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.