Within the civil affairs community, pundits invariably propose the same two solutions to every problem with the Army Reserve civil affairs force: move Army Reserve civil affairs back to US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), and send Army Reserve civil affairs officers and NCOs through the active component qualification pipeline. The pundits, however, have a shortsighted perspective.
I spent nearly three years as the commanding general of US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) (USACAPOC) and thus as the senior civil affairs officer in the Army. I have a pretty good understanding of the problems confronting the civil affairs community. And, honestly, the rote recitation of the same two tropes has grown tiresome and counterproductive. Neither of these two “solutions” will fix the Army Reserve civil affairs force or unite the civil affairs regiment, which many (mostly active component) civil affairs soldiers believe is split along the active-Reserve fault line. As Army courses of action go, they fail the fundamental tests: they are not feasible, suitable, or acceptable.
David Harrell’s recent article, “The Army Reserve’s Troubling Little Secret: Cheap, Inadequate Training,” again advocates requiring Army Reserve civil affairs officers to attend all phases of the nearly yearlong active component qualification track. But, as is typical of those who propose these “solutions,” Harrell fails to grasp some very fundamental issues that have bedeviled the civil affairs force for years. And he also fails to acknowledge some basic facts about how the Army runs.
Some history is in order to set the stage. Harrell asserts that the Army is relying on Army Reserve civil affairs forces like never before. Until the activation of the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade a little more than ten years ago, however, the Army had only one active component civil affairs battalion. The civil affairs force was almost wholly in the Army Reserve. And the civil affairs branch, until 2007, was a branch open only to Army Reserve officers, a reflection of the branch’s origins during World War II, when it was populated with officers commissioned directly from civil life to take advantage of their civilian skills.
So, Harrell’s assertion that the active component is relying more on Army Reserve civil affairs forces than ever before is not true. In fact, given the growth of the active component civil affairs force, the converse is true. Still, he is correct in stating that the operational tempo for Army Reserve civil affairs is extraordinary; the nation has been at war for sixteen years. And that operational tempo indeed has highlighted problems that have long existed in the Reserve force.
Those problems, however, have little to do with civil affairs institutional training requirements. No Army Reserve civil affairs unit has failed because its officers were not airborne qualified, did not speak a foreign language, or did not attend a regional studies program. And let’s be clear: Army Reserve civil affairs officers do attend the same civil affairs qualification course as active component officers; they just complete many of the tasks under different conditions (distance learning).
Let’s start with two fundamental facts, which Harrell apparently misses. First, the Army Reserve civil affairs force is a conventional, not a special operations, force. This fact cannot be wished away, much as some would like it to be. USACAPOC’s thirty-two civil affairs battalions and the one additional Army Reserve battalion assigned to US Army Europe are organized and trained to support the conventional force—brigade combat teams. Those thirty-three Army Reserve civil affairs battalions exist not because some Army Reserve general officer thought they would be nice to have, but because the Army’s doctrine-based process that links strategy to force structure, Total Army Analysis, determined that was the right number.
Thus, contrary to Harrell’s implication, Army Reserve—i.e., conventional—civil affairs forces do not support special operations forces (SOF); that is not their mission. Army Reserve civil affairs units may serve “alongside” SOF, as Harrell claims—but so do any number of other conventional units.
Second, the great majority of the conventional civil affairs force is in the Army Reserve. This fact means that, for almost all civil affairs support other than to SOF, the mission falls to the Army Reserve. USASOC does not want this mission, and the Army made a deliberate decision to accept the risk of structuring the civil affairs force this way (whether that decision was wise is much worthier of debate than the topic of institutional training requirements for Army Reserve civil affairs soldiers).
The Army solves systemic problems using the DOTMLPF construct: doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities. Not every civil affairs problem is an institutional training problem; in fact, virtually none are. Using as an example the problem that Harrell evidently perceived during his deployment in the Horn of Africa, if conventional civil affairs forces are deployed to conduct SOF missions, then perhaps the issue is one of organization: maybe the Army needs more SOF civil affairs forces. Or perhaps it is one of doctrine: maybe the conventional civil affairs force should not have the mission to support brigade combat teams (because that doctrinal mission drives their organization and training). Or it might have been a personnel problem—maybe soldiers were cross-leveled into hastily assembled units.
But, more likely, what Harrell and his fellow critics don’t get is how the Army trains (there is no “Army Reserve training model,” as Harrell asserts; it is an Army training model). The institutional Army trains soldiers to an objective standard to qualify them in their military occupational specialties—again, based on doctrine. But the Army deploys and the Joint Force employs units, not individuals. If Harrell was correct in his perception of a shortcoming in the ability of civil affairs units to conduct their missions, it likely was a unit training problem, not an institutional training problem.
Units are organized and trained to accomplish their doctrinal missions. If a unit is assigned a non-doctrinal mission, then training for that mission is the responsibility of the unit, not of the schoolhouse. For Army Reserve units deploying to the Horn of Africa, for example, US Army Africa specifies the training requirements, and First Army certifies that an Army Reserve unit is trained on those tasks. So, if Harrell observed Army Reserve units that were unprepared, then unit mission-essential task list training, theater training requirements, and the certification process, not institutional qualification training, are the probable systemic culprits (and I have opined elsewhere about how to fix Army Reserve unit training).
Of course, more training is always better. It would be ideal if every infantryman were Ranger-qualified, every aviator were a test pilot, and every medic were a Special Forces medic. It would be ideal if all officers received a month of training in their Basic Officer Leadership Courses on advise-and-assist. For that matter, it would be ideal if every one of the million-plus soldiers in the Army were in the active component.
But the Army does not exist in an ideal world. It exists in a world with very real constraints—fiscal and political, among others. The Army is not resourced to send every Army Reserve soldier through the active component institutional training pipeline. Even if it were, the Army Reserve is a citizen-soldier force, and requiring every Army Reserve civil affairs soldier to complete the nearly yearlong active component qualification training would result in a woefully undermanned Reserve civil affairs force. Readiness—the ability of units to fulfill the Army’s requirements and accomplish its mission—is the Army’s sine qua non, and a command at 50 percent strength trained to a razor’s edge is just as unready as an untrained command manned at 100 percent.
That said, I don’t see the active component civil affairs officers and NCOs who usually make Harrell’s argument clamoring to fix the problem by asking to serve in active-Reserve jobs or as observer-controller-trainers at the combat training centers, or by suggesting the establishment of a civil affairs training capability in First Army (which it lacks), or by advocating the creation of training partnerships between active component and Army Reserve civil affairs units. It’s much easier to complain that “those Reservists aren’t as good as we are” because they’re not SOF and don’t undergo the exact same SOF training in the schoolhouse. That’s an intellectually lazy argument.
And, finally, of all the problems the Army created by having a SOF proponent for a conventional civil affairs force, not enough SOF training for conventional civil affairs soldiers in the schoolhouse is not one. Indeed, given the constraints, the problem is too much SOF training in the schoolhouse.
Those like Harrell who complain about the fact that Army Reserve civil affairs units are not SOF and that their soldiers do not receive the same training as SOF civil affairs soldiers (all of whom are in the active component) would be wise to study why that is the case. And they would be wise to understand that no Army Reserve unit is expected to be as ready, before mobilization, as an active component unit. I understand as well as anyone that there are a multitude of issues that the Army (and USACAPOC) must address if the Army is serious about improving its civil affairs capability. But sending all Army Reserve civil affairs soldiers through the active component qualification pipeline is not one of them.
Remember: The Army deliberately assumed this risk. Let’s debate the reasons for that—and there are many—and how to improve the force without wishing away the real world.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Jacobs, US Army Retired, is a 1979 West Point graduate and retired in 2014 after thirty-five years of service in all three of the Army’s components. His final assignment was commanding general, US Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne).
Originally posted in Modern War Institute here