By CPT Mary Irwin
“Cultural fragmentation in an organization will eventually tear the organization apart from the inside.” ― COL Edward Croot, Chief of Staff, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne)[i]
Purpose is the binding glue which allows individual perspectives in an organization to coalesce into a shared identity. When an organization’s purpose is unclear, personality-driven, or made redundant by another organization, a shared identity is unlikely to form. The 83d Civil Affairs Battalion represents one facet of the identity crisis which has plagued Civil Affairs since the Regiment’s inception.[ii] The Civil Affairs community’s debate over Special Operations Forces (SOF) and General Purpose Forces (GPF) Civil Affairs (CA) roles and capabilities even predates the creation of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), existing as early as the end of World War II.[iii]
Decades later, the Regiment has made progress towards codifying its place within the defense institution but has not entirely resolved the issue. Questions of mission essential tasks (METs), appropriate training, and the employment of CA forces persist. Such infighting ― whether within the CA Regiment or among the three special operations tribes ― ultimately diminishes our nation’s security as it provides space for adversaries to compete. With its liminal place in the Regiment, blurring the line between SOF and GPF CA, 83d Civil Affairs Battalion is both a symptom and perpetuator of the crisis.
The Regiment should conduct deliberate analysis to determine the 83d’s place in the organization, emphasizing the economy-of-force principle, to optimize force employment and the taxpayer dollars involved.
While this will not solve the identity crisis by itself, it will help decrease confusion over METs, capabilities, authorities, and employment of SOF-trained CA Soldiers.
Differences between SOF and GPF Civil Affairs
The Civil Affairs Regiment breaks down into three organizations, which vary widely in funding, authorities, and capabilities. The 83d Civil Affairs Battalion, a Forces Command (FORSCOM) asset, is one of those three. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, under 1st Special Forces Command, is the only active duty SOF CA unit in the Army; the bulk of the Army’s CA forces, 82%, belong to the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC), a GPF Civil Affairs organization in the U.S. Army Reserve (USAR).[iv] Both active duty and reserve components are in high demand. 95th CA BDE forces typically deploy on a steady 1:2 deployment-to-dwell cycle, with 6 months deployed and 12 months at home; meanwhile, USACAPOC units activate on a rotational basis to support enduring mission sets.
These two units have distinct missions and can provide vastly different capabilities. Evidence of this includes 95th CA BDE’s longstanding desire to ratify a separate mission essential task list (METL) from that of GPF CA; initially drafted several years ago, the proposed new METL is going through final approval channels now.[v] GPF CA forces support the ground combatant commander (GCC) with tasks related to conventional warfare such as nation assistance, populace and resource control, and community relations. Meanwhile, SOF CA provides Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs) with special warfare capabilities such as support to unconventional warfare. Despite delays in formalizing the differences in SOF and GPF CA doctrine, the Civil Affairs community generally understands the necessary differences between the two kinds of capabilities. In practice, the operations of SOF and GPF CA forces tend to look very different from each other, even if doctrine is still catching up to the de facto distinctions.
Ambiguity with 83d Civil Affairs Battalion’s Place in the Regiment
Somewhere between SOF and GPF CA, in an ill-defined space, is 83d Civil Affairs Battalion. This active-duty unit is comprised exclusively of graduates of the special operations Civil Affairs Qualification Course (CAQC); however, its purpose is to provide support to conventional forces. From an economy-of-force perspective, it seems counterproductive to repurpose an entire battalion’s worth of SOF-trained CA as GPF CA, when 82% of Army Civil Affairs is already GPF.[vi] This even contradicts the spirit of the “SOF Truths,” which state that SOF cannot be mass-produced;[vii] if this is the case, then it is wasteful to assess and train SOF CA Soldiers and then assign them to an enduring non-SOF mission set. Such repurposing seems especially profligate when considering estimates of the cost of training a single SOF professional, which range as high as $1 million.[viii] The assessment of this practice as wasteful also appears valid when considering CA employment in specific theaters. Consider the use of Civil Affairs activities (CAA) in European Command (EUCOM) as a short example.
Case Study: 83d Civil Affairs Battalion’s Mission in EUCOM
C Company, the EUCOM-aligned company in 83d, has supported multiple mission sets in Europe, including those owned by the theater sustainment command and a rotational USACAPOC battalion. These missions typically do not require employment of any special operations capability, consisting instead of activities such as community relations (COMREL) initiatives in support of NATO exercises and generic route reconnaissance. Such activities – Civil-Military Operations (CMO), as opposed to Civil Affairs Operations – can, and must, be performed by any type of U.S. Army unit. CMO do not require dedicated SOF Civil Affairs Teams (CATs). Historically, when asked which special operations capability is being requested of C Company’s teams, the supported commands have not articulated one. Often, a specific CA capability of any kind cannot be identified. These conversations generally evoke the dismissive workplace platitude, “That’s just how we’ve always done things around here.”
Additional Limitations for SOF CA Practitioners in 83d CA BN
In addition to the constraints of the missions themselves, supported command authorities often limit teams’ employment as practitioners of the special operations which they have trained to conduct. For those commands, authorities can be heavily tied to the operations orders for specific exercises. This often restricts the teams’ ability to conduct civil-military engagement, which is itself the lifeblood of SOF CAO. Instead, teams must focus the bulk of their operations on military-military (M2M) engagement. Emphatically, the point is not that M2M engagement inherently lacks value ― quite the opposite. For USG national security institutions, M2M engagement is a critical piece of competing with adversaries and strengthening Allied/partner nation relationships in the European theater. However, when considering the principle of “economy of force,” is it sensible to dedicate the limited number of SOF-trained CATs to those activities when GPF CA forces are already performing them in great quantities across the theater? This question is further complicated if we consider that the SOF CA brigade is currently unable to meet the demand for forces in EUCOM.
Manning Shortfalls in the SOF CA Brigade
As the 95th CA BDE attempts to transition from a 1:2 to 1:3 deployment-to-dwell (or 22.5-month) cycle, its line units must confront the question of which missions to cut. Even under 1:2 dwell, battalions in 95th have been forced to turn down requests for forces due to perpetual under-manning. As a team leader in 92nd CA BN, while still under 1:2 dwell, I witnessed the battalion turn down new, relevant missions in Bulgaria and Serbia due to lack of personnel. At the time, these manning shortfalls existed primarily at the team level. Conditions have not significantly changed as of mid-2020.[ix]
How Did the 83d Get Here?
With 83d’s current situation seeming so illogical, one major question is: how did the battalion get to this point? Originally activated in 1945 as the 41st Military Government, HHC, the unit served honorably in multiple conflicts, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars.[x] The debates we have today about CA capabilities were ongoing even during this time, and they were still influencing Regimental decision-making decades later. In 2011, several years after the 2006 activation of the 95th CA BDE, the Army activated a second active-duty CA brigade designated the 85th.[xi] The 85th CA BDE was staffed entirely by SOF CAQC graduates, but it was “conventional” in its operations, unlike its SOF counterpart. In 2012, 83d CA BN was activated at Fort Bragg as the CENTCOM-aligned battalion in 85th CA BDE.
When the Army deactivated the 85th CA BDE in 2017,[xii] it made a last-minute decision to retain 83d due to its inclusion in certain operation plans and its location on Fort Bragg.[xiii] However, those reasons did not seem to be adequately explained to the force, and the process for choosing its higher headquarters was perplexing to many. Ostensibly, the then-commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade, COL Larry Dewey, offered to absorb the CA BN since he had previously worked as a CA officer when Civil Affairs was not yet a full-fledged branch. Additionally, with only one subordinate battalion located on Fort Bragg, the MP BDE was considered to have the bandwidth necessary to manage 83d CA BN.[xiv] The decision, while well-intentioned, seems largely personality-driven in retrospect. Inadvertently, it created an organizational culture where CA professionals and SOF in general tend to view 83d as an outsider within its own Regiment.
These conditions affect every aspect of the 83d experience, from educational opportunities to mission sets. With 83d assigned to 16th MP BDE and XVIII Airborne Corps, the unit has inconsistent access to schools, training, and partnerships that generally align with special operations requirements. Additionally, because of this “outsider” culture, it seems that the battalion maintained its relevance over the years by accepting any mission that would keep it employed ― even when it perpetuated the inefficient use of the unit’s SOF-trained CA personnel. This concept of “mission drift” can be extremely harmful to unit vision and identity. It seems all too common within the SOF profession; Civil Affairs is not the first special operations tribe to experience it. The Regiment would benefit from analyzing lessons learned within the Special Forces Regiment, where senior leaders have noted that “temporary adaptations disfigure a unit and create mission drift away from its unique capabilities.”[xv] Those same leaders believe that addressing these issues will require the SF Regiment to “actively and deliberately redirect mission drift back toward traditional, appropriate, and relevant missions.”[xvi] This lesson applies to aspects of the CA Regiment’s identity conundrum too ― including the 83d question.
The Optimal Mission Set for 83d CA BN
The underemployment of SOF-trained CA in mismatched mission sets holds true almost entirely across the battalion ― with one exception. F Company, the battalion’s Southern Command-aligned element, has created a program which allows it to conduct persistent engagement in support of Special Operations Command-South (SOCSOUTH). Consequently, F Company teams conduct CAO which are “virtually identical”[xvii] to those of its SOF-designated counterpart 98th CA BN. The program enables teams to operate under the authorities of the Civil-Military Engagement Directive (US Special Operations Command Directive 525-38) and TSOC-specific guiding documents, which allow for much more apposite employment of SOF-trained CA elements. It also fills a manpower gap for SOCSOUTH and 98th CA BN that would otherwise negatively affect the TSOC’s operations.[xviii] Notably, this setup enables SOF-trained CATs to perform special operations tasks despite being assigned to a conventional unit. As long as 83d CA BN remains, F Company’s mission may be the most optimal use of the battalion’s SOF-trained CA teams. This method is essentially a bureaucratic, roundabout way for F Company teams ― all SOF-trained personnel ― to perform the same work as their 98th CA BN counterparts.
If the Regiment wants to address this matter, it has several possible courses of action (COAs) available to it. The following suggestions are the product of both personal analysis and discussions with others in the Regiment.
COA 1: Deactivate 83d CA BN and Reassign Personnel to 95th CA BDE
One possible COA would accomplish the same outcome as F Company’s persistent engagement program – reducing wasteful use of SOF-trained CA manpower – but in a much more direct manner. Under this COA, the Regiment would deactivate 83d CA BN and reassign its 38-series personnel to 95th CA BDE to fill unmanned teams and other shortfalls. Not only would this mitigate manning shortages, it would empower our SOF-trained CA Soldiers and the brigade to support additional special operations missions across the globe. Concurrently, it would enable 95th CA BDE to decrease strain on the force by adding manpower and making 1:3 deployment-to-dwell a more realistic goal. It would also ensure that our Regiment’s specially assessed and trained SOF CA Soldiers are used in the most effective manner possible for their skill set. Opponents of deactivating 83d have often cited the additional company and battalion command positions that the battalion adds to our Regiment’s limited number. While this is true, sacrificing those few positions would ultimately result in 263 SOF-trained CA Officers and NCOs acquiring better training and more gainful employment as special warfare practitioners, likely leading to better retention. Additionally, it would alleviate a source of confusion and ambiguity about the demarcation of SOF and GPF CA capabilities, which the Regiment has attempted to codify in recent years.
COA 2: Realign 83d CA BN under 95th CA BDE
One additional consideration in the debate about 83d’s future is the battalion’s Immediate Response Force (IRF) capability, enabling one CA company to deploy rapidly to any location on order. Regimental senior leadership has stated that the “big Army” considers 83d CA BN critical primarily because of this capability.[xix] If the capability must be maintained, two COAs exist which are reconcilable with the recommendation made above. The first will likely sound familiar to many readers, as the Regiment has previously considered it. Realigning 83d CA BN under 95th CA BDE, as the 93rd CA BN, would enable the brigade to maintain the IRF company while greatly increasing the ease with which the brigade can assign additional SOF CA missions to SOF CA Soldiers. It would also have the benefit of retaining the command positions that are so scarce for active-duty CA. Admittedly, the logistics of attaching and detaching 93rd teams to deploying companies in other battalions could be administratively complicated. Still it would likely be less “red tape” than F/83’s current roundabout means of working for the TSOC. Despite limits to Program Decision Memorandum (PDM) growth that may hinder this solution in the near-term, the Regiment should retain it as a possible long-term solution if other near-term options are found wanting.
COA 3: Deactivate 83d CA BN but Maintain IRF Company
The second COA considering the IRF would eliminate some of this red tape even further. Under this COA, 83d CA BN would deactivate and reassign its personnel to 95th CA BDE companies – with the exception of the IRF company. This company would instead be assigned to 95th CA BDE HHC and stand ready to rapidly deploy as needed. This COA would fill manpower gaps across 95th CA BDE with the least amount of long-term bureaucratic and administrative difficulties, while maintaining the IRF capability that Army senior leadership values.
COA 4: Realign 83d CA BN under 1st Security Force Assistance Command
There is one other unit outside of 95th where 83d might be a logical fit. If the Regiment’s analysis leads to the conclusion that 83d should remain a conventional Army unit, it should consider assigning the battalion to 1st Security Force Assistance Command (SFAC).[xx] 1st SFAC, headquartered at Fort Bragg, contains six regionally aligned brigades, five of which are active duty. Each Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) must “generate, employ, and sustain local, host nation or regional security forces in support of a legitimate authority.”[xxi] Under the definition of Security Force Assistance (SFA), “security forces include not only military forces, but also police, border forces, and other paramilitary organizations, as well as other local and regional forces.”[xxii] Despite the SFAC’s status as a FORSCOM asset, its mission has some degree of overlap with missions typically found within the SOF repertoire. Engaging such organizations as those in the SFA definition would be a suitable task for SOF-trained CA forces, whose existing access to special warfare training and education continues to improve with ongoing changes to the SOF CAQC. This COA also seems feasible from an administrative standpoint. Both units are already located at Fort Bragg, and 83d CA BN’s five regionally aligned companies match up perfectly with the five regionally aligned SFABs. Like COA 2, this option also benefits the Regiment by maintaining 83d’s company and battalion command positions.
Throughout its history, the Civil Affairs Regiment has been in a constant state of debate regarding the differing capabilities, authorities, and responsibilities of SOF and GPF Civil Affairs. As the Regiment takes other steps to answer those questions and update doctrine, it should also make a point of answering “the 83d question.” That will not solve the debate on its own, but it will resolve one major source of ambiguity contributing to the branch’s identity crisis. Subsequently, it will enhance special operations Civil Affairs forces’ ability to support US national security objectives, as it heightens the skills, resiliency, employment, and effectiveness of our SOF-trained CA Soldiers. Every moment that we spend infighting, whether within our Regiment or among the three special operations tribes, creates space for our adversaries to test, challenge, and diminish our national security posture. Finding the right place for 83rd will lay to rest some of those quarrels and ultimately make Civil Affairs stronger across the competition continuum.
About the Author
CPT Mary Irwin is a 2017 graduate of the Special Operations Forces Civil Affairs Qualification Course. After the CAQC, she served as a Team Leader in 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion with two deployments to Eastern Europe. CPT Irwin then served in the 83d Civil Affairs Battalion as the Chief of the Civil-Military Operations Center for C Company, the battalion’s European Command-aligned company. She is currently assigned to the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) Commander’s Initiatives Group.
The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.
[i] COL Edward C. Croot, “There is an Identity Crisis in Special Forces: Who are the Green Berets Supposed to Be?” (United States Army War College, 3 January 2020), page 61. [ii] Nadia Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2017), page 174. [iii] Ibid., page 176. [iv] “About Us,” U.S. Army Reserve Official Website, https://www.usar.army.mil/Commands/Functional/USACAPOC/About-Us/. [v] LTC Gerald Nunziato, discussion with author, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 28 August 2020. [vi] “America’s Army Reserve at a Glance,” United States Army Reserve, June 2017, https://www.usar.army.mil/Portals/98/Documents/AtAGlance_2017/Army%20Reserve%20At%20A%20Glance.pdf [vii] “SOF Truths Page,” United States Army Special Operations Command, 10 October 2019, https://www.soc.mil/USASOCHQ/SOFTruths.html. [viii] Clyde Haberman, “Special Ops Forces: How Elite Forces Became Military Muscle,” The New York Times, 25 September 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/us/special-ops-retro.html. [ix] MAJ Chris Reynolds, virtual presentation, “Civil Affairs in EUCOM Symposium,” Panzer Kaserne, Germany, 8 September 2020. [x] “83rd Civil Affairs Battalion: Fort Bragg,” U.S. Army Fort Bragg – Home of the Airborne and Special Operations Forces, 18 September 2018, https://home.army.mil/bragg/index.php/units-tenants/xviii-airborne-co/16th-military-police-brigade/83rd-civil-affairs-battalion. [xi] “Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 85th Civil Affairs Brigade,” U.S. Army Center for Military History, https://history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/civaf/0085cabde.htm, 16 June 2016. [xii] Amanda Dolasinski, “Civil Affairs Battalion to Remain at Fort Bragg,” 1 October 2017, https://www.fayobserver.com/news/20171001/civil-affairs-battalion-to-remain-at-fort-bragg. [xiii] LTC Gerald Nunziato, discussion with author, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 28 August 2020. [xiv] Ibid. [xv] COL Edward C. Croot, “There is an Identity Crisis in Special Forces: Who are the Green Berets Supposed to Be?” (United States Army War College, 3 January 2020), page 1. [xvi] Ibid., page 6. [xvii] MAJ Ian Duke, discussion with author, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 10 June 2020. [xviii] F Company, 83d Civil Affairs Battalion, “Proposed Military Engagement Team (MET) Concept Draft,” 2011. [xix] COL Jay Liddick, presentation, “Civil Affairs in Multi-Domain Operations,” Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 6 March 2020. [xx] LTC Gerald Nunziato, discussion with author, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 28 August 2020. [xxi] Congressional Research Service, “Army Security Force Assistance Brigades,” 12 June 2020, https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF10675. [xxii] Ibid.