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 Fo