Article: What is Civil Affairs?
Civil Affairs Regimental Crest
Ever since I went “stark raving mad” and decided to leave my high-paying job and ostensibly “comfortable” lifestyle to enlist in the United States Army during a time of war, I have had to field a myriad of inquiries as to my state of mental health - as one must expect when making such a life-altering decision. Seems everyone felt I had some ‘splainin’ to do, and for the most part, all of my close friends and family have had my basic reasoning and motivation clarified. Aside from just chronicling the highlights of what I consider a profoundly spiritual journey towards living a more meaningful existence, I put this web log together to give others a better understanding of those motivations. And how could anyone fully understand that without knowing what exactly I will be doing during my tenure in the United States Army. This paper is an attempt to better explain the purpose of my M.O.S. (Mode of Specialization) and Branch: Civil Affairs. I’ll try my best not to make this read like a textbook, but there is some basic facts that I’ll regurgitate here that will at least give an idea of the scope of our mission.
There are four “functional areas” within Civil Affairs. They are as follows:
1) Economics and Commerce
3) Public Facilities
4) Special Functions
Economics and Commerce
Economics and Commerce is broken down into three specialties: Civilian Supply which helps managing civilian resources and supplements those lacking with military resources, Economic Development which monitors, assesses and consults with the host nation on their economic and commercial policies and practices. Food and Agriculture identifies and assesses host nation agricultural production capabilities and advises/assists with improving technologies and production to revive and/or grow the local food supply.
The Government functional area consists of five specialties: International Law, Public Administration which facilitates the legal and orderly acquisition and use of host-nation resources to establish or restore a peaceful, stable and orderly government. The Public Health specialty ensures and protects the health of our own personnel as well as to preserve and restore public health programs in the area of operations. Public Safety specialist help to create, maintain or in many cases, completely reestablish the public order and public safety systems. We do not perform the civilian public safety jobs – rather we provide the framework in which to hire, train and deploy locals. Civil Affairs personnel are integral in the current task of standing up the Iraqi police force and Iraqi National Guard – a key component of our eventual exit strategy. Finally, Public Education is tasked with providing technical expertise to assist in establishing host-nation educational capabilities, measuring and determining their effectiveness. We also coordinate with NGO’s and IO’s to utilize their resources toward providing educational opportunities to all host nation citizens. In Afghanistan, over four-million students have returned to their school system due in large part to our efforts. That’s four-million less that would otherwise have to rely on the militant Islamic “madrassas” for an education. The same institutions that founded the Taliban and provided most of the 9/11 hijacker’s education.
The Special Functions functional area encompasses five specialties: Cultural Relations, Civil Information, Dislocated Civilians, Emergency Services and Environmental Management.
Cultural Relations is responsible for insuring the preservation of significant cultural and historical properties. We make every effort to identify, locate, protect and preserve the cultural, social, religious and historical properties from the hazards of war. Civil Information is the effective public relations arm, attempting to disseminate accurate and timely information regarding military operations to ensure minimal disruption to civilian life. Dislocated Civilian specialists alleviate the human suffering caused by war and provide safe haven to those displaced by the conflict. Emergency Services identify and assess the state of host nation emergency service capabilities and assist in their development and reformation efforts. The Environmental Management specialty determines capabilities and assists in the identification and assessment of host-nation environmental and pollution control systems, agencies, services, and facilities. Recommendations and direction are provided to the commander in order to maintain, sustain, and/or improve environmental services. Civil Affairs personnel are playing an integral role in restoring the habitat of the Southern Iraqi "Marsh Arabs" that was destroyed by Saddam Hussein in an attempt to eradicate their culture.
Civil Affairs Soldier Supervises Work on New Sewage System Installation, Baghdad, Iraq
The Public Facilities functional area has three specialties: Public Transportation, Public Works and Utilities and Public Communications. Civil Affairs plays a key role in facilitating the rehabilitation of public infrastructure. Everything from the postal system to bus service to sewage treatment and power production – Civil Affairs is there to identify the need and facilitate the solution.
Securing the Victory
The Civil Affairs creed is “Secure the Victory” which recognizes the essential necessity of follow through with stabilization and reconstruction efforts after the military success is effectively established, or as a “force multiplier” to the more traditional “combat arms” military forces (i.e. infantry, armor, artillery, etc.) serving to mitigate destruction of infrastructure, identify and protect culturally sensitive areas and provide safe haven to non-combatants in the area of operations. Having now gone through the extensive Civil Affairs training at the Special Operations academic center at Ft. Bragg, I can state with the utmost assuredness that the doctrine of the United States military is to protect and care for civilian populations as best it can. Civil Affairs, as well as those of its brother branches, Psychological Operations and Special Forces, are tasked with safeguarding the innocents caught in the middle of any conflict involving U.S. forces. Often this is done at great cost to our very own lives. While the fighting is underway, it is our mission to actually move behind enemy lines at times to prepare protected avenues of escape for refugees (displaced persons) fleeing the battlefield. This is not entirely altruistic as it prevents refuge flows from impeding the forward-progress of our own troops, but once civilians are relocated to temporary shelters, every effort is made to care for their basic needs. In fact, the biggest problem we have with our displaced person camps is getting people to leave once it is safe to return to their homes, as more often than not their living conditions are better in the tent city than where they came from!
If it weren’t so painfully counter-productive, I would find the rantings of many in the so-called intellectual class amusing in their naïveté when they produce their vitriolic diatribes accusing the United States of “crimes against humanity” or, in one famous (infamous) case, a “silent genocide” as Noam Chomsky did in late 2001 during the initial phase of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I find it positively ludicrous when we are criticized for not properly planning for the refugee flows due to conflicts that we’ve initiated without the acknowledgement of the fact that their argument is fully predicated on the (safe) assumption that the refugees will flow toward U.S. lines of control! Now why would that be? If our invasion of Afghanistan was morally equivalent to the same by the Soviets in 1979, then why have several million Afghan refugees who fled during the Soviet occupation returned after ours? How convenient it must be to be an “academic”- instead of actually doing something, they can merely sit back and critique what others are trying to accomplish from the safe distance of their ivory tower; thus having absolutely no accountability when you’re wrong. But I digress…
Once the operational environment becomes more permissive, the mission adjusts toward developing a trust and working relationship with the indigenous leadership and increasing their credibility with their constituency by initiating and funding public works projects to reconstruct and/or rehabilitate destroyed, neglected or previously non-existent infrastructure in the functional areas mentioned above. Additionally, we act as liaison between the military and civilian governmental organizations (GO’s), non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and international relief organizations (IO’s), often playing “matchmaker” by identifying a public need and finding another organization, for example the Agency for International Development (USAID) or the International Red Cross (IRC) that can provide for that need more readily than ourselves. One reason that we may seem to go unnoticed in our efforts is that our mission typically involves giving the credit to someone else. I hate to burst the bubble of those who accuse the United States of “neo-imperialism” but our stated and desired end-state involves us all getting to go home. Its better to have the people give credit to their own leadership for their improved living conditions as it serves to legitimize them and stabilize the political environment. As anyone who has gauged the success of our efforts in Iraq on the megawatt production of the Iraqi power-grid knows, the perception of improvement is key to assuaging public dissension. Our objective is to provide a secure, stable and minimally corrupt operating environment for domestic and foreign commerce to flourish. I’ll leave it to the Chomsky’s of the world (sitting in their comfortable, air-conditioned Western homes) to debate the pros and cons of capitalism.
321st CA Bde Unit Crest
One strength of Civil Affairs is its force composition – we are 97% Reservists. There is only one Active Component unit currently in existence. (There are plans to create an additional three units later this year.) The purpose of this non-conventional force structure is to leverage civilian-sector expertise. My own unit, the 321st Civil Affairs Brigade based out of San Antonio, TX consists of lawyers, doctors, nurses, school principles, teachers, law enforcement and many private-sector professions, including at least one software-engineer-cum-soldier, me. During our periods without conflict, we are mobilized to provide humanitarian assistance in cases of conflict or natural disasters. We deployed nearly an entire battalion to help during the recent Tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean late last year. If only the Defense Department PR department could do a better job of letting the public know we exist and that we are constantly deployed throughout the world, it could help change negative misperceptions of the military that I have to deal with every day – even (or especially) amongst my higher-educated friends who have been subjected to the traditional “academic” viewpoint on the role of our military in world affairs.
As modern warfare’s traditional “conflict” phases have become relatively short compared to “post-conflict”, the need for specialized units such as Civil Affairs has become readily apparent and my intuition leads me to believe the American (and Western) public will become increasingly aware of our existence and our mission in the coming years. I hope this article helps increase that understanding in some way. There are so many people out there that could be a part of this that have no idea that we exist. I hope that when I get home I will have opportunities to help increase that awareness within my own community. In the meantime, my hope is this website will be referenced by many friends of friends of friends, ad infinitum to increase that awareness while I’m away and perhaps to inspire someone else out there that might be struggling with their own inner-conflict between their need for comfort and the familiar and their desire to give something back of themselves to the less fortunate of us.