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Growth of Civil Affairs in the National Guard and Beyond

By Jonathan Denton


As the wars we fight abroad change, we must continue to evolve as a branch and take the necessary steps to build relevancy at home and overseas. Civil Affairs has a place in supporting municipal governments within the United States. The year 2020 presented extreme challenges to American society. The global pandemic, riots, ongoing race issues, and unaddressed societal grievances have challenged the effectiveness of governance at all levels. Like the period after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, America's landscape has changed, and many elected officials do not seem to know how to deal with the insurmountable issues that face our country. Elected officials need training in crisis management. The rapid expansion of difficult issues facing our Nation is unlikely to subside on its own. The National Guard currently lacks Civil Affairs Teams in their force structure and additionally has a chronic shortage of Civil Affairs experts in their S9/G9 Civil Affairs staff positions. Ordinarily, the National Guard is part of state and local response plans that help manage these crises. The expansion and professionalization of a Civil Affairs National Guard component could help fill a void in state and local governments' emergency response.[i]


Historically, when a catastrophic event in the United States occurs, such as a hurricane, riot, wildfire, or national pandemic, the state governor activates the National Guard to support the stabilization of these volatile situations. When this activation occurs, the most often overlooked components in these situations are grievances within the population and the second or third-order effects on civil society. We have one of the most robust government systems in existence, and still, there is considerable scrutiny towards how our elected officials represent the population in times of crisis. Perceived as the land of opportunity where citizens can pave their way to prosperity, American citizens now hold contempt towards one another and the government. America's increasing focus on political rhetoric continues to encroach on many aspects of our daily lives. Some would go so far as to say that this could be a result of Russian misinformation spilling into social media platforms and news outlets. In contrast, others would say that it could result from Chinese economic influence on our economy. The siege on our Nation's capital recently highlighted this divide.

Employment of a National Guard unit in response to a civil unrest crisis is often a reactive approach resulting from an ineffective understanding of the emerging environment at the ground level beforehand. While the National Guard does have certain echelons that liaise and conduct response exercises with local governments, it often lacks the specific expertise needed to navigate government systems and the human terrain. Municipal planning committees develop Emergency Action Plans (EAP) to mitigate crises but perhaps employ these plans in a generic manner, which does not necessarily align with evolving problems. Many times, addressing the root causes of crisis within these communities will support planning initiatives for stability. This need is where National Guard Civil Affairs teams and force structure could support quick impact missions that go the "last mile" of an Emergency Action Plan prior to a catastrophic event.

Considering the increased activations and interactions of National Guard Soldiers and the U.S. population, Civil Affairs Teams can assist Military Commanders and Civilian Leaders in managing the coordination, execution, and prevention of these situations.[ii] The "last mile" will be to ensure that the implementation of taxpayer-funded programs having the desired effects for the community, disaster relief mitigation is proportionate and effective, and to help identify solutions for governmental problems. Civil Affairs components can also liaise between deployed National Guard Commands, community leaders, and government officials. Each area across our Nation would require significantly different approaches to regional problems. Increasing the Civil Affairs Branch professionalization would give commanders across all echelons the tools needed to focus on the civil terrain in their respective areas.


The Title 10 and 32 authorities that govern the National Guard would authorize the employment of Civil Affairs Soldiers before or during anticipated events such as an election, hurricane season, wildfire season, and other situations that affect the populace through integration at the county governance level. National Guard Civil Affairs Soldiers could help assess vulnerable populations in critical counties and identify ways in which each municipality could find better solutions for taxpayer's monies to make these events less damaging to its citizens. This capability would look like third-party consulting in which must be non-biased expert analysis and could be in the form of an Active Guard and Reserve (AGR) position. With each area of a state having separate grievances, the employment of Civil Affairs Operations could look vastly different based upon assessed problems in that area. In major cities with large criminal problems, Civil Affairs could help develop Community Policing Programs, youth program development, community outreach programs, infrastructure development, or even urban development projects. In areas faced by hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfires, Civil Affairs could integrate with Emergency Planners and community leaders to identify vulnerable areas, resource limitations, or help with National Guard Soldiers' employment as a resource for Incident Management. These programs will not only help the civil population but also assist in filling gaps between Military Commanders and their civilian counterparts.

Often, when City Councils allocate budgets to each section within its government, the department leads for these sectors propose a Calendar Year budget assessment of what they need to run their department. Each section can bloviate about its estimated operational expenses to expand its initiatives, and this is the only thing City Council will reference when deciding where to spend money. The most glaring issue with this process is that it might not be the best representation of the civil vulnerabilities. This process is where third-party Civil Affairs advisors can assist. Having an Army National Guard Civil Affairs team develop a consulting approach will enable decision-makers to employ taxpayer's dollars to programs that focus on stabilizing government for its citizens prior to critical events. Integration of National Guard Soldiers Civil Affairs Soldiers into planning exercises with local governance will build long-lasting inter-organizational cooperation relationships with these agencies and the community. It would also help prevent misuse of government allocated money to support programs that are not effective for community stability. Additionally, these positions could help political leaders better understand population dynamics when civil problems begin to arise. To do this, we must become a more professionalized Civil Affairs component. We must become knowledgeable in all areas of governance.

This effort must start with the adaptation of Civil Affairs doctrine in the broader Army and incorporate specific language for the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army, and Active Duty Army Special Operations Forces (SOF) Civil Affairs components. From that language, Civil Affairs must identify what professional skills and certifications each echelon within these forces must hold to support various global civil populations. Perhaps a degree or certification received after completing the Civil Affairs Qualification Course.

The Army National Guard then must recognize the need for Civil Affairs Soldiers within their ranks and either add to these Soldiers via accessions or do away with Military Occupational Specialties that do not support initiatives within their mission. Transitioning some units from Army Reserve to National Guard could be an option, albeit a difficult one. Placement of these units in areas of the country that tend to see the most turmoil would be ideal. These Army National Guard units will still deploy worldwide during conflict, and their Civil Affairs Professionals will function in the same manner as Army Reserve or Active Duty Army units performing these missions. If National Guard Civil Affairs units adopt the SOF Civil Affairs training pathway, this could also benefit Active Duty Civil Affairs organizations that deal with dwell time issues when employing their teams.


Due to the nature of the various missions that we perform worldwide, many Civil Affairs Soldiers across the Army have different perspectives on adapting our community to tie into the wider Army, SOF, and Department of State missions. Active Duty Civil Affairs has language capabilities that assist with communication efforts, development of rapport, and daily operations while deployed. In Active Duty SOF, Medics must maintain proficiency in their certifications and practice. Both language and medical certification are skills that get Civil Affairs Soldiers access to critical information required for reporting. Perhaps a National Guard Soldier must hold a similar certification/degree relevant to working within municipalities.

On the other hand, Civil Affairs Soldiers train on Human Network Analysis (HNA) but have no certification process to present themselves as experts. We conduct infrastructure assessments in Civil Reconnaissance but have no expertise in this field. Using Civil Affairs Soldiers in an expert capacity to support worldwide missions is essential to our existence. Prioritizing schools like the Special Warfare Operational Design Course (SWODC) and the Special Warfare Network Development Course (SWNDC) as a baseline training for a Civil Affairs Soldier should be imperative to our existence. These schools would be critical in supporting the 19th and 20th Special Forces Groups within the National Guard. Linking in engineering certifications through the Texas A+M Engineering Extension Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or the Department of Homeland Security will support understanding the International Building Codes that Civil Affairs Soldiers must know to bring relevance to our access.

Certifying Army National Guard Civil Affairs Teams in the National Incident Management System (NIMS), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), infrastructure assessments, network analysis, along with having medical capabilities would complement a municipal government's desire to use Civil Affairs team assessments as a tool. Civil Affairs teams could identify grievances before they spill out into American streets and make worldwide news. We must forge a newfound level of expertise to remain relevant to the evolving missions we face.

This plan would take years to implement for the Army National Guard unless acted on soon. Turbulence in our country is at an all-time high, and the use of National Guard Soldiers is frequent. National Guard Commanders can benefit from the use of Army National Guard Civil Affairs advisors when dealing with government entities. Additionally, the lack of a National Guard Civil Affairs capability affects the Guard's ability to staff S9/G9 positions, impacting the Federal mission. This gap is primarily due to the lack of organic Civil Affairs force structure to support the development and growth needed to hold these positions. The Army National Guard provides eight divisions worth of maneuver forces and two Special Forces Groups developed as part of the Offsite Agreement of 1993.[iii] This decision placed combat units in the National Guard and left the Army Reserve with most combat support and combat service support positions. Since Human Resource Command (HRC) has changed the designators it uses when categorizing units; maybe it is time for us to re-examine how we manage our Civil Affairs forces across all echelons of the Army.

To accomplish this, we must first ask ourselves where we see ourselves in 5-10 years as a branch and predict how we can affect the future generations of Civil Affairs Soldiers and the human terrain. We must then examine how we can tailor these programs to the populations they represent in compliance with legal and Constitutional requirements. For a National Guard Civil Affairs component, we must scrutinize how the American public would view the U.S. Military supporting local governments. These questions are essential to remaining stewards of our career field to support stability in our backyard.

Author Biography

Captain Jonathan Denton, an 18-year veteran of the United States Army, is currently serving as the Civil Military Support Element (CMSE) Team Commander for Mali and Special Operations Forces Liaison Element (SOFLE) for the United States Embassy in Bamako. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Fire Science and Emergency Management. In his previous assignments, he has served as Military Police Duty Officer and Platoon Leader for the Ft. Bragg Provost Marshal, Enlisted Army Fire Chief, Recruiter, and Platoon Sergeant.

Standard Disclaimer

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] Raphael Semmes Duckworth, “The 1993 Offsite Agreement: Undermining Goldwater-Nichols and Special Forces Capabilities (Strategy Research Project, U.S. Army War College, 2007), 16-18. [ii] Duckworth, “The 1993 Offsite Agreement,” 16. [iii] Duckworth, “The 1993 Offsite Agreement,” 12.



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