In the fall of 2020, members from E Company, 98th Civil Affairs Battalion employed a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) application called the Mobile Awareness GEOINT Environment (MAGE) to provide seamless situational awareness for the Commander of U.S. Southern Command. During the five days of the response effort, special operations forces worked in tandem with Joint Task Force Bravo, the interagency, and host nation elements to medically evacuate over 75 personnel and deliver 127,000lbs of humanitarian aid. The maneuver elements used the application to convey their position, send pictures of potential helicopter landing zones, the disposition of the displaced populace, and photos of critical infrastructure. The efficacy of this application enabled commanders at echelon to make more timely decisions and effectively allocate finite resources. This validated an effort that was two years in the making.
In September 2018, the 91st Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion (BN) conducted a training event with Native American populations across the United States. Two teams from the 98th CA BN were also selected to attend the event in an effort to improve interoperability between battalions. In preparation for the event, all teams were introduced to the geo-spatial common operating picture platform colloquially referred to as MAGE. Throughout the training event, civil affairs forces used this platform to track team disposition, as well as the “observations,” or reports, that MAGE allows a user to generate. These observations can be pictures, videos, or soundbites that are attached to a generic 5Ws construct, or to customizable forms. The team from E Company, 98th CA BN (E/98th) took the lessons from this exercise, and implemented MAGE alongside unified action partners (UAPs) during their deployment later that year. Specifically, the program was used throughout Latin America to facilitate reconnaissance beyond the forward line of troops to understand the composition and disposition of regional threat networks. This was the original litmus test in the 98th CA BN, which validated a proof of concept for the continued operational employment of MAGE.
Due to E/98th CA BN’s successful integration of MAGE, it was taught in the battalion's subsequent technology-focused training events, to include a prolonged event in Texas. Company level civil military operations center (CMOC) and command team (CMD TM) tracked the teams as they conducted movement to, and within Texas, while observing the civil affairs teams' observations along the way. All observations were concurrently tracked by battalion operations section enabling positive mission command over the maneuver elements at a higher echelon. The shared understanding that was validated across several thousand miles would prove pivotal when E/98th employed MAGE operationally the following year.
During the summer of 2020, E/98th civil affairs teams civil military operations center, and company headquarters, was deployed to Latin America in support of United States Government (USG) objectives. As the company carried out their traditional operations, it was evident that Hurricane Eta would disrupt the daily schedule. Understanding that MAGE was an unclassified system, and could operate seamless within the joint, intergovernmental, interagency and multinational (JIIM) environment, E/98th coordinated with Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-B), and NGA technicians to establish a server dedicated to US Southern Command's response to Hurricane Eta. This server would come to provide leaders from Washington D.C. to Latin America situational awareness of the maneuver elements’ actions, which were being uploaded as real-time observations.
E/98th civil affairs teams were employed by the ground force commander to medically evacuate (MEDEVAC) wounded, pregnant, and vulnerable populations while providing lifesaving humanitarian assistance and projecting needed supplies of the displaced populace.
Each morning, the company's civil military operations center participated in JoinT Task Force Bravo's operations update brief, which included members of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). After the synchronization brief, the civil military operations center would refine the plans with U.S. aircrews, take off from a Honduran military base, and fly to a nearby soccer stadium, which had been retrofitted as a staging base by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Honduran military. From there, they would integrate into their operations process, working closely with civilian and military leaders who had been laboring through the night to update running estimates.
Once geographic locations were confirmed with the host nation leadership and helicopter crew, humanitarian aid would be loaded to selectively fit the needs of that village. Member from the civil military operations center, in coordination with a local NGO representative, would fly to these areas and drop off the specified supplies, while evacuating the wounded, or those about to give birth.
During this process, observations were logged via MAGE, including locations of operational landing zones for helicopters, disposition of displaced personnel, and dilapidated critical infrastructure, which was impacting the dispersal of humanitarian aid. The NGA’s technicians were pivotal in taking candid feedback from the teams, and customizing the forms that U.S. forces needed to properly articulate mission requirements to higher headquarters to create shared understanding. This process was continuously refined over the course of five days.
When recovery efforts regarding Eta were under control, E/98th returned to their base of operations, and began preparing for Hurricane Iota. Simultaneously, members of the civil military operations center worked alongside personnel from Joint Task Force-Bravo and US Southern Command to expand an auto-ingesting application programming interface development. This interface enable computer programs to communicate with one another. Auto-ingesting interfacing occurs when data from one server is automatically assimilated into another. This effort allowed Commanders at all echelons to view a more holistic operational picture while subsequently making timely and accurate decisions.
As we continue to explore great power competition through a multi-domain operations construct, it is imperative that SOF bear in mind two vital facts. First, most special operations require non-SOF assistance. This mission delivered 127,000lbs of HA, and evacuated 75 personnel in five days. This would not have been possible without air support from non-SOF units. Second, humans are more important than hardware. The additional personnel that accompanied the civil military operations center enhanced interdependence, interoperability and integration. Their expertise and tenacity was the reason this mission was a success. These lessons learned reinforces SOF’s need to continue to educate themselves on available tools to satiate warfighting functions, explore capabilities and assets with a high return on investment, and integrate themselves as an information related capability. The effective use of MAGE, and auto-ingestion efforts offered US Southern Command a medium to conduct mission command, provided viable options to achieve an end state, and ultimately allowed US forces to bring order, from chaos.
 Connelly, Justin. 2018. Mobile Awareness GEOINT Environment. informational pamphlet, NGA Research.
 MuleSoft. 2021. What is an API? Accessed April 22, 2021. https://www.mulesoft.com/resources/api/what-is-an-api.
About the Author
Brian Hamel is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Captain currently serving as the Deputy Human Network Analysis Chief for the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (SO)(A). He holds a M.A. from Northeastern University in National Security, and a B.S. in International Development and Economics from the University of Vermont. He has deployments to Afghanistan, Central America, and South America.