Symposium Harnesses Integrators and Influencers

Updated: Feb 8, 2020


Over 120 civil affairs (CA) community and partner members gathered last month in Tampa, FL for the annual Civil Affairs Symposium, first to look at determining ways and means for “Integrating Civil Affairs.” While mainly among CA’s special operations and conventional, reserve and active, and Army and Marine forces in support of Army, Marine and Joint Force commands, it included U.S. interagency stabilization partners. As the event ensued, however, the highly diverse community of operators, leaders, entrepreneurs, and thinkers – including some from as far away as the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Hungary, Nigeria and the Pacific Basin – discovered much more.

The annual professional and force development event began with three well-attended workshops designed to identify improvements in civil affairs doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership & education, personnel, facilities and policy (DOTMLPF-P). Outcomes of these workshops will help Army or Marine commands prevail across the competition continuum, whether in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) or in support of stabilization at joint, inter-organizational, and multinational (JIM) levels – two imperatives, many realized, that are not necessarily contradictory.

In addition to the familiar force and doctrinal development workshop led by the CA Branch Proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center & School (USAJFKSWCS) was a new U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations (Airborne) [USACAPOC(A)] run workshop looking more closely at the challenge of operational integration of CA and PSYOP forces in a converging environment for civil-military and information operations (IO), as well as ways to revitalizing the 38G functional specialist program. Among panelists were representatives from the 77th Brigade (U.K.) to share their own experiences in integrating civil-military and information operations capabilities under one command. A third workshop, for junior leaders and run by Army non-commissioned officers and Marine staff NCOs, took on the more fundamental issues of CA readiness and tactical CA team integration in Army and Marine commands for today’s complex missions.

Marine Corps CA Strategic Planner Aaron Weiss leads NCOs and other junior leaders in Workshop III.

Together, these three workshops, while providing greater voice to critical CA elements, gathered a rich harvest of insights for civil affairs development. USAJFKSWCS Director for CA Force Modernization retired Col. Dennis J. Cahill will capture these in a consolidated and detailed Workshops Report, to appear on the Association website in the coming weeks as well as in the sixth volume of the Civil Affairs Issue Papers early next year. Given their immediate success, the new workshops will feature at future Symposia.

While re-validating base CA activities like civil reconnaissance and civil engagement at the tactical levels as well as more operationally integrative tasks like civil information management (CIM) and civil-military operations (CMO) planning for what Marines call “civil preparation of the battlespace,” the workshops also reaffirmed CA’s roles in civil-military transition management and consolidation for improved decision-making and a learning network beyond CA and other military commands. CA must modernize its mission capacities to meet and adapt to changing Army and Marine requirements. As the dialogue lapsed into the next day, it became clear that CA also needs to do a better job of building collaborative, steady-state strategic relationships for convergent mission environments.

At Workshop I, Maj. Csaba Szabo from the NATO CIMIC Center of Excellence noted how there were many points for CA-CIMIC and JIM collaboration in MDO and IO, including targeting. Capabilities like CA, PSYOP, and CIMIC, as Workshop II noted, are crucial to irregular and hybrid warfare and in gray zone conflicts by facilitating local governance to undermine and erode an adversary’s power and influence in its ability to control populations and key leaders. CA, they concluded, becomes more effective when working by, with, and through interorganizational partners. The implied task is thus for CA education and training programs to improve knowledge of and interoperability with these partners, as CA experience in Syria Transition Assistance Response Team – Forward operations has also most recently reaffirmed.

Among other top challenges was the integration of CA and other civil information capabilities under a unified CIM system along similar lines – two of this year’s issue papers took on this topic. Another implied task was for CA professionals to educate institutions like the new Army Futures Command that CA is much more than either an information or stability force. A third finding was to have supported commands consider support as well as command-and-control relationships with assigned or apportioned CA forces.

At the CA Corps Banquet, former Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army retired Lt. Gen. Karen E. Dyson, reminded of the many ways military forces can have far-reaching strategic impact in unexpected places in foreign societies. In a fascinating story, she recalled how she and a civil affairs financial functional specialist helped push transition of the Iraqi economy to a new monetary system by convincing the Army to provide cash payments to local contractors and employees in new Iraqi dinar instead of U.S. dollars. She added how this also helped the population gain confidence in the new government.

For her own services in furtherance of civil affairs, Association president Col. (Ret.) Joe Kirlin presented her the John H. Hilldring Award. He also presented Association awards to: Junior Officer of the Year Capt. Paul Mower, U.S. Marine Reserve; NCO of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Sean Acosta, U.S. Army; Soldier of the Year Spec. Shayne M. Lindquist, U.S. Army Reserve; the Winfield Scott Medallion to Col. Alan McKewan, U.S. Army; the Ralph R. Temple Award to retired Cmd. Sgt. Maj. William A. Grocott, Jr., U.S. Army; the Eli E. Nobleman Award to recently retired Maj. Gen. Daniel R. Ammerman, U.S. Army; and a Special Association Award to Col. Tony L. Thacker, U.S. Army, for his outstanding work with CA forces in Syria.

Cols. Tony Thacker and Alan McKewan pose with Cmd. Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Bill Grocott and Association president Col. (Ret.) Joe Kirlin after receiving their awards.

The dialogue shifted rapidly the next morning when State Department Special Envoy and Global Engagement Center (GEC) Coordinator Lea Gabrielle gave her keynote presentation on “Civil Affairs and America’s Global Influence through Local Engagement.” The former DIA and CIA Human Intelligence Operations Officer and Navy F/A-18C combat missions pilot expressed her deepened appreciation of civil affairs and how it can help the GEC “direct, lead, synchronize, integrate, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and foreign non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining or influencing the policies, security, or stability of the United States and its allies and partner nations,” as its mission states.

“With our global missions, it’s natural that the GEC and civil affairs become closer partners, the former Defense Foreign Liaison Officer concluded up-front. “In fact, the very reason the GEC was created falls right in line with the need to better integrate civil and military capabilities in the Army and in the military, generally.”

CA’s role as the military's primary civil engagement capability for well over a century has gained new importance as an instrument of “expeditionary diplomacy,” as has its ability to work by, with, and through other military and interorganizational partners to help win in the global competition for influence where the likelihood of traditional state-on-state warfare remains relatively low but gray zone, irregular, and hybrid threats abound.

Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle fields a question from Brig. Gen. Glenn Goddard.

For one, it proves the value of civil reconnaissance. “The United States has often struggled to understand the local social-political context of conflict. CA forces extend the reach of U.S. embassy country teams in remote and contested areas. As our warrior-diplomats, [they] provide us with the physical access to those regions, and the on-the-ground experience that comes with it, which then helps us fine-tune information operations.”

It also proves the value of civil engagement and CA as a force for influence and not just information. “Civil affairs teams don’t just tell a good story. They ARE a good story. Their work product is tangible evidence that the U.S. and its allies bring real value to places and peoples that need it. And that makes a powerful counter-argument against disinformation, she explained.

“The human networks fostered by CA teams put them in a strong position to help identify, expose, and counter disinformation narratives, both locally and regionally. By working closely with local populations and influencers, CA teams quickly learn about local themes and narratives. That knowledge is key to effectively understand and combat disinformation, because doing so requires knowing which counter narrative or alternative narrative to promote.”