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SOF CA: The Things We Think But Do Not Say

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

By: Peter Dierkes

Bottom Line Up Front: Special Operations Civil Affairs lacks clarity in doctrine, mission, and training. The result is a force lacking legitimacy and facing an existential crisis. Issues of training, mission, and purpose raised in the 2017 Civil Affairs Captain’s survey are still prevalent and are costing the Army talent.

I. Introduction

There is a clever type of bank fraud called “check-kiting.” The scheme involves floating a series of fraudulent checks and relying on the recipient’s presumption of legitimacy. Flitting from institution to institution, the con artist withdraws available money, then uses those funds to cover previous checks as they begin to clear. Eventually, however, someone is stuck holding the bag. Special Operations Forces (SOF) Civil Affairs (CA) Teams are often forced to kite checks. Instead of monetary promises, we bank on a marketed skill set that we do not possess. The funds are lacking. Eventually, supported operational commanders, US SOF partners, or US Embassies learn an unfortunate SOF (CA) truth: we are often not what we say we are, and we often cannot do what we tell others we do.

This is not a new problem. In 2017, Civil Affairs solicited anonymous feedback from 152 Active-Duty Captains (see Appendix for selected responses). Only 25% agreed or strongly agreed that the branch had a “clear, overall strategic objective.” Only 36% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the branch “provides a common vision/mission statement.”

In 2020, I re-created this survey and distributed it to a convenience sample.[1] As this survey was a personal rather than a sponsored research project, I did not expect to achieve the same respondent size as the 2017 survey. Still, 44 Active-Duty CA Captains—nearly nine companies worth of CA Team Leaders—responded (see Appendix for selected responses).

The survey captured feedback from officer year groups 2011 through 2014. A majority (81.82%, 36/44) of respondents had, at the time of the survey, between six and eight years of military service. Nearly half (43.18%, 19/44) of respondents had, at the time of the survey, between eight and ten years of military service. The majority (79.55%, 35/44) of respondents were assigned to the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, with all subordinate Civil Affairs Battalions represented. Other respondents were assigned to the 83d Civil Affairs Battalion (11.36%, 5/44), US Army Forces Command (4.55%, 2/44), or “other” (Special Forces Groups, US Army Special Operations Command, First Special Forces Command (9.09%, 4/44).

The results: in the three years since the 2017 CA Captain's survey, the branch has inadequately responded to the concerns regarding training, doctrine, or focus.

The 2017 and 2020 survey results and CA literature review point to the following “Rules of SOF Civil Affairs”:

1. Brand and narrative are more important than competence.

2. SOF CA is not a SOF peer.

3. Jobs “broadening” your career usually still include the words “Civil Affairs.”

4. Personality drives doctrine.

5. Doctrine does not match operations.

6. Operations do not match training.

The resultant effects are felt most distinctly by the tactical stakeholders in CA: Captain Team Leaders and their teams. This paper will review these concerns through the lenses of Doctrine, Organization, Training, Leadership & Education, and Personnel.

II. Literature Review

Doctrine Survey results from 2017 and 2020 are straightforward: SOF CA doctrine lacks specificity and clarity. In 2017, only 25% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “CA has a clear, overall strategic objective.” In 2020, less than 10% agreed with the same question. In 2017 less than 20% agreed that “CA has clear goals for the strategic implementation of CA.” In 2020, that number again fell to less than 10%. What makes SOF CA unique? It certainly is not our ability to coordinate civil-military operations, as noted by (then) Major Shafi Saiduddin in a 2018 issue paper. He identifies various forces, including the National Guard, who routinely carry out civil-military activities while lacking organic CA forces (Saiduddin, 2018).

Likewise, our methods are not particularly unique. Morgan Keay observed the tools CA uses still revolve around blunt instruments such as ASCOPE-PMESII[2] that simply inventory features in an operating environment (Keay, 2018). Dr. Nicholas Krohley also raises the need for tools beyond our current offering, noting ASCOPE-PMESII is entirely unfit as an investigative framework and merely a presentation tool (Krohley, 2020). Also unhelpful is the definition of Civil Affairs that Dennis Cahill (Colonel, retired) described as circular, essentially stating “civil affairs are military forces that conduct civil affairs operations” (Cahill, 2020).

Every military unit is inherently required to consider the civil domain, and any unit can fill out an ASCOPE-PMESII template. SOF CA requires specific skills and training supported by doctrine to provide value to the force. Only 20% of respondents in 2017 and 2020 agreed or strongly agreed that “CA focuses on essential tasks.” Instead, many Active-Duty CA Captains note that CA focuses on self-justification in place of specific strategic objectives (2017 comments 1,2,3,4,5,22). Moreover, CA suffers from organizational attention deficit disorder exacerbated by the latest leadership guidance often supplanting doctrine (2017 comments 4,8,9,10,13; 2020 comments 2,5,10,11,43).


Differentiate SOF CA and USACAPOC[3] doctrine. A lack of SOF CA doctrine leaves a void of specified responsibility. SOF CA and USACAPOC CA elements both provide important—but different—capabilities. Combined doctrine leads to partner confusion, expectation management issues, and diffusion of responsibility. The problems stemming from this odd marriage are referenced frequently in the 2020 survey (29,32,33,35,38). At the same time, unconventional warfare (UW) doctrine should expand and clarify the role of SOF CA, which is essentially “conduct CAO [Civil Affairs Operations]” through all phases. Encouragingly, this process has started. Hopefully, this article helps prioritize this important doctrinal development.

Mitigate personality-based priority shifts. Given CA's amorphous Mission Essential Task List (METL) and fledgling doctrine, each new brigade (BDE) commander’s updated priorities have an outsized impact on operational units (2020 Survey, comment 43). The CA branch needs stability to train, man, and equip expertise unique to SOF.

Align doctrine, training, and operations. Without doctrine and training to match operations, teams will continue to feel lost. Whether this is possible while still organized as a SOF, Conventional, and Reservist force—each with a different operational utilization—is a question for a different paper.

Organization SOF CA is disadvantaged in advocating for its interests. The highest Active-Duty Civil Affairs position is held by a Colonel. SOF CA lacks the formal authority or institutional backing to advocate forcefully for training or doctrine, or even a METL appropriate to the mission (CA Rule #2: SOF CA is not a SOF peer). As an illustration of Rule #2, Major Assad Raza and Sergeant First Class JCerritt Lynn apply “Allison’s Power Model” to the branch to demonstrate that the varying players within the regiment result in individual units fighting for survival. Adding to this problem is a lack of shared understanding of the branch and regimental chaos: a situation they describe as unique within SOF (Raza & Lynn, 2018). Available CA senior command billets severely limit upward mobility, with one O-6 command available every two years.

The implication: half of the Active Duty CA Officers reading this have almost no chance at commanding the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade for no other reason than the year they graduated college.

The branch’s organizational dysfunction feeds an identity crisis. (Then) Major Saiduddin and Sergeant First Class Schafer observe a cultural bias in CA in favor of kinetic warfare. They cite the resulting identity crisis as the most significant barrier toward utilization of the force (Saiduddin & Schafer, 2018-2019). This may owe to Special Forces (SF) hopefuls transferring into the branch (2017 survey comments 20,24; 2020 comment 37), or perhaps due to a kinetic mindset permeating the Army after 20 years of war. Regardless: this identity crisis is a significant obstacle to consistently conveying value to leadership or partners. CA Captains are acutely aware of this (2020 survey comments 4,5,25,26,27).

The CA Officer Corps is not alone. A recent article published by the CA Association, co-written by several Active-Duty Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), described SOF CA as “disjointed, disgruntled, and seeking relevancy” (Bryant, McKneely, & Peterson, 2019). Exacerbating the lack of accountability, care, and awareness is learned helplessness within the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade and its subordinate battalions resulting from a “force provider” mentality. This paper does not deal with the separate, yet also very present, issues within the 83d CA BN addressed by (then) Active-Duty CA Captain Mary Irwin.

A Note on CA Identity

CA identity is a topic with its own wealth of literature. Unfortunately, proposed solutions often focus on branding (CA Rule #1: Brand and narrative are more important than competence). This is epitomized by the push for either a tab or beret to “identify CA Soldiers as competent and qualified to foreign counterparts and civilian partners” (Vaughan, 2020). The article’s popularity indicates a misplaced focus on appearance over substance and a misreading of how causation works—unique CA uniform trappings (if even necessary) must be founded in a unique and realized skill set.

Active duty Major Wyatt Hughes assessed the CA identity as one of the branch’s most significant challenges. He states: “The absence of a consistently vocalized mission and identity which, in turn, enhances misconceptions about the role of CA, is a problem set that extends across the branch from USAJFKSWCS to the remotest of battalions in USASOC and USACAPOC(A) with lasting impacts on even our most junior Soldiers” (Hughes, 2021). His solution, a CA Creed, is unfortunately also a type of branding.

Air Force Captain Ron Keys distinctly captures the identity problems within CA in his famous “Dear Boss” letter. His description of the 1979 Air Force could easily apply to today’s SOF CA:

“I’ve never heard a Marine apologize for being a Marine. Every Soldier I know will proudly and loudly promote the Army. Sailors don’t feel compelled to marginalize or deny the Navy as a “Global Force for Good.” Yet my Chief can only say that we’re “all in” and are committed to being good, supporting partners in the joint team—as if we are just auxiliary members” (Keys, 2012).

In past discussions with SF captains and majors about CA and my decision to assess into CA, I was told multiple times, “Hey man, it was my backup too.” For the record, CA was my first choice. This “backup” mentality is telling. CA Rule #2: SOF CA is not a SOF peer permeates the branch and SOF. The branch is notand should not be considereda backup plan (just as seeking entry in SOF should not stem solely from a desire to escape the Regular Army).

Attempting to mimic SF's skill set or team design only exacerbates this problem.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify a vocation within SOF, become valued experts within that vocation, and consistently deliver actionable results that no other branch could achieve. Consequently, CA personnel currently possess no capabilities unique in SOF. CA only has unique permissions. As a consequence, CA is obsessed with re-invention in search of a purpose. Once the doctrinal “why” is defined, identity will derive itself from training and specific expertise, and we can wear a special beret or tab with pride.


Provide SOF CA General Officer representation. It is nice to hear the SOF community cares about CA. This is typically expressed in a brief by an SF officer to the other SF officers and SF NCOs sitting around the table. The sentiment rings false, like a big brother congratulating his little brother on a ‘good game’ after beating him in basketball. It is time to see those words manifested in a SOF CA General Officer who represents SOF CA forcefully and adequately in doctrine development, training, and resources. Part of this is keeping the right officers in the formation to justify such representation.

Provide SOF CA proportional representation on Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC) staff. When SOF CA is poorly, or not at all, written into operational plans and guidance, it is because there is a lack of proportional representation on TSOC staff. It takes advocates in the room to advocate.


I began my career as a maneuver officer. The training was straightforward and organized. You first learn what the various battle drills are and then learn how to execute them. I imagine when a radio operator joins the signal branch, they first learn what the different radios are and then learn how to operate them. When you join Active-Duty Civil Affairs, you learn what the (current) key tasks are but never get around to the how.

As referenced earlier, training to a specified skill set is nearly impossible under a doctrine that attempts to merge three disparate equities: SOF, Conventional Forces, and Reserve Forces (2017 survey comments 14,15). Discussing CA's inability to define themselves, (then) Major Saiduddin and Sergeant First Class Schafer argued the continued grouping of multiple capabilities under the same career field demonstrates a lack of interest and understanding from the Army (Saiduddin & Schafer, 2018-2019). Consider the branch’s description of the skills within the force:

The 2019 version of FM 3-57, “Civil Affairs Operations”—the doctrine most relevant to the time of survey’s administration—stated that CA forces are trained in language, negotiations, and mediation techniques, as well as the ability to identify cultural nuances, divergent worldviews, biases, prejudices, and stereotypes (Department of the Army, 2019). “These unique skills [emphasis added] allow them to better establish and maintain relationships and communication channels with various civil entities, facilitate coordination and integration, facilitate information flow, synchronize efforts, and promote mission legitimacy” (Department of the Army, 2019).

Simply stating that these skills are unique does not make them so. All Army SOF branches are, at their core, supposed to be culturally aware forces. Furthermore, contrary to CA’s attempt to lay claim to the task of “Civil Engagement,” every ARSOF branch can and regularly does conduct civil engagements. Without doctrine assigning unique and specified tasks, it is unsurprising that CA training is unfocused and lacks substance (CA Rule #6: Operations do not match training). Many in CA are aware of this problem.

Current CA Captain Brenden Jackman argued technical expertise is required to “actually be what we tell others we are: masters of the human domain” (Jackman, 2020). A former CA NCO, Mike Dawdy, asserted a lack of formally acquired skills within CA inhibits credibility with non-governmental stakeholders (Dawdy, 2018). Perhaps this lack of credibility prompted (then) Lieutenant Colonel Arnel David and Eliza Urwin to ask the following: “The Regiment claims that ‘CA has long been a major national strategic capability.’ The question arises: does anyone outside the CA Regiment believe this to be true?” (David & Urwin, 2018).

In 2019, CA doctrine stated that CA Soldiers are trained, educated and organized to support or execute the functions of a civil administration during transitional military authority or SCA [support to civil administration]” (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2019, pp. 1-4). During UW operations, the branch pitches its value as “...assisting the resistance in legitimacy and transitional governance, from the initial resistance movement through transition, to an emergent stable government…”. Additionally, doctrine claims CA forces can “can support a ‘shadow government or government-in-exile’ to plan for and administer civil government in the areas of rule of law, economic stability, infrastructure, governance, public health and welfare, and public education and information” (Headquarters, Department of the Army, 2019, pp. 4-13).

This focus on governance is natural. The only Company Mission Essential Tasks (METs) unique to the branch involve the ability to assess and transition governance. The remainder: troop leading procedures, the ability to conduct area assessments, and coordinating civil-military operations—many other units conduct these functions. With so much governance focus, it is natural to expect the branch to consistently and effectively train Civil Affairs teams in this field.

Unfortunately, the truth is closer to what Active-Duty Major Jennifer Jantzi-Schlichter described in late 2018 as little formal governance training and few other opportunities for further professional development (CA Rule #6: Operations do not match training). Indeed, she joins the chorus saying: “it is time to...practice what we preach” (Janzi-Schichter, 2018, p. 17).

As a result of the branch’s failure to train or project value, Major Jantzi-Schlichter notes, “CA units [are] underutilized or tasked to execute other responsibilities that are not CA related such as planning redeployment ceremonies or the brigade ball” (2018, p. 16).

The 2017 survey highlights this lack of training. The tactical practitioners do not feel the branch gives them the tools and training required to execute their tasks, and what they do have lacks relevance or uniqueness within SOF (2017 survey comments 16,17,18,19,20,21,23,25).

The 2020 survey puts into perspective how little progress the Active-Duty CA component has made in the three years since the 2017 survey (2020 comments 13,15,16,19,21,22,23,24,26). If the answer to any of these deficiencies is “We have reach-back capability to CA functional specialists,” the ability to reach back to Reservist Civil Affairs exists to any element and is, again, not unique to SOF CA.

There is a recurring narrative within senior CA leadership that incoming branch members are better trained than them (2017 survey comment 4). Anecdotally, I heard from all levels of leadership how much better the branch is now than when they joined. These leaders exclaimed, “We never received training on many things, but surely things are better now! The future is bright!” Unfortunately, this is only half true. Perhaps the current training is much better than what senior leaders received. Rather than an endorsement of current training, this sentiment is more an indictment of their pipeline (or lack thereof). Operating in developed countries accentuates this lack of training. In these countries, an outdated CA qualification course (CAQC), proficiency using Google, and a high school civics class are not enough to provide expertise equivalent to a developed partner’s needs or meet a US Embassy’s expectations of SOF CA.

July 2021 saw the release of an updated FM 3-57. I acknowledge the latest version may address some of the concerns highlighted in the 2017 and 2020 surveys. Excellent. Still, until there is a massive overhaul of the CAQC and operational unit training, two questions remain for the wider CA audience:

1. Do SOF CA Teams and Companies truly possess “expertise [in] governance and governance functions” (Department of the Army, 2021, p. 2-4), as the manual boldly claims?
2. Team Leader, are you prepared to tell a US Embassy Country Team that “All CA forces are skilled in governance” (Department of the Army, 2021, p. 2-9)? That is quite the check the branch expects you to write.


Train the force. “TRADOC[4] moves slowly” is an insufficient and irresponsible excuse for the CAQC. I am hard-pressed to recall a training period in my career which provided less return for time invested. While in the course, CAQC instructors frequently reminded us that “This is not what SOF CA really does—you’ll receive that training at your unit.” Sadly, this follow-on training rarely materializes and is inconsistent when it does. Battalions then deploy teams armed with their wits, previous branch experience, and Google. If SOF CA continues to erode its legitimacy in this manner, it will destroy the branch.

Make training specific. SOF CA Teams in different parts of the world also have vastly different experiences and need different skills. Battalions need to prioritize and procure training[5] and schools specific to a team's area of operations (AO). Doing so supports the second SOF Truth: quality is better than quantity.

Prioritize training. Partners are eager to meet the SOF branch able to assist them in advising governance, conducting assessments, or identifying and helping mitigate civil vulnerabilities. Supported commands are eager to see civil information consolidated, maintained, mapped, and analyzed over multiple rotations. Why, then, is “jumpmaster” often the BDE training priority?

Language training is also not given the focus it deserves, even though it provides an opportunity for a specialized capability (true language proficiency beyond a 1+) within SOF. This makes sense for a branch focused on engagement. Give Civil Affairs NCOs another three months of full-time language relevant to their region, and put a 2+ speaker on every team. The SF Qualification Course (SFQC) is not the same for different members of the ODA; why is the CAQC generally the same for all? Additionally, if the Army wants CA to continue addressing targeted humanitarian concerns, training on overseas humanitarian disaster and civic aid (OHDACA) and overseas humanitarian assistance shared information system (OHASIS) needs to be standardized across the branch and incorporated into the CAQC.

Leadership & Education

Many 2017 and 2020 respondents address failures in individual leadership. Anecdotally, I have been fortunate in my CA career to work with some excellent O-4s and O-5s. Additionally, the 2020 survey responses regarding leadership, ethics, and processes in the branch show improvement from 2017. However, it is an indictment on leadership that doctrine and training concerns, raised consistently for years, are still seemingly unaddressed. Perhaps it is pernicious careerism inevitable in a small officer evaluation report (OER) pool or the result of hemorrhaged talent to the civilian sector. Regardless: at some point, a misguided focus on narrative and brand supplanted training and legitimacy. This was a mistake.


Provide CA officers operational leadership opportunities. SF should not hold a monopoly on the ability to hold an operational command. If the “three tribes” are equal, this equality manifests itself strangely regarding who is in command, fills Special Operations Forces Liaison Element (SOFLE) positions, attends advanced SOF schooling, and controls any cross-functional element merging the three equities, etc. It is relatively simple to solve CA Rule #2: SOF CA is not a SOF peer—if SOF is serious about this branch being a SOF peer, CA must be considered and placed in serious jobs.


While this partially stems from issues addressed in Training and Doctrine, the Civil Affairs Non-Commissioned Officer (CANCO) lacks purpose and training. Some in the NCO corps acknowledge this, saying their doctrinal role is undefined and lacks appropriate training. It should not be the case that “the only member of a CAT that possesses special skills training is the medic” (Bryant, McKneely, & Peterson, 2019). Team leaders also realize this (2017 survey comment 9; 2020 comment 19). Perhaps this is why the standard training event for a deployed CAT is Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC). Consider “assessments” other than “area.” These are intended for functional area specialists yet have bled over in expectation to CA generalists. Teams tie Civil Reconnaissance—a perhaps intentionally and appropriately vague term—and “assessments” into one: assessing schools, assessing power plants, etc.

Beyond providing templates, the branch does not train CANCOs in this function, with 18Cs (Special Forces Engineer Sergeants) arguably better trained in this respect. CANCOs occasionally attended 18C training before the opportunity was closed to CA (CA Rule #2: SOF CA is not a SOF peer). This demonstrates the difficulty between a branch split between functional specialists lacking the SOF training of the generalists and SOF generalists lacking any truly specialized skills.

SOF CA is caught in a “catch-22.” Recruiting and retention are poor. This creates a self-destructive cycle. SOF candidates failing to assess into the SFQC are permitted to transfer to Civil Affairs, thereby furthering identity crisis (2017 survey comment 24). If the tribes are equal, could a CAQC failure move over to SF? Of course not. (CA Rule #2: SOF CA is not a SOF Peer).

Moreover, the most common “broadening opportunities” are limited within the branch, hurting recruiting and retention (2017 survey comments 26,27). Want to be a CAQC instructor? Want to move to the 83d? Want to work at selection? Or perhaps you would like to take an S9 job? These “broadening” assignments illustrate CA Rule #3: Jobs “broadening” your career usually still include the words “Civil Affairs.”

What is the recruiting pitch to join SOF CA as it is currently structured, trained, and employed? If you are career-motivated and engaged in your profession, why join a branch with limited future options and lacking peer SOF training or respect? It limits career opportunities, caps operational command potential, and provides little training outside of basic language ability. While deployed, your boss will frequently expect you to justify to your supported command or US Embassy supervisors why you are necessary to the mission in the deployed country as if it was your idea to be there. Some of the best training you will receive at your operational unit is a SERE-C, a survival course that SF, prioritized over CA, has as part of their pipeline.

The current force is aware and feels trapped. In 2017, only 9% of respondents agreed that “The overall morale of Active-Duty Captains is high.” This number dropped to 5% in 2020. In contrast, more than 55% of respondents strongly disagreed with this sentiment. An uncharitable, though likely explanation, is that SOF CA is actively costing the Army talent and wasting enormous investment.

40% of 2020 survey respondents stated they are leaving Active-Duty and would have completed a twenty-year career in a different branch.

It is doubtful the chance to be a jumpmaster is changing anyone’s mind.


Develop goals and hold teams accountable. How many teams, through years of pre-deployment validations, have not been validated for deployment? Ideally, this would also involve a validation remotely resembling what a team will do while deployed (CA Rule #6: Operations do not match training). Teams also need to be held accountable for their success or failure while deployed. This operational accountability requires battalions to be more involved in operations. A team can deploy, complete a rotation while damaging trust with the embassy and a partner force, and return to a “most qualified” OER. Long-term plans are often not transitioned or tracked, and established baselines are rare.

Consequently, quantitative, long-term effects are nearly impossible to demonstrate or even achieve. SOF CA missions resemble—with less oversight, less attention, but still substantial taxpayer expense—the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. In August, the Special Inspector for Afghanistan (SIGAR) described the US Government's efforts as “20 one-year reconstruction efforts, rather than one 20-year effort.”

As Civil Affairs Captain Ben Ordiway observed after multiple deployments to the SOCEUR area of operations, the lack of defined long-term objectives makes it especially difficult to quantify success or progress. A CA team’s influence on a population is not as easily measured as is counting spent brass on a range. If SF commands have no interest (sometimes due to CA’s failure to demonstrate unique value) in monitoring long-term goals, at a minimum, the CA senior leadership should.

Provide CA peer SOF career opportunities. Support CA personnel by opening genuine broadening opportunities. Send CA personnel to schools that provide peer SOF capabilities. Allow CA Officers to succeed in the voluntary transfer incentive program (VTIP) without requiring a general officer’s intervention. The long-term benefit of more CA officers serving in senior defense positions in Embassies and the subsequent increased recruiting and retention will more than offset the short-term pain of unfilled S9 positions padding a conventional BDE commander’s rating profile. Many hopefuls for positions of increased responsibility in specialized SOF units begin their careers in the 75th Ranger Regiment or Special Forces. Likewise, SOF Civil Affairs could easily position themselves as the ideal career springboard for various aligned Functional Areas and recruit accordingly.

III. Conclusion

SOF CA faces an existential crisis. There is now years’ worth of data, research, and white papers from those responsible for the worldwide execution of SOF CA. Quarterly platitudes from the CA Proponent, e.g., “It is better now than ever and only getting better!” fall on jaded ears. The truth is, we are often not what we say we are, and we often cannot do what we tell others we do. If SOF CA continues its current path, there may not be a 2023 force to survey.

There is, of course, a broader solution. Disband the branch. Make leading a CA team a second team leader opportunity for senior SF Captains. Teams would be better trained, be better equipped, and be better integrated with their SOF counterparts if they fell under the money and opportunities of an SF Group. Alternatively, the CA branch could provide existing CA personnel the option of returning to selection to switch SOF branches, to transition to functional areas, or to return to their previous branch.

The 2017 survey did not prompt the necessary changes to the branch. Neither did the litany of follow-on white papers, CA Journal articles, or “Civil Affairs Symposiums.” Perhaps this article will provide a nudge. I understand this paper is reminiscent of Jerry Maguire saying the things people only think.

In an excellent article regarding cynicism in SOF, Naval Postgraduate School Professor Anna Simons stated, “Unfortunately, the problem this [cynicism] creates for the military, and for SOF in particular, is that once officers begin to believe that there is little that they as individuals can do except accept the status quo, their acceptance of this doesn’t just erode but inverts traditional notions of service” (Simons, 2021). I hope the CA branch does not choose to accept the status quo.

If the last twenty years in Afghanistan have proven anything, it is that our Nation, Army, and SOF needs Soldiers capable of understanding and advising military governance, identifying vulnerable populations in the civil environment, working in an irregular warfare construct in a contest for influence within the civil environment, and advising military commanders on all the above in a cohesive effort extending over years, not six months.

It is past due that the CA branch provides these capabilities. The CA branch has asked its people to kite checks for far too long.

Show us the money.

About the Author

Peter Dierkes served as an Operations Officer in the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion with SOF deployments as the Special Operations Forces Liaison Element (SOFLE) to Latvia, as the Civil-Military Support Element (CMSE) Team Leader to Ukraine, and as a CA Planner to Task Force 10. Prior to Civil Affairs, he was a Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, and the OIC of the Jungle Operations Training Center (JOTC) in the 25th Infantry Division. He has a Masters of Public Affairs (MPA) from Indiana University, Bloomington, focused on Public Policy.



[1]. Survey methodology: answers were anonymous and limited to a single response. Questions, with one exception, exactly mirrored the 2017 survey. As the author, I did not participate in the survey. For ease of reference, I selected a representative list of comments in Appendix 2, but the entire survey deserves consideration.

[2]. ASCOPE-PMESII are analysis methodologies intended to increase understanding of the operational environment. ASCOPE (Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organization, People, Events); PMESII (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure).

[3]. USACAPOC (US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command).

[4]. TRADOC (US Army Training and Doctrine Command) is responsible for overseeing training of Army personnel and developing operational doctrine.

[5]. CA teams cannot book many training events because of class size minimums. Many courses have class minimums of 20 or more personnel. This needs to be a Battalion effort.


Bryant, C., McKneely, H., & Peterson, M. (2019, October 5). Letting the CAT out of the Bag: An Enlisted View of Bottom-Up Integration. From The Civil Affairs Association:

Cahill, D. J. (2020, April 20). Civil Affairs Redefined. From The Civil Affairs Association:

Casserleigh, P. (2019). Optimizing Civil Affairs through Reorganizing the Force. Civil Affairs Issue Papers, 5, p. 35

David, A. P., & Urwin, E. (2018). Engineering Peace: Translating Tactical Success into Political Order. 2017-2018 Civil Affairs Papers, 4, p. 35. From 7f7957ec336153d.pdf

Dawdy, M. (2018, October-December). Civil Affairs Force of the Future. Special Warfare Magazine, p. 35

Department of the Army. (2019, January). GTA 41-01-001. From Civil Affairs General Concepts: _GTA%2041-01-001_FINAL.pdf

Headquarters, Department of the Army. (2019, April). FM 3-57 Civil Affairs Operations. From FM%203-57%20FINAL%20WEB.pdf

Headquarters, Department of the Army. (2021, July). FM 3-57 Civil Affairs Operations. From

Hughes, M. W. (2021, February 19). Developing the Civil Affairs Identity. From The Civil Affairs Association:

Jackman, B. (2020, March 9). Carving our Niche: A Modular Concept for Future Civil Affairs. From Civil Affairs Association:

Janzi-Schichter, J. (2018, October-December). Civil Affairs: Transforming Training. Special Warfare Magazine, pp. 16-17. From /archive/SW3104/31-4_OCT_DEC_2018_web.pdf

Keay, M. G. (2018, October-December). Shaping Authority in the Human Domain. Special Warfare Magazine, p. 29

Keys, R. (2012, May 5). Dear Boss, I Don't Just Quit, I Give Up. From Small Wars Journal:

Krohley, D. N. (2020, February 8). Integrating Civil Affairs – An Outsider’s View. From The Civil Affairs Association: integrating-civil-affairs-an-outsider-s-view

Ordiway, B. (2019, October 1). Beyond Tacit Approval: Embracing Special Operations Civil Affairs Support to Intelligence. From Civil Affairs Association:

Raza, A. A., & Lynn, J. A. (2018, October 12). The Future of Civil Affairs: Creating Regimental Order from Chaos. From Small Wars Journal:

Saiduddin, S. (2018). Consolidating Gains Through Political Warfare: Toward a Unified Theory of Civil Affairs. 2017-2018 Civil Affairs Paper, p. 18

Saiduddin, S., & Schafer, R. (2018-2019). Optimizing Civil Affairs through Branding and Narrative Strategies. Civil Affairs Papers, 5, pp. 25,27. From

Simons, A. (2021, February 21). Cynicism: A brief look at a troubling topic. From Small Wars Journal:

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. (2021, August). What We Need to Learn:Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction. From:

Vaughan, L. (2020, June). Yes, SOF Civil Affairs Need a Tab. From The Civil Affairs Association:



Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
May 26, 2022

This article is extremely well done, very well argued and supported by facts. The case it lays out clear as ever is that SOF CA does not need to exist.


Mark Patterson
Mark Patterson
May 26, 2022

This is the truth no one on this page wants to hear. In 1st SFC (A) there is one branch that can do the missions of all the branches in ARSOF and that is Sprecise Forces. SOF Civil Affairs is an expensive and unsuccessful experiment built out of the largesse of the GWOT. Intrinsically Civil Affairs is not SOF for a host of reasons I’d happily debate. The vision behind the creation of USACAPOC and Reserve Civil Affairs was correct prior to the GWOT. Back then CA was more a mission less of a branch and SF NCOs and Officers ran CA teams. It was small niche and arguably better.

True CA work is best done by Reservists who…


Peter Dierkes
Peter Dierkes
Aug 24, 2021

The piece should be updated shortly with me as the author/compiler. For those who have reached out in support or to engage, thank you. Likewise to those who provided valuable and honest feedback (and endless edits) to the article. Thank you also to BG Goddard for his measured consideration in the comments. I appreciate those who read with a level head, disagreed as required, and hopefully took something away.

In discussion with some members of the editorial board during review, I chose to publish anonymously. The goal was truly to move the focus off the author and place it on the content - very little of which (as some of the odd CA meme accounts have noted) are my origina…

Peter Dierkes
Peter Dierkes
Aug 25, 2021
Replying to


I appreciate it. I think everyone is on the same side; we all joined CA because we thought the concept of the branch was important and relevant. Hope all is well in Colorado!



Thanks for putting out there what a lot of us experienced in the branch. It's unfortunate that those of us who agree with this article have to remain anonymous. That alone indicates a clear issue with the regiment. People can agree or disagree with the article, but it doesn't change the fact that a problem exists. The ”right path” that CA is going is something that I don’t think most people in CA are experiencing or seeing. It is why people leave the branch. Years of the same content getting published should indicate a pattern of ineffectiveness of the "changes" being implemented. The regiment should inspire its members to believe in the change that is coming. It's hard to com…


Glenn Goddard
Glenn Goddard
Aug 22, 2021

I appreciate the author's calling out some of the false narrative that I have seen with AC CA, namely the push for a beret, special branch insignia, etc. I once was called down to Bragg for a special presentation to myself, BG Irrizary, and one other leader from a "hotshot" bunch of CA Majors who just finished the course at Naval Post-Grad. The entire presentation was about the urgent need for a gray beret and crossed peacepipe tomahawks! This talk needs to stop. None of that will get you respect with anyone. Fully understanding how a Country Team works, being a true expert in engineering, healthcare, agriculture, etc., that will get you respect because those are the skills valued by…

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