top of page

Modernizing Army Special Operations Civil Affairs for Strategic Competition

(ARSOF Cross Functional Team in Thailand, photo from DVIDS)

By: SGM Christopher R. Grez

The U.S. military has begun a dramatic turn away from the counterterrorism and counter insurgency operations of the last 20 years, back towards strategic competition. In the years leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Department of Defense (DOD) was well versed in a competition environment, though many of the lessons learned have been forgotten. The current Active-Duty Civil Affairs construct was based on increased requirements during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) but is this structure ideal for the future large scale combat operations (LSCO) and competition? Force modernization is essential to be postured for future conflicts while also persistently countering Russian and Chinese actions in the competition space.

The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) has effectively conducted operations in support of both military Commanders and US Ambassadors in the past 13 years since reactivation; however, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) must change force structure to optimize the training, manning, and equipping of companies, detachments, and teams. CA Forces must be effective in two very different environments, strategic competition and LSCO, often while operating as a cross functional team (CFT). Special Operations Forces Civil Affairs (SOF CA) force modernization must right-size the number of CA companies while also increasing the number of CA teams and civil military operations centers (CMOC). Geographic realignment of the five SOF CA Battalions (BNs) under their respective regionally aligned SF Groups in garrison will co-locate regionally aligned ARSOF while increasing the opportunity and CA companies and teams to train, validate, and deploy as CFTs. Finally, a change in the role of the 95th CA Brigade (BDE) Headquarters (HQ) is necessary to enable CA specific training exercises, information sharing, integration with supported commands and the interagency.

DODD 5100.01 "provides authority and guidance to the U.S. Army to develop concepts, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures and to organize, train, equip, and provide forces with expeditionary and campaign qualities”[1]. Since 2001, Active-Duty Civil Affairs has expanded from one operational battalion to two brigades and ten battalions and then scaled back down to one brigade (the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade) and six battalions all stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade has five regionally aligned battalions the 91st CA BN (U.S. Africa Command), the 92nd CA BN (U.S. European Command), 96th CA BN (U.S. Central Command), the 97th CA BN (U.S. Indo-Pacific Command), and the 98th CA BN (U.S. Southern Command). All these units reside within the 95th CA BDE (Special Operations) (Airborne) subordinate to the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne). The 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion is aligned under U.S. Forces Command’s 18th Airborne Corps. The 83rd CA BN has five regionally aligned companies and one to support the 18th Airborne Corps’ Immediate Response Force. However, the 83rd is scheduled for deactivation in the near future.

1st Special Forces Command (A) Geographic Basing[2]

LTG Beaudette stated in the US Army Special Operations Command Strategy that “to succeed, we must exhibit leadership agility and adaptability. We must question our assumptions”[3]. The entire ARSOF CA operational force is located at Fort Bragg,from an individual manning perspective this allows easy movement for Soldiers between Battalions. Yet conducting cross-functional training has proven to be very difficult due to SF Groups and the CA BDE having different training guidance and geographic dispersion where regionally aligned ARSOF units are stationed. There are three Army special operations branches, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations (PO), and Special Forces (SF) all built around regionally aligned formations. Only the 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG), U.S. Africa Command aligned, is stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. The other four SFGs are stationed in Kentucky, Colorado, Washington, and Florida. There are also two overseas regionally SF battalions in Germany and Okinawa, ideally postured against the United States’ two largest rivals in strategic competition Russia and China. These overseas forward postured locations are ideally placed for ARSOF elements to support strategic competition.

The decentralized nature of regionally aligned ARSOF elements in garrison makes training before employment difficult. When CA, PO, and SF units train at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) in Louisiana, the National Training Center (NTC) in California, and the Special Operations Forces Training and Experimentation Center (SOF-TEC) at White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss the tactical elements are often training together for the first time. Ideally but not always, the CA elements validate with other ARSOF elements they will deploy with. If not deploying together, maybe these ARSOF units training at NTC, JRTC, or SOF-TEC are aligned to the same geographic region. Developing regionally aligned cross functional ARSOF teams that train, validate, and deploy together is currently a bridge too far for most CA, PO, and SF teams to accomplish in their training pathway. Current deployment-to-dwell ratio guidance from the Secretary of Defense makes 1:2 a hard line (two years at home for every one year deployed), and ARSOF is striving to reach a goal of 1:3. With additional time in garrison there will be additional time to train before employment. By co-locating regionally aligned ARSOF battalions in garrison they will be able to capitalize on this additional time to train as ARSOF CFTs, eliminate travel costs, and will fall under the same training guidance. ARSOF CA force structure must be modernized and moved to be co-located with the regionally aligned Special Forces Groups to man, train, and deploy ARSOF cross functional teams in future operational environments. This proposal could be applied to the PSYOP community as well.

ARSOF CA force structure has battalions with six separate line companies, but CA Companies are only authorized thirty personnel. Small CA companies are a constraint, as they are still expected to maintain Army standards of training and additional duties but are smaller than the average platoon in the Army. CA Battalions are also faced with coordinating for six companies in different phases of the training cycle at any given time, seven companies if you count the Headquarters and Headquarters Company. This is simply too many companies and not enough CMOCs and Teams. Civil Affairs force modernization proposals in the past, such as the robust CA 2025, proposed drastic force change but only from a CA perspective, leaving out the cross functional dynamic found in the field[4]. Almost certain is that growing CA billets will likely not be possible; positions will need to be reallocated due to a zero-growth environment, a smaller Army budget, and potential reductions of conventional and ARSOF units.

The argument can be made to disband the 95th CA BDE HQ if there are no longer CA BNs directly reporting to the BDE and as a result removing the only O-6 CA Operational Command billet in the active army. This could result in pushback from the Field Grade Officer population as a lack of an O-6 Command reduces the opportunity to produce General Officers. The 1st Special Forces Command was created from the combination of two separate one-star commands the United States Army Special Forces Command (USASFC) and the short-lived Military Information Special Operation Command (MISOC). The PO Branch losing its MISOC general officer billet in recent history and now potentially losing one if not both of their O-6 Group Commanders (4th Psychological Operations Group and 8th Psychological Operations Group) will most likely be met with apprehension. It will be imperative that the CA and PO positions are salvaged and reallocated elsewhere within the 1st Special Forces Command and US Army Special Operations Command and best postured to support training, manning, and resourcing the CA and PO operational battalions.

Recommended Way Forward

Modernizing ARSOF CA will require three separate, yet interrelated lines of effort (LOE):

LOE 1: ARSOF CA Battalions right-size the number of CA Companies but increase the number of CA Teams and CMOCs.

The most important piece needed is a modernization of the ARSOF CA force structure or Modified Table of Organization & Equipment (MTOE). Currently ARSOF CA BNs have six companies, each with one civil-military operations cell (CMOC) and five civil affairs teams (CAT). Recommend reducing the number of companies to four and increasing the number of CMOCs (two per company) and CATs (eight per company). This organization will be able to deploy two CMOCs and eight CATs and still maintain a 1:3 dwell for each regionally aligned AOR. Recommend each CMOC and their four subordinate CATs be referred to as CA Detachments (CA DET) removing the confusion of Civil Military Operations Center being both an element and a physical place in CA doctrine. Increasing the number of teams per company has a historical precedent in the MTOE of the 1990s-early 2000s Foreign Internal Defense / Unconventional Warfare (FID/UW) CA BNs, which followed a similar construct with seven direct support teams and a civic action team, collectively known as Direct Support Detachments[5].

Reducing the number of companies will affect personnel policies, however, changes to the Key Development positions for the Major population could make this reduction of company command billets less problematic for the force.

Proposed Modernization of the Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Company

This reduction in CA companies and increase in Teams and Detachments has many positive effects:

· Fewer elements that ARSOF CA BNs must manage at any given time.

· Higher capability to train at the company level as CA Companies will be large enough to use half of the company to run an exercise while the other half is able to train.

· A Company HQ has the capability to operate as a third CMOC/CA DET when deployed. When combined with subordinate company CA DETs, a single company could fill the requirements of three Theater or Regional Civil Military Support Elements.

· A single Battalion rotating at a 1:3 deployment to dwell ratio can provide eight Civil Military Support Elements (CMSE) per aligned theater.

· Each CA DET manages no more than four CATs allowing additional focus, direction, and analysis to each CAT or CMSE on the ground.

LOE 2: Realign ARSOF CA BNs under their respective regionally aligned SF Groups; train, validate, and employ cross-functional teams.

As ARSOF and the Department of Defense shifts focus from deployments supporting the GWOT to strategic competition, the goal should be to consolidate and co-locate, regionally aligned ARSOF CA and PO battalions in CONUS with their counterpart regionally aligned Special Forces Groups. This will allow clear unity of effort and resources to be leveraged for each area of responsibility in support of GCCs, TSOCs, and Ambassadors. CA Battalions redesigned with a four company MTOE must create formal and informal relationships to train and validate with their regionally aligned SF and PO battalions. As units are moved in CONUS, it is also recommended that the 97th CA BN and 92nd CA BN align companies or their entire Battalions to OCONUS locations to reestablish an element like the Special Action Force (SAF) construct used in the 1960-70s to be strategically postured and persistently engaged with regional partners. SAFs were built around a Special Forces Group and augmented by Civil Affairs, Military Intelligence, Army Security Agency, Engineer, and Medical units to train, advise, and assist host nation forces in activities throughout their respective AOR. Potentially this would look like forward postured CA and PO Companies attached to the OCONUS SF BNs in Germany and Okinawa. These relationships would pair the CA companies with SF BNs for combined training, creating opportunity to train in garrison (further reducing the strain on dwell), validate in combined training centers, and deploy as ARSOF cross-functional teams.

SAFASIA construct in the 1960s[6]

LOE 3: Maintain the 95th CA BDE within 1st Special Forces Command to enable training, validation, and standardization within ARSOF.

The ability for CA and PO to maintain O6 command billets already has precedent in the Division Artillery (DIVARTY) construct found in every division in the Army. DIVARTY elements standardize artillery training, by training and certifying sections, and enabling higher-level exercises[7]; essentially this is the role the 95th CA BDE has been filling since reactivation, as it has not been a deployed headquarters. Some of the billets in the BDE HQ could be allocated to the battalions while keeping the core of the Brigade’s construct and billets to support training and exercise development. Keeping the command would also allow the 95th to conduct CA specific training such as the 95th’s internally sourced validation exercise, OPERATION STALKHM, which is the ideal event to train and validate 3-5 ARSOF CA Companies for deployment. The CA specific training provided by the Brigade’s Advanced Skills Detachment and Human Network Analysis Cell must be retained as well. The best location to maintain this capability would be at the Special Operations Forces Training and Experimentation Center (SOF-TEC) at White Sands Missile Range and Fort Bliss. This would allow the BDE HQ to focus on ARSOF CFTs rotating through SOF-TEC’s Sage Eagle exercise and be co-located where future iterations of OPERATION STALKHM will take place. The same arguments for CA training and innovation can be made to maintain an O6 PO command within 1st Special Forces Command.


Civil Affairs force modernization in recent years has reduced the number of billets in the active Army. The cross-functional team must be the basis for modernization efforts. This creates buy-in from other branches and the entire Army as it fits capability gaps writ large. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) has been, and is, very effective. However, ARSOF must change force structure optimize the training, manning, and equipping of companies, detachments, and teams to be prepared and effective in the future fight and persistent engagement. Order From Chaos.

About the Author: SGM Chris Grez is a 2008 graduate of the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. He has served as a CA NCO, CA Medic, Team Sergeant, CMOC NCOIC, and 1SG in the 97th Civil Affairs Battalion with six deployments to the INDOPACOM AOR. SGM Grez has also served on staff as the 97th CA BN S3 Air, the 95th CA BDE S3 Air, and the 92nd CA BN Operations Sergeant Major. He is currently assigned to the USCENTCOM Theater Civil Affairs Planning Team.

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.

End Notes

[1]Department of Defense. (2020). Functions of the Department of Defense and Its major components. DoD Directive (DoDD) Number 5100.01, CMO. [2]1st Special Forces Command (n.d.) A Vision for 2021 and Beyond. 1st Special Forces Command (A) [3] Beaudette, F. (2020) ARSOF Strategy. United States Army Special Operations Command [4]Hayes, Jr, S. L.; Nguyen, K. (2015) CA 2025: The Strategic Design of Civil Affairs. Master’s Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School. [5] Brady, R. (1991) The Civil Affairs FID/UW Battalion and Its Impacts for SOF in LIC. Special Warfare Magazine. [6]Piasecki, E. (2017) Special Action Force ASIA. Veritas, 13(1). [7]US Army (2015, October 6) Division Artillery returns to 'Big Red One': Unit's activation set for Oct.16. USArmy.

1 comment
bottom of page