Updated: Jun 23
By Lucas Vaughan
Symbols are important. Civilizations, organizations, corporations, and even an individual's identity are built on and around symbols. They communicate values, demonstrate principles, express aspirations, declare intentions, assert purpose, affirm origins, and galvanize solidarity. Symbols are powerful because they instill pride, evoke camaraderie, and spur individuals to strive harder in their pursuits. The proud graduates of the Active Duty Special Operations Civil Affairs Qualification Course, referred to in this paper as the SOF CAQC, need such a symbol. The pipehawks do not go far enough, since they are designed to honor the past, and they do not drive the branch forward. The professional Soldiers who make up the branch deserve more. They deserve a symbol to recognize their accomplishments, communicate their expertise, and most importantly, foster esprit de corps. All Civil Affairs (CA) Soldiers who graduate from SOF CAQC should be awarded a “Civil Affairs'' tab. A tab will identify CA Soldiers as competent and qualified to foreign counterparts and civilian partners. This tab will acknowledge the bearer’s excellence and dedication in completing the SOF CAQC, distinguishing an individual from those who have not completed the necessary rigors, and identify them as professionals in the realm of the civil domain. Above all, the “Civil Affairs” tab will simultaneously catalyze camaraderie among the ranks and hold the CA community accountable to a higher standard of excellence through greater visibility.
Conceptually any Soldier who graduates the SOF CAQC is a peer to their counterparts who graduate the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). Factually speaking, each is a qualified professional in their respective domain of Special Operations Forces (SOF), equipped and mentally prepared to apply the skill sets that U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) has given them; however, in practice, this is not the case. While the Special Forces (SF) Soldier is awarded the coveted Green Beret and tab indicating their status as a member of the illustrious SF Regiment and the SOF community at large, the CA Soldier is indistinguishable from non-SOF Soldiers in 1st Special Forces Command (1st SFC). Their heraldry, from the maroon Airborne beret to the 1st SFC shoulder sleeve insignia, is the same whether one is a newly arrived private or a CA combat medic with five deployments.
Beyond the inequity of the two branches’ symbology lies a larger issue – a failure to acknowledge the achievements of Special Operations CA Soldiers. Any Soldier who earns the right to be a member of Special Operations CA has gone through a vigorous vetting process:hand-chosen after a 10-day selection, shaped and molded through the SOF CAQC, qualified through an intense six-month language course, and proven themselves at Operation Sluss-Tiller, the three-week culmination exercise. Successfully completing these tasks is no small feat and proof of the importance of highly skilled and qualified CA Soldiers. Otherwise, being Special Operations CA would not require such an investment of time and resources. It would be akin to other career fields, simply requiring an initial entry MOS without any selection and assessment at all. Recognition matters, which is why the Army awarded members of the Security Forces Assistance Brigade (SFAB) the “Advisor” tab when they elevated that unit and aimed to build its prestige. The Army learned this lesson once with SF. They adopted unique headgear and symbology, and in turn, they rose to the occasion and refined their branch. Ultimately, what every member of Special Operations CA has accomplished is commendable, and therefore, should be commended.
Unlike most branches, CA offers two distinct paths to enter the career field. For Reserve Component (RC) Soldiers, CA is an initial entry MOS. Upon completing basic training, the junior Soldiers will complete a 13-week AIT. For commissioned officers, their pipeline, including their Captains Career Course, is four weeks of classroom training. NCOs who choose to reclassify into the RC CA, will attend a 4-week course to qualify for their new MOS. In contrast, Active Duty (AD) CA Soldiers must first be selected and then complete the 47-week SOF CAQC, which includes language training. If the selection process and additional training are necessary, then certainly there is a stark difference in the expected professionalism and expertise between the two. This is not to undercut the difficulty of the training, nor the talent and accomplishments of the Soldiers serving in the United States Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (USACAPOC). The argument is meant to distinguish AD Civil Affairs Soldiers in the eyes of the military. The training of the two paths differs so greatly there should be a way to visually distinguish them. More importantly, the Army’s utilization of the two components is unique. USACAPOC units are deployed to support conventional forces while AD is a SOF asset, deployed to a broad range of environments both conventional and unconventional. This can have benefits for USACAPOC as well as AD; it will allow for those in their ranks who have completed the SOF CAQC to stand out and possibly encourage the RC to send more Soldiers through the SOF CAQC.
First impressions have lasting consequences. Often, foreign partner forces are unclear of the level of professionalism within the CA branch. For many militaries, Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) duties are nothing more than a temporary assignment. CA’s civilian counterparts generally lack an understanding of their capabilities beyond the fact that they are Soldiers. A “ Civil Affairs” tab would be a clear indicator of the bearer’s professionalism and a distinguishing identifier of expertise and function. Furthermore, the presence of a tab acknowledging the professionalism of Civil Affairs will reinforce the value that the US Army places on the civil domain. Within the US Army, a Theater Special Operations Command (TSOC) commander will be able to scan a room and immediately ascertain the expert in the civil domain sitting on his or her staff. The
“Civil Affairs” tab is the calling card that the branch needs to expand its prominence and reputation.
The most pressing case for a “Civil Affairs” tab is vitalizing the lifeblood of the branch – esprit de corps. AD CA offers some of the most exciting deployments and opportunities afforded to any branch. Visit most CA companies, however, and one might be left with another impression. The pride and camaraderie fail to rise to a level that matches the unique prestige of the profession. The recognition brought by a “Civil Affairs” tab will not rectify this issue alone. Rather, wearing the “Civil Affairs” tab will make Special Operations CA Soldiers stand out, and that conspicuity will be a responsibility. To borrow a phrase from President Kennedy, the tab will serve as “A symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.” Bearers of the tab will be responsible for upholding the standard and values of the branch from the moment they don their uniform. No more Soldiers being the “grey man” nor safety in anonymity. Each Soldier will be forced to uphold the level of excellence and professionalism expected of members of the SOF community. The tab will be a symbol that defines the organization, a symbol that Soldiers carry to broadening assignments so people can immediately identify the CA experts in their midst. The high achievements the tab symbolizes will help build the mythos of the branch. This in turn will spur others, both in and out of the organization, to expect more from its members. The weight and privilege of this great responsibility will bind them together. Skills can be taught, and equipment bought. Yet, esprit de corps can neither be purchased nor trained; it must be instilled. History has demonstrated time and time again that a military with high morale can do things that odds would suggest are impossible. The “Civil Affairs” tab is the spark needed to ignite the spirits of the branch.
Symbols' value lies beyond what they depict or the material they are constructed from. Their value is something that is intangible, yet priceless. A powerful symbol can spur a person to go the extra mile. It is something that can be coveted and foster pride for those who wear it proudly. It is able to indicate an individual’s expertise and professionalism without that person saying a word. Enough cannot be said about the power of symbols, that is why Special Operations CA must have a symbol of their own. A distinguishing mark that will set them apart from their fellow Soldiers. A branding that will identify Special Operations CA Soldiers as the premier experts of the civil domain. A unifying signal of pride and tradition that will cultivate camaraderie. The “Civil Affairs” tab will give the Special Operations CA Soldiers their proper recognition, amplify their work with their counterparts, and foster crucial esprit de corps.
About the Author
SSG Lucas Vaughan is a Civil Affairs NCO in the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. He has deployed to Lebanon as a member of the Civil-Military Support Element. He previously served as infantryman at the 1st Squadron (Airborne), 40th Cavalry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division deploying to Kosovo. He is a 2017 graduate of the Civil Affairs Qualification Course and a 2019 graduate of Ranger School. SSG Vaughan holds a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science with Pre-Veterinary Emphasis from Lubbock Christian University.
The opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied above are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of any organization or any entity of the U.S. government.
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