Updated: Oct 5, 2021
As someone who grew up skateboarding along Florida’s Gulf Coast in the mid-90s, I am a fan of punk rock, thrash metal, grunge, and all other genres of music that involve distorted guitar riffs. This is probably why I immediately identified the teenage angst permeating from the authors tone in our recent article, “SOF CA: The Things We Think But Do Not Say.” In the twenty months since assuming the role as Eunomia Journal’s Deputy Editor, I have not once felt the need to rebut or clarify an article, but the day has come.
While there are certainly truths in the article—Special Operations Forces (SOF) Civil Affairs lacking expertise in governance, PMESII-ASCOPE crosswalk as an inadequate tool to analyze the civil component, and the lack of SOF CA representation at the General Officer level—it also contains many fallacies, which the author attempts to justify by citing opinion pieces written by others and anecdotes from his own personal experiences. Furthermore, the survey he uses as evidence consists of only 44 captains (less than a 1/3 of the previous sample size and equivalent to only seven companies versus the nine he claims), doesn’t provide any context on the questions asked or how the, now year old, survey was administered.
His tone is more likened to an ill-informed angry teenager listening to Suicidal Tendencies yelling at his parents (All he wanted was a Pepsi!) than one of someone that wants meaningful change. Given my love of the aforementioned music genre, that I have teenagers myself, and that I have spent more personal time than I care to admit attempting to right wrongs in the Civil Affairs Regiment, I feel qualified to translate his screaming into a coherent message that senior leaders may address while rebutting statements that simply aren’t true.
Civil Affairs Doctrine
While referencing Civil Affairs doctrine, the author argues that SOF CA lacks specificity and clarity using surveys from 2017 and 2020 as evidence, both of which precede the 2021 publication of FM 3-57 Civil Affairs Operations. In the latest version of the field manual, Major General Patrick B. Roberson, Commanding General United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, states that its purpose was to,”…clarify the role of Civil Affairs forces…”and that “Cultural orientation, regional expertise, linguistic capabilities, advisory skills, civil network development expertise, and civilian-acquired professional experience in common government functions distinguish Civil Affairs forces from others…” This publication goes on to state, “The role of CA is to engage and leverage the civil component of the operational environment while enhancing, enabling, or providing governance.” The core competencies listed that enable this are Transitional Governance, Civil Knowledge Integration, Civil Network Development and Engagement, and Civil-Military Integration.
The anonymous captain’s statements regarding an unclear role for Civil Affairs may have been true in 2020, but publishing them after new doctrine (which the author cites elsewhere in his article) has clarified that role is inexcusable and is rebutted within the opening pages of the most recent publication of Field Manual 3-57. A more appropriate problem statement might address the scope of Civil Affairs governance operations, or how to scale the various core competencies to echelon (a SOF Civil Affairs team versus a Civil Military Operations Center). To bemoan the lack of more specific training without offering actionable alternatives (the author’s recommendations to address this issue don’t amount to more than telling SWCS and the 95th to prioritize training, or “destroy the branch”) is not only unproductive, but also intellectually lazy.
The author does offer some thoughts on separating Reserve and SOF Civil Affairs doctrine that merit further investigation. However, he fails to acknowledge that there must first be delineation in roles between the two. The Civil Affairs Proponent has recently designated SOF Civil Affairs Officers to 38S, while the Reserve Component maintains the 38A and 38G officer designations. A redesignation of noncommissioned officers is in the work as well. Once complete, this will allow for delineation in doctrine, the tasks trained across the force, and a restructured training pathway for all. All of this is common knowledge among those in the force. He either chose not to include it or was ignorant to its actual purpose. At the risk of sounding completely tone deaf to the concerns of survey respondents—there is value in gathering qualitative data on the state of the branch, and thoroughly examining published literature to determine capability gaps within the Regiment. I was more concerned with the author’s delivery—the absence of well-constructed recommendations, and the overreliance on snarky anecdotes in lieu of substance made the article destructive versus constructive. To this end, I explored some of the author’s concerns in an attempt to clarify (or amplify) the salient issues.
I imagine many of you had the same reaction as I did (and the anonymous author) when reading that, “CA forces have two distinct areas of expertise which are interrelated: Governance and Government functions.” Confusion set in, followed quickly by me beginning to question my own expertise in governance. Then I reflected on Civil Affairs history and the inclusion of Reserve Component Civil Affairs in our doctrine as the origin of the statement.
Following WWI, Civil Affairs was synonymous with Military Government. Yet, both the military’s capability and role in governance was limited. The Third Army Commanding General, MG Henry Allen wrote in his diary, “My idea relative to affairs in the American area is to leave the Germans as free a hand as is compatible with order and their compliance with the provisions of the Treaty.” In these remarks, MG Allen admitted that the military was ill prepared to govern anything. He left it to local officials, only providing military forces to enhance and enable the German’s ability to govern. Post WWII Civil Affairs was again charged with Military Governance, but again found themselves enhancing and enabling German and French officials’ ability to govern versus carrying out the function themselves.
With the exception of United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command’s (USACAPOC) functional specialists, there are no governance experts in Civil Affairs. However, FM 3-57 distinguishes that the functional specialists in USACAPOC perform government functions, not governance. Therefore, a more realistic definition of SOF Civil Affairs’ role is, … to develop, engage, and leverage civil networks within the operational environment in order to enhance and enable local government’s ability to defeat threats and provide stability across the competition continuum. While some may wish to offer a slightly altered definition, most of SOF Civil Affairs would agree we could fulfill this role and have been.
Regarding the author’s specific criticism of the PMESII-ASCOPE crosswalk, admittedly, I think you will be hard pressed to find a Civil Affairs practioner that is an advocate. It’s a reductive framework that offers no real value in defining the problems within an operational environment. There is a more practical framework, which offers a vector-based approach to understanding an operational environment, and appropriately drives information requirements and civil reconnaissance. PMESII-ASCOPE restricts critical thinking and our ability to define the operational environment. A vector-based approach allows Civil Affairs teams and Civil Affairs planners to accurately understand and define the operational environment, which is the MOST critical part of mission analysis. This understanding of the operational environment allows us to accurately identify the threats (e.g. problems) that are preventing us from reaching our endstate. With this understanding, we can then plan and conduct operations and activities to develop and engage civil networks in order to defeat these threats and set the conditions necessary for our desired endstate.
Civil Affairs as a SOF Peer
The argument that Civil Affairs is not a SOF peer is tiresome and untrue. In keeping with the anonymous captain’s persistent use of anecdotes, I’ll provide a few of my own. My previous assignment was with 7thSpecial Forces Group as a Civil Affairs planner and the senior 38B for the Group. On numerous occasions, the Battalion Operations Officer asked for additional Civil Affairs soldiers, even posing the idea of augmenting 7th Special Forces Group with soldiers from the 98th Civil Affairs Battalion on a temporary duty status. The same sentiment permeated from the J3 Joint Effects Division at Theatre Special Operations Command-South. Additionally, the 75th Ranger Regiment is requesting Civil Affairs teams to augment training. This sentiment is a result of answering information requirements and the effects Civil Affairs forces have achieved through their operations. I assure you, Civil Affairs is a SOF peer. If individual experiences are different, then perhaps that is indicative of individual or team performance versus the Regiment's as a whole.
The author goes on to cite Lucas Vaughan’s OPINION piece regarding a Civil Affairs tab as evidence of a hyper-focus on branding versus training to competence. Again, this is taken out of context as the author takes thirteen words from an article of nearly 1,500 to make his point. What he leaves out is the premise of Vaughan’s article: the tab would serve as symbol of pride among its bearers and force those that wear it to hold one another accountable. Vaughan writes, “The most pressing case for a “Civil Affairs” tab is vitalizing the lifeblood of the branch – esprit de corps.” Those serving in Civil Affairs are proud to be affiliated with this Regiment. I would rather our NCOs and officers want a distinguishing symbol to bear with pride than to spew a litany of anecdotes stating that there is no pride in Regiment. Lest we forget, Special Forces Assessment and Selection did not come into existence until 1988, decades after their inception, and there was a time when they too fought for a unique symbol to foster unit pride and distinguish themselves from the conventional Army!
For nearly all, Civil Affairs was a first choice (to include the anonymous author) not a “backup” as his anecdotal interactions with Special Forces Officers suggest. Despite the questionable merit of his remarks, it does raise a concern that Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection is viewed as an alternative path into SOF for those that fail to be selected at Special Forces Assessment and Selection or are dropped from the Special Forces pathway. This is something that I, as a proud Civil Affairs practitioner take issue with. This does nothing for the legitimacy of the Regiment and only perpetuates an inferiority complex—regardless off its validity—that some in the Regiment may attempt to claim we have. Let it be known that Civil Affairs isn’t a back-up plan! Let it be known that we only want you if you want to come here! We are not Special Forces nor do we want to be. We have our own unique mission and capabilities that distinguish us from the other two SOF tribes.
To that note, the author suggests that, “…CA personnel currently have no capabilities unique in SOF.” I disagree. There is no argument that civil engagement is proprietary to CA. Anyone in the military can conduct a civil engagement, but that doesn’t mean they do it well. A recent addition to the Civil Affairs training pathway provides improved training in negotiations and civil engagement. Even still, this doesn’t make it proprietary to CA. However, civil reconnaissance, and civil network development and engagement are proprietary to Civil Affairs. No other SOF or Army element is focused on this mission. Is there a need to further define the “how” of this training? Yes. Is that in the works? Yes.
The anonymous captain again uses anecdotal evidence when discussing inadequacies within the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. Given that he has completed Team Commander time and is leaving the Regiment, I assume that places him in SWCS sometime between 2016 and 2017. Having served as a senior instructor for nearly three years (2017-2020) I know exactly what he is referring to when cadre informed him, “This isn’t what Civil Affairs really does. You’ll learn that at your unit.” These statements were a reference to an outdated program of instruction that didn’t include any valuable training for civil network development and engagement, civil reconnaissance, and a litany of other tasks that are now included in a pathway that was expanded by ten weeks in 2020 to accurately reflect the operations that Civil Affairs conduct. This program of instruction was a constant point of contention among cadre and Civil Affairs Proponent’s Training and Doctrine Development (TDD) department.
The new program of instruction is not perfect. This is primarily due to the recent doctrinal changes that have not yet been updated in the current program of instruction. Future pathway instruction will now focus training on things that are relevant to our operations: civil network development and engagement, civil knowledge integration, human networks analysis, etc. Proponent leadership, with the support and guidance of MG Roberson (CG USAJFKSWCS), has made strides in improving many of the grievances the captain alludes to. The issue with the anonymous captain’s remarks is that they fail to acknowledge any of this.
In a recent interview, H.R. McMaster discusses what his daughter refers to as the “peel my orange generation.” The reference is meant to describe a generation that had their oranges started and peeled for them by their parents. This implies that some wait for the orange to be peeled for them, while others refuse to wait and peel the orange themselves enjoying the reward of citrus and moving on to the next venture.
This seems to describe those most critical of Civil Affairs perfectly. They are quick to identify that the orange has a peel preventing them from enjoying the fruit; yet, they refuse to start the process to obtain the fruit. Self-criticism is necessary—our branch’s growth attests to that. The Regiment welcomes it. However, it must be factually correct and account for the progress the Regiment has made. Using outdated references and anecdotal evidence to anonymously say your “piece” as you exit Civil Affairs does nothing to steward the Regiment.
Many of us eat, sleep, and dream Civil Affairs—myself included. Not because we have miserable home lives as some may suggest, but because we love our jobs, families, and country. We believe Civil Affairs (alongside the other ARSOF tribes) plays a critical role in securing our partner’s freedoms and our own. It is INSULTING to suggest that Civil Affairs be blown up and given to Special Forces. I assure you they have enough work operationally as it is. If quitting when faced with challenges is your answer, then your journey through life will be a long and hard road.
Civil Affairs is NOT in an existential crisis! The demand for Civil Affairs is higher than ever. Can we be better? Absolutely! But airing grievances anonymously and in an immature manner offers no assistance and undermines the progress made thus far. A bit of advice for the anonymous author as he moves on from the Regiment: you’ll never get a Pepsi screaming at your parents from your bedroom. And use your open door policy; it's there for a reason.
To anyone else that may want to help address DOTMLPF issues within the branch, we at Eunomia Journal encourage you to continue to think critically, write, and publish your work. The Eunomia Journal is working around the clock to ensure your voices are heard from the operational force across the institution and up at the halls of Proponent. Highlighting the good all of you are doing daily while being self-critical and improving daily is the only way we will make meaningful change!
Order From Chaos! Secure the Victory!
About the Author: Sean Acosta is a Senior Civil Affairs Noncommissioned Officer with over 10 years in the Regiment. He has deployed to the Caribbean, Africa, and numerous time to Southwest Asia. He currently volunteers as the Eunomia Journal Deputy Editor where he works to promote solutions to issues facing the Civil Affairs Regiment.
Notes: Department of The Army, Civil Affairs Operations, FM 3-57, (Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2021), Foreward, https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN33094-FM_3-57-000-WEB-1.pdf Department of The Army, Civil Affairs Operations, 1-1. Department of The Army, Civil Affairs Operations, 2-23. Stanley Sandler, Glad To See Them Come And Sorry To See Them Go: A History of U.S. Army Tactical Civil Affairs/Military Government, 1775-1991 (Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Operations Command History and Archives Division), 146. Stanley Sandler, Glad To See Them Come And Sorry To See Them Go: A History of U.S. Army Tactical Civil Affairs/Military Government, 1775-1991 (Fort Bragg, NC: U.S. Army Special Operations Command History and Archives Division), 194. Department of The Army, Civil Affairs Operations, 2-23. Lucas Vaughan, “Yes, SOF Civil Affairs Need a Tab,” Eunomia Journal, June 23, 2020, https://www.civilaffairsassoc.org/post/sof-civil-affairs-need-a-tab