved success while supporting 3-2 SBCT.

The C/84th Integration Model

Before C/84th was tasked to support 3-2 SBCT during its July 2015 NTC rotation, the company had already gone through numerous validation exercises (VALEX) as part of the company’s training plan. These events were conducted in conjunction with a variety of units from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA (JBLM). In November 2014, the company conducted Operation Gryphon Longsword (GLS). This exercise enabled the company to certify teams on METL tasks while giving them experience working with maneuver platoons in an environment similar to what we would face at NTC.