Letting the CAT out of the Bag: An Enlisted View of Bottom-Up Integration

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

Editor Note: We are honored to publish this essay from NCOs in the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) who posit some ideas on how to promote CA Integration and build a more credible capability across the CA Corps. A major part of CA success to date is the result of the ingenuity and intellectual excellence in our NCO ranks. A new way to recruit, the core architecture and skills of a CAT, civil information layering... Lots of gold dust in this short read.

"Once a small force of Warrior Diplomats, today’s CA is disjointed, disgruntled, and seeking relevancy with individual units that see only their slice of the mission. The world’s premier group of men and women attuned to navigating the toughest cultural terrain has failed to bridge its own cultural divide."

91st CA BN (Airborne) Special Operations

Photo collage of NCOs from CAT 121 working with Security Forces in Fada N’Gourma, Burkina Faso

Beginning as a Reserve Component (RC) asset, Civil Affairs (CA) has changed dramatically in the past two decades. The demands of two wars, emerging hybrid threats, and widening gray spaces between peace and conflict initiated the activation of an Active Component (AC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) Brigade (BDE) and an AC Brigade of SOF Soldiers in support of Conventional Forces (CF). Today, the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne), and one Battalion (83rd CA BN) in support of CF remain in the AC. RC Civil Affairs under the United States Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC) has split from the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC).

Once a small force of Warrior Diplomats, today’s CA is disjointed, disgruntled, and seeking relevancy with individual units that see only their slice of the mission. The world’s premier group of men and women attuned to navigating the toughest cultural terrain has failed to bridge its own cultural divide.

This paper argues that the way forward for Civil Affairs is a more integrated force that defines and improves its structure at the tactical level, integrates base level training, increases capabilities, refines recruiting and retention, and seeks to draw on the divergent strengths of all of its personnel regardless of component. A more integrated Regiment of professionals built from the bottom up will develop wider interoperability and create a forward-looking force that will be proactive, not reactive, across the range of military operations (ROMO).

Current proposals requiring all RC members to attend Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection (CAAS) and the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC), creating a hybrid AC/RC structure, and AC CA creating a different MOS demand complete assimilation or divorce. Integration of SOF, SOF in support of CF, and the Reserves is not a zero-sum game and must draw strength from differences and leverage unique capabilities to meet the challenges of the future. The ideas presented here are from an enlisted, bottom up perspective, demonstrating that the desire to integrate Civil Affairs exists even in the lower enlisted ranks of the Civil Affairs Regiment.


Current doctrine does not address the Civil Affairs Team (CAT), its makeup, or its capabilities in any depth. While Team Leader and Team Sergeant roles are evident, that of the Civil Affairs Non-Commissioned Officer (CANCO) and Medic are ambiguous. Currently, the CANCO does not have a solidly defined role in doctrine, but often maintains communications, conducts Civil Information Management (CIM) / Human Network Analysis (HNA), and Civil Reconnaissance (CR). According to the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade vision, key tasks include Civil Reconnaissance and Human Network Analysis (HNA)[i] however; without appropriate training these tasks cannot be fulfilled. The extensive capabilities of the Medic rarely extend beyond Veterinary Civic Action Programs (VETCAP) or Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAP).

During the Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC), candidates are given a brief four slide introduction to the roles and responsibilities of CAT members. In reality, a Civil Affairs Team requires each member to juggle multiple tasks with little specialized training. Doctrine that gives Team Leaders a better understanding of how to utilize and employ their Medics and CANCOs will enhance readiness and drive mission success. In addition, understanding the training and credentialing members are required to possess will help new CA Soldiers plot their course on their career pathway and understand their expected contribution to the team.

In the short-term, having experienced individuals conduct briefs and case studies during the CAQC/Advanced Individual Training (AIT) emphasizing required skill sets will better prepare graduates for operations. Demonstrating what problem sets each role can present will guide Soldiers to seek individual training to enhance readiness. New Team Leaders will also gain the ability to plan for mission success through team training that includes Force Protection (FP), Medical considerations, communications, and Civil Information Management (CIM) / HNA. Additionally, assigning roles during CAQC/AIT that mirror those of a CAT will give students an appreciation of what each team member is responsible for. Exposure to critical skill requirements during CAQC/AIT will drive future team training and cross-training and promote competent and self-driven leaders when they arrive at their units.

The ultimate goal is a revised JP/FM 3-57 that covers the CAT and the roles of its members driven by capabilities such as medical, communications, and engineering that enhance the ability to operate effectively in challenging environments. Defining CAT roles will drive and establish more formal training for CAT members and set the stage for CA Operators that are “selected, trained, educated, organized, and equipped to support, influence, compel, or control populations, governments, and other institutions in the FOE [Future Operating Environment], to achieve national objectives.” [ii]


CAT size is not conducive to operations in the hostile and gray zones where critical capabilities are essential. Conducting a ‘break in contact’ with a casualty requiring assistance leaves one to two team members able to return fire. Furthermore, at least two personnel with extensive medical training are required to give the best possible outcome when stabilizing a multi-system trauma patient. The current CAT configuration relies on two personnel to engage threats, establish communications, and call in a nine-line when under threat.

Whether Active or Reserve, CA Operators who consistently work in the gray areas between peace and conflict are served well by the SOF Truth that “humans are more important than hardware.”[iii] The requirements for maintaining communications and the know-how to assess structures and building projects in addition to conducting CIM/HNA, Civil Engagements (CE), and CR quickly outstrips the capability of a four member CAT with only one specialist (the Medic). Soldiers possessing professional knowledge of infrastructure and communications equipment can provide more accurate assessments while maintaining connectivity and relaying critical information.

An increase in CAT size cannot happen overnight, but increasing skills can mitigate current shortfalls. Currently, the only member of a CAT that possesses special skills training is the Medic. Requiring a communications and engineering specialty on each team ensures that CATs, as currently configured, will deploy with skills that enhance mission success and expand capability. Promoting advanced training or credentialed training in communications and engineering will enable all team members to be force multipliers when working in conjunction with other Special Operations or Conventional units.

The demands of the Future Operating Environment require highly specialized and capable teams. Expanding CATs to eight members, strengthens force protection and adds critical and defined skill sets to meet future threats in rapidly fluctuating security environments. Future CATs would consist of a Team Leader and Team Sergeant, junior and senior Communications Sergeants, Engineer Sergeants, and Medical Sergeants. These capabilities would allow for thorough assessments of civil infrastructure, steady communications and CIM/HNA production, and expanded medical capacity. A larger team with critical skills enables mentoring between juniors and seniors, extension of operational time per Soldier, and expansion of opportunities for mentoring Partner Nation (PN) or Host Nation (HN) personnel. In permissive environments the size facilitates split team operations without degrading capabilities. In semi-permissive or hostile environments, a larger CAT provides increased security and lethality.


Currently, Civil Affairs conducts separate training for the Active and Reserve components. While each component has its own unique role, the separation has driven a wedge in the Regiment. A way forward must be forged that seeks to unite the Regiment during parts of training to build relationships with mutual respect. The Active course curriculum does not include briefs on Reserve capabilities, force structure, or the role of the 38G program. Also lacking is specialized training that increases individual skills that form the building blocks of the CAT. The hybrid structure of the Regiment must be harnessed to counter the hybrid threats of the future. “In order to win in in a fluid operational environment, future CA forces must be tactically lethal against enemy hybrid warfare targets. They must be fully prepared to plan, participate in, or conduct operations such as patrols, cordon and searches, raids, or other engagements against enemy SOF or SPF [Special Purpose Forces]. They must be able to maneuver technically within cyberspace and the information environment to provide ground force commanders with civil network analysis and employment options.”[iv]

To begin integration, CAQC, AIT, and NCOES can conduct capabilities briefs by other components. Guest speakers who discuss capabilities, structure, and present lessons learned through successful operations can create a shared understanding of the wider CA community. The first time students interact with CA personnel from another component should not be on an airfield in a distant land or in a foreign disaster zone. More importantly, Civil Affairs has constantly switched back and forth on the issue of allowing Reservists to attend the CAQC. All Reservists who wish to attend CAQC should have access if they complete CAAS and are willing attend the entire course. Active CA should also encourage soldiers to attend Reserve courses to drive integration, understand capabilities, and increase interoperability.

The integration of entry level Civil Affairs training through a joint “Foundations of Civil Affairs” course will allow students to form relationships with other component members and establish a common knowledge base before moving on to CAQC/AIT. Just as in the Infantry, regardless of component and whether Mechanized, Airborne, Light, or Ranger, all attend basic infantry training moving on to more specialized, or unit specific training. Integrated base level training will create a lasting respect, shared understanding, and deeper relationships across the Regiment.

As mentioned before, more skills-based training is necessary to provide for the eventual expansion of CAT size to eight members. The 95th CA BDE (SO) (A) has previously allowed Soldiers to participate in the construction portion of the 18C course. Such training can form the basis of the Civil Affairs Engineer Sergeant skill set while the 18E course can form basis of the Civil Affairs Communications Sergeant skill set for SOF CA units. The Reserve Component can follow suit with a basic engineering and communications skill set rooted in existing Army courses or enhanced by civilian skills and certifications.

Additional skill sets provide shared experiences and suffering between team members who hold the same specialty on a CAT or in the wider force. An example from the Active component would be the Special Operations Combat Medic course, which trains personnel from the Special Operations communities of three services. Shared hardship and unique technical expertise links Special Operations Civil Affairs Medical Sergeants (SOCAMS), not only to each other, but to a larger field of professionals. A similar relationship should develop throughout all the specialties, integrating not only Civil Affairs, but extending influence throughout the broader Engineer, Special Forces, and Communications fields. This broadening and deepening of skill sets while extending influence into the wider SOF and CF communities will help CA to “transform its ‘soccer balls and projects’ identity to rectify external misperceptions, while pursuing deliberate force modernization to produce lethal Soldiers.”[v]


“While [ISR platforms] excel at gathering data of the physical terrain against conventional enemy threats, they are not designed to detect things like human relationships, power dynamics, cultural factors, populace support, and motivations”[vi] Unlike many military specialties, CA’s most important material is not tangible, it is information. Civil Affairs is “the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) primary force specifically trained and educated to understand, engage, and influence the civil component of the OE [Operational Environment], conduct military government operations (MGO), and provide civil considerations expertise”[vii] yet different units cannot even agree how to categorize information and share it with each other, or others, effectively . A SOF “CA team might choose to conduct HNA to understand the OE. An Army Reserve CA team might choose to analyze the OE according to a PMESII-ASCOPE (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, Information – Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organization, People, Events) paradigm. These are tools. Tools should not drive how the OE is understood and depicted.”[viii]

Just as “Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur”[ix] CIM/HNA is a process that must be ongoing at all times in preparation of possible future operations and not hastily conducted and difficult to share. According to ATP 3-57.50 “Civil information leverages the power of information and uses it to create greater sharing and participation.”[x] Yet, CIM/HNA sharing amongst SOF, Conventional Support, and Reserve Civil Affairs is poor due to different formats and repositories. A country may have a Conventional Support CAT on ground, a SOF CAT conducting episodic engagements, and a Reserve CAT also in theater. Each of the three CATs may be using different formats and repositories to record and retrieve information leading to confusion and duplication of effort rather than sharing and collaboration. Such problems bleed over to the supported units and commanders who can only access a portion of the information depending on which CAT is supporting them. Good CIM should support all operations because a “lack of civil information in the operations process forces planners to make uninformed decisions about where the greatest needs exist.”[xi]

To address the problem in the short-term, CA can use multiple existing repositories to layer CIM by classification to provide a shared operational picture. For example, the basic aspects of an assessed facility is uploaded to INDURE, a repository for FOUO content that can be shared with Partner Nations (PNs) as well as NGOs. The same facility, with added analysis is also uploaded to CIDNE, a Secret level repository available to Conventional AC and RC units. SOF specific information for the same facility may reside on Palantir or other SOF specific systems. Layering of CIM provides a unified picture of the battle space specific to each audience, with deeper analysis by classification level. The 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command’s G9 in conjunction with the 351st CACOM contribute to “Project W” which layers FOUO, Secret, and Joint Secret CIM from the Active, Reserve, and PN forces across repositories.[xii]

The FOE demands an integrated CIM cell that straddles the Active and Reserve Components to organize information and ensure the widest level of sharing and access. Such a cell can provide integrated analysis and drive cross-component sharing and collaboration. Furthermore, CIM integration provides the opportunity to harness the capabilities of 38G specialists, SOF in support of CF, SOF, and Reserves in order to provide “expert analysis, and synthesis capabilities, particularly with regard to understanding and characterizing the human domain and indicators/warnings for gray zone threats.”[xiii]


Due to high OPTEMPO and the independent nature of CA mission sets, it is hard to recruit and retain quality personnel. Additionally, the production of “new” recruiting flyers with the same old “Soldier hands kid a soccer ball” or “Soldier with a beard talking to Afghans” provides an unclear depiction of CA and does little to show the wide range of missions CA Operators conduct. It is imperative to launch a coordinated effort to recruit, retain, and assist soldiers to cross from one component to the other.

An immediate re-evaluation of recruiting campaigns that focuses on integration and loses those same two pictures the Regiment has been using for a decade is necessary. A unified recruiting pamphlet that ties the Reserves to Active Duty by listing the requirements for each under “Reserve Option” and “Special Operations Option” will build a connection between the components at the recruiting level. A Regimental presence on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media portals that shows CA in action across the ROMO is essential. An aggressive campaign featuring photos of training, missions and impact across every Combatant Command (COCOM) also posted to USACAPOC, USASOC, and US ARMY media pages will ensure the photos are being seen by thousands at a time. To put things in perspective, a successful recruiting event resulting in 150 leads is viewed as a major success, while one post on social media may generate 20,000 views in an hour. Social media can be the recruiter that never sleeps and never gets tired.

Long-term, the Regiment needs to make movement between Active and Reserve more fluid. If both Active and Reserve attend a CA Foundations Course then Reservists who choose to transition would need only to attend Selection and CAQC to integrate into the Active force. For Active Soldiers, having a CA Reserve Liaison at Fort Bragg for transitioning Soldiers move seamlessly into the Reserve Component will send experienced soldiers into the Reserve force and decrease the amount of off-the street recruiting. Cross-pollination will create a human network that spans the components and helps to drive integration as well as a shared understanding by both components of how to utilize unique capabilities and assist to “Achieve SOF-CF interdependence, interoperability, and integration.”[xiv]

Along with fluidity, the recruiting revamp should include recognizable totems and symbols. Every Soldier can identify unit patches and specialized insignia such as the Special Forces crest or the Ranger Tab. A crest, insignia, or patch promotes unity, pride, and esprit de corps. Every individual wearing a ranger tab knows they are held to a higher standard than the average soldier is, and the same can be said by those who wear unit patches that have a strong linage.

The “Pipe-Hawks”, already in use by the 95th CA BDE (SO) (A), provide a simple and easily identifiable symbol for the Regiment (figure 1)[xv]. The Pipe-Hawk “represents CA’s ability to engage in diplomacy. The sharp edge represents CA’s ability as a tool to shape their environment, or when needed, perform as a weapon.”[xvi] A Regimental unit patch worn by all, regardless of component, would promote pride, integration, and drive recruiting (figure 2)[xvii]. The Civil Affairs Regimental Crest is not a recognizable symbol that potential recruits can see at a distance and know immediately what it represents. The authors propose the crossed Pipe-Hawks over a torch with a scroll that reads “Ordo Ab Chao”, Order from Chaos (figure 3)[xviii].

Just as Infantry Soldiers who are with Airborne Units wear distinctive headgear and those who complete Ranger training, regardless of unit, wear the Ranger Tab, CA could also differentiate between units or skills. Those with AC SOF units would wear the Gray Beret (figure 4)[xix] and all AC or RC Soldiers who complete CAAS and the CAQC would be eligible to wear the Civil Reconnaissance Badge (figure 5).[xx] The use of such symbols and insignia would unify the Regiment and provide incentive for advanced SOF training regardless of component.


While many proposals and academic papers are written to address topics with strategic level solutions, there are those that ponder the very same questions and their solution at the tactical level. Like other enlisted members of the Regiment, the authors of this paper do not seek to make sweeping changes, but they do see room for improvement at the bottom of the pyramid that will over time result in a more unified branch. Through defining the CAT in doctrine, improving the size and structure of teams, integrating base level training, increasing skills and capabilities, and improving recruiting and retention, the Regiment can drive integration, expand capabilities, increase lethality, and retain quality personnel.

These ideas and more will be discussed at the 2019 CA Symposium in Tampa, FL. The CA Association seeks more participation by high caliber NCOs like the authors of this essay. Register here or by clicking the link below.

CA Symposium 2019 in Tampa

About the Authors

SSG Christopher Bryant is on his first assignment as a Special Operations Civil Affairs Medical Sergeant (SOCAMS) on CAT 121, Bravo Company, 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, Special Operations (SO) Airborne (A). He holds a Tier 1 certificate in DoD International Affairs, is a credentialed Tactical and Advanced Tactical Paramedic, and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Health Science. Before joining Civil Affairs, he was a Detainee Operations Specialist at Fort Leavenworth assigned to the Special Housing Unit. He has deployed to Burkina Faso in support of Flintlock19 and as the Medic for the Civil Military Support Element.

SSG Hailey McKneely is the Civil Affairs NCO on CAT 121, Bravo Company, 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, Special Operations (SO) Airborne (A) where she also previously served as the CMOC Assistant Operations NCO. She holds a Tier 1 certificate in DoD International Affairs, Associates Degrees in General Education and Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Science degree in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis, and is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. She has deployed to Djibouti and Burkina Faso and completed Live Environmental Training in Senegal. SSG McKneely plans to apply for a Security Cooperation posting in Africa as a broadening assignment.

SFC Matthew Peterson is the Team Sergeant on CAT 121, Bravo Company, 91st Civil Affairs Battalion, Special Operations (SO) Airborne (A). Prior to this assignment, he served as the G9 NCOIC in 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, as well as on Civil Affairs Teams in the 83rd and 84th Civil Affairs Battalions. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History, East Asian Studies, and Languages from Minnesota State University Moorhead, an MBA in International Business and Finance from Oklahoma City University, a Graduate Certificate from Joint Special Operations University, and has a Tier 1 certificate in DoD International Affairs. He has served in The Arabian Gulf, Afghanistan, Japan, Philippines, Korea, and Burkina Faso.

End Notes

[i] 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, Brigade Vision, Accessed 17 August 2019. https://usasoc.sof.socom.mil/sites/1sfc-95ca/Default.aspx

[ii] U.S. Army Special Operations Center of Excellence. Civil Affairs Proponent. Civil Affairs: 2025 and Beyond. November 2018. p. 8.

[iii] “SOF Truths,” United States Army Special Operations Command. Accessed 14 August 2019. https://www.soc.mil/USASOCHQ/SOFTruths.html

[iv] Jay Liddick, Thurman “Scott” Dickerson, and Linda K. Chung, “Calibrating Civil Affairs for Lethality in Large Scale Combat Operations”. Small Wars Journal, accessed 15 August 2019. https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/calibrating-civil-affairs-forces-lethality-large-scale-combat-operations

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Headquarters, Department of the Army. Field Manual 3-57 – Civil Affairs Operations, April 2019. p. 1-1.

[viii] Mike Karlson, “Calibrating Civil Affairs for Human Geography”. Small Wars Journal, accessed 24 August 2019. https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/calibrating-civil-affairs-forces-human-geography#_edn17

[ix] “SOF Truths,” United States Army Special Operations Command. Accessed 14 August 2019. https://www.soc.mil/USASOCHQ/SOFTruths.html

[x] ATP 3-57.50, Civil Information Management, Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, 06 September, 2018, 1-1.

[xi] Ibid. 1-1.

[xii] Edward Lescher, Paul Hendrick, and Matthew Peterson, “Digital Civil Reconnaissance”. Civil Affairs Association CA Symposium Submission. Submitted September 2018. p. 6.

[xiii] U.S. Army Special Operations Command. USASOC Strategy 2035. April 2016. p. 5.

[xiv] Ibid. p. 5.

[xv] Samuel L. Hayes, Ken Nguyen Jr., “CA 2025: the strategic design of Civil Affairs”. The Naval Post-Graduate School Institutional Archive, 2015-06. p. 76. Accessed 20 August 2019. https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/45870

[xvi] Ibid. p. 75.

[xvii] Ibid. p. 76.

[xviii] Design by Authors

[xix] Samuel L. Hayes, Ken Nguyen Jr., “CA 2025: the strategic design of Civil Affairs”. The Naval Post-Graduate School Institutional Archive, 2015-06. p. 76. Accessed 20 August 2019. https://calhoun.nps.edu/handle/10945/45870

[xx] Civil Reconnaissance Badge Proposal. Accessed 21 August 2019. https://www.milsuite.mil/book/groups/hrc-ac-enlisted-ca-branch

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