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Too Easy: A Practical Guide to Success for the Neophyte Civil Affairs Operator

By Tim Wolf

Civil Affairs candidates at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School carry a simulated patient during Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection (CAAS) at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, September 25, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens)


As a graduate of the Civil Affairs Qualification Course, you are expected to possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities on your first day at your assigned unit. The reality is every unit is different, and the high operational tempo can sometimes be prohibitive to successfully integrating new Civil Affairs Soldiers into the fold. This article is designed to address a few Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) that will not necessarily be found in doctrine but are critical to becoming successful in any environment. While there is an inexhaustive number of TTPs to choose from to aid Civil Affairs Soldiers embarking on their journey, this article will cover proactive mentorship, demonstrating value, building trust, and aggressive career management.

Proactive Mentorship

The high operational tempo and decentralized nature of Special Operations is not conducive to a rigid mentoring structure. It is incumbent upon the individual to seek out the formal and informal leaders in an organization to develop a mentor relationship. ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership dictates that individuals “must not wait for a mentor to choose them but have the responsibility to be proactive in their own development.”[1] This does not have to be a laborious and formal process. The “Rock Stars” of an organization are easily identifiable. Seek out those individuals and set up a time to extrapolate their best practices and their understanding of organizational challenges that you can utilize for success. If you are waiting for someone to knock on the team room door to force you to drink from the goblet of knowledge, you will find yourself waiting for a long time.

The initiative demonstrated with proactive mentorship ties in with the other topics discussed in this article. You are increasing your sphere of influence by reaching “up and out” of the organization and demonstrating that you are not a “Grey Man,” but rather someone who seeks to improve themselves and their organization. You are effectively establishing yourself as someone who takes their profession seriously and is separating yourself from the crowd. These actions will cause the formal and informal influencers of an organization to take notice.

Demonstrating Value

If you look across the Battalion formation, you will realize you are one of many Soldiers of the same rank. In a standard Battalion, you will see that you are one of fifty-five or more Captains. The reality is there is little difference between Team Leaders that will distinguish themselves and those that will get lost in the crowd. This can be attributed to the exemplary job the cadre at Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection has done on vetting only the best candidates to matriculate into the Regiment. Regardless, it is often challenging for the Company and Battalion Commanders to rack and stack the top performers among the formation.

So then, what can an aspiring Civil Affairs Soldier do to stand out from the crowd? One must understand the needs and concerns of the target audience. The concern for the Company Commander is to enable five Civil Affairs Teams (CAT) to operate at their full potential. Some CATs adopt a mentality that if their team is functioning at a high level, postured for success, then it is time to call it a day. This mentality is short-sighted, that disregards the remainder of the Company. The adage of “rising tides lift all boats” should be brought to mind. Enabling, encouraging, and sharing TTPs with your peers demonstrates leadership, maturity, and the selfless attitude that is appreciated and noticed by the Command Team.

The Battalion level is not dissimilar from the Company echelon. The Battalion echelon is often focused on addressing systemic issues as Companies take on the alienated nature of the CATs. Can you build networks through relationships across the Battalion to solve systemic problems? Are there consistency and uniformity gaps across the formation? What is the forcing function to bring Companies together beyond the mechanism of training meetings, etc.? These issues present an opportunity for an aspiring leader to become the agent of positive change.

One of the most useful and zero-cost ways to demonstrate value is by codifying operational experiences and highlighting nascent capabilities germane to the Regiment is through publication. Analysis captured in detailed writing is arguably the most effective information platform that Civil Affairs uses to shape the operating environment by informing commanders. Publishing allows for the hard work and value the organization has contributed to the larger Conventional Force and SOF enterprises to be recognized.

Building Trust

The Battalion Commander has many worries to consider when deploying CATs into a theater, thousands of miles away with little oversight. This inherently involves accepting a certain amount of risk. To alleviate that concern, it becomes incumbent for the Civil Affairs Operator to assuage those fears by mitigating risk. This is done by building trust. This is not as hard as it may sound.

Demonstrating value is one way to build trust, as was previously discussed in the prior section. Another line of effort to build trust is by displaying your knowledge of Civil Affairs and Army doctrine, articulating command and support relationships relevant to your mission, the nesting of strategy from the National Security Strategy to the Geographic Combatant Command to the Campaign Support Plan that you will be supporting while deployed. While these areas of concentrated study are often enforced in professional development schools such as Senior Leaders Course or the Captain’s Career Course, one critical facet of frequently overlooked information is authorities and funding mechanisms.

Examples of authorities and funding can be understood in the execution of Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET). Joint Publication 3-20 Security Cooperation defines the purpose of a JCET “is to foster the training of US SOF in essential skill sets by training with Foreign Security Forces in their indigenous environments.”[2] The authority to execute a JCET falls under Title 10, USC, Section 322. A JCET is allocated funds under SOF Major Force Program 11.[3] It goes a long way in the eyes of leaders that you will go into the operational environment with the necessary knowledge to carry out your assignment.

Knowledge is power and a way to elicit trust from those that have the command authority to approve or disapprove an initiative or deployment. Achieving the trust and confidence of a commander is crucial, and something every Soldier should strive to accomplish. Being able to demonstrate your knowledge of the legal mandates that authorize your actions and the means in which you will fund these activities is a simple check on learning that will get you to “yes.” It may also keep you out of jail and your commander from being relieved.

Aggressive Career Management

Civil Affairs Soldiers can be myopically focused on getting assigned to a Civil Affairs Team to execute the skill sets they developed through the Civil Affairs training pipeline. However, while focusing on the importance of leading, training, and deploying with a team, we often lose sight of decisions that will have a significant impact on long term career goals. There is a pervasive school of thought that emphasizes only focusing on the current position of today, with the understanding that the performance demonstrated there will open the doors of opportunity for tomorrow.

To increase the chances of achieving your long-term goals, you must make your decision to commit to a career in the Civil Affairs Regiment early. Your Rater and Senior Rater need to identify the future of the Regiment. The easiest way to accomplish this objective is to raise your hand and signal that you want to be groomed for higher positions of responsibility. This separates you as a potential “Rock Star” from the sea of “Grey Men.”

It is imperative to read and understand the DA PAM 600-3 The Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management and the DA PAM 600-25 The U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Guide. Understanding the Key Development billets is essential in identifying the positions that will advance you ahead of your peers. For example, there is only one Key Development position in a Civil Affairs Battalion for a HHC Commander and Civil Information Management Chief for a Captain to fill. These billets have the potential to set you apart from your peers and should be reflected upon your Officer Evaluation Report. Familiarize yourself with the nominative positions such as ARSOF Captain’s Career Course Instructor and Branch Manager for Captain Accessions. These positions will require you to be selected from amongst your peers across the Regiment by the Civil Affairs Branch Manager in coordination with input from Battalion Commanders.

The solution to reaching these desired positions is robust communication with your Rater, Senior Rater, and Branch Manager, both early and frequently. Take advantage of your initial and quarterly counseling sessions to reaffirm your desire for these positions. Nameplate management for the Battalion Executive Officer and Branch Manager is a process that takes over a year or more to identify the next individual to fill these high demand positions.


The topics discussed are just a few key points of advice to assist the next generation of hard-charging Civil Affairs Operators. While I compile another batch of TTPs by engaging our most experienced Officers and NCOs, I recommend that everyone in the Civil Affairs Regiment do the same and share the wealth of information with the community. “Power is gained from sharing knowledge, not hoarding it”- Anonymous

End Notes

[1] Headquarters, Department of the Army. Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 – Army Leadership, May 2012.

[2] Joint Chiefs of Staff. Joint Publication 3-20 Security Cooperation, May 2017.

[3] Ibid.

About the Author

Major Tim Wolf maintains a diverse military career as an enlisted Marine, Army Infantry Officer, and Civil Affairs Officer since 2013. He was an Honor Graduate of the National Defense University’s Joint Special Operations Master of Arts program in 2019. He holds Bachelors of Science Degrees in Political Science and Constitutional Law from Frostburg State University, and a Masters Certificate in Program Management from Fayetteville State University. He currently serves as the Eighth Army’s G9 Directorate Operations Chief in Camp Humphreys, Korea. He resides in Southern Pines, North Carolina with his wife, Amy, and their children McKenna and Ronin.

The views expressed are the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.



LTC David,

Thank you for the praise. Your book was not only a great source of information for my thesis, but was also a motivating factor to sit down and put thoughts to paper. Its easy to find reasons why not instead of sitting down and doing the work.



Interesting feedback. I am ecstatic that you could take away something useful from the article. Writing should be thought provoking and the fact the article could pull you from the sidelines and into the arena of discussion is a testament to that fact.

I would suggest that you brush up on your use of clichés. I have read Machiavelli's "The Prince" a minimum of three times, the latest being in 2019. I am pretty sure Machiavelli would not have recommended "Enabling, encouraging, and sharing TTPs with your peers demonstrates leadership, maturity, and the selfless attitude that is appreciated and noticed by the Command Team.". I think a Machiavellian act would be to covertly exploit tensions between teams in ord…


Arnel David
Arnel David
Jun 28, 2020

"Publishing allows for the hard work and value the organization has contributed to the larger Conventional Force and SOF enterprises to be recognized." Good points... thanks for your contribution, Tim!


Benjamin Ordiway
Benjamin Ordiway
Jun 27, 2020

Respectfully, this article is brazenly Machiavellian. I may just be a neophyte, but I would encourage recent CAQC graduates to demonstrate value not by “displaying your knowledge“ but by humbly demonstrating competency in basic tasks and focusing on building and leading your civil affairs team. I normally do not comment, but I feel this article illustrates a careerist mentality in which the attainment of power is the chief goal rather than service to others in the organization. I appreciated the lesson on funding (as we do often deploy without fully understanding where the money comes from) but I think, beyond that, this article should be read with caution.

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