FORT BRAGG, NC – Civil Affairs qualification training sends students to win friends and solve problems in war-torn Pineland.
It’s 8 a.m. and Mark Long’s day is already off to a bad start. He’s a full-time Red Cross employee managing relief efforts within the war-torn country of Pineland, and he’s just discovered that his warehouse of emergency food and water has been completely looted. His security guard is gone, but a man named Faruk, a Red Crescent volunteer with a blatant bias toward only helping the Arab population of Pineland, is pressing Long for supplies.
“I had a limited supply of food and water, but now it’s gone and I can’t give anything to anybody,” Long yells in a Southern accent, standing outside the empty warehouse. It’s a humid autumn morning, and fog envelopes the quiet airfield behind him.
“I don’t care about everybody, I care about my people,” Faruk responds, flexing his biceps and taking another step toward Long. The argument gets louder, and neither gentleman notices a dozen soldiers in U.S. Army uniforms entering the compound until they’ve casually walked within a few feet of the altercation.
One soldier, leading the element, forces a smile as the men turn toward him. “How are we doing today?” he grins.
Faruk stares at the soldier. “Not good,” he says flatly, stating the obvious. “We’re not doing good.” In the background, another soldier, a major, scribbles a note onto his clipboard.
The civil affairs team didn’t come to Long’s compound to settle an argument; they hadn’t known about the robbery, and had never even met Long or Faruk before that morning. They’d come to this site to scout out the airfield’s capabilities and potential storage locations for aid and supplies. But amidst the clear conflict, the team saw an opportunity: the chance to build rapport with civilians representing two important aid organizations, one with access to a supply line and storage, and another with clear ties to a large portion of Pineland’s population.
“I told you, all the food is gone! I don’t know who took it, maybe it was your own people!” Long pokes his finger into Faruk’s chest.
“No, they did not! But if they did, I don’t blame them. They have to eat!” Faruk yells back.
Long mutters that everyone else in Pineland has got to eat too, but Staff Sgt. Jeremy Parker is already leading him off to the side of the building, sympathizing by telling Long of the time his own home was burglarized, prior to his deployment to Pineland. In the background, Capt. Saulius Simanavicius helps Faruk cool down. Faruk talks about the movers and shakers in the nearby Arabic neighborhood of Freedom Village; Simanavicius listens closely and repeats each individual’s name with a flawless accent, which pleases Faruk.
Fortunately for this team, Faruk and Long are characters, and their emotions, situations and lack of food and water are all fictional creations; teaching points in the culminating exercise for the Civil Affairs Qualification Course at Camp Mackall in Hoffman, N.C.
Unfortunately, the team has still got to deal with the situation at hand. And they’re only three days into the exercise, with almost two full weeks left to go.
Long and Faruk are civilian role-players, contracted by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School to commit the culmination exercise’s scenarios to memory, including the information that the students are supposed to know and lessons they’re supposed to learn.
Simanavicius is getting off-topic with Faruk, talking about the area’s widespread poverty, and Faruk knows there’s some information vital to the overall scenario that his character must give to the students before they leave.
“I want to fix the main problem as soon as possible,” Faruk sets them back on track. “The water here is contaminated.” They go on to discuss the causes and history of the local lake’s contamination, and Simanavicius takes notes on the political personalities and medical capabilities in Freedom Village. There’s no doubt the team will visit the village themselves in the near future, and the soldiers promise that when they do, they’ll look Faruk up at the local hotel.
“Out here in Pineland, things fall neatly into place,” said Maj. Ben Flanagan, the officer holding the clipboard. Flanagan, a Civil Affairs officer, is the small group’s lead instructor. “The real world is very different, but here they learn the appropriate train of thought; asking the right questions and building rapport and relationships.”
After 30 minutes of conversation, Long hasn’t been offered any solutions from his surprise guests, and he’s starting to get frustrated again.
“You’re asking me a lot of questions, and I’m telling you lots of stuff, but you’re not telling me what you’re gonna’ do!” he yells, walking away from the soldiers, into his empty warehouse.
Capt. Mike Flury, another student being evaluated in this scenario, walks alongside him.
“What would be better is if we came up with a plan together,” he suggests. Long nods and sits down; this is the line he was waiting for to begin suggesting local transportation and storage resources.
“The whole thing is all about the Army providing as little support as possible,” Flanagan said. “It’s about the non-governmental organizations and local civilians taking care of their problems; Civil Affairs teams are just the facilitators and coordinators.”
Within 10 minutes, the team has concluded the scenario; Long’s suggestions have helped them develop their next steps forward, and the conflict appears to have been resolved. Rather than linger, the team wants to make good on their promise to take action and help Long and Faruk’s interests.
The team did well, but nobody’s perfect, especially students beginning a lifetime of learning and growing in the Army’s Civil Affairs community.
“I mentioned that one certain area is not safe,” Faruk said, as the students left the compound. “Nobody asked why, or who’s shooting.” Flanagan will bring this up in the group’s after-action review.
“They spent more time here with us than any team we’ve had here, which is good,” Long said in conclusion, approaching Faruk and shaking his hand. With the students gone, their fictional conflict is over.
“We gave them our best shot,” he said, watching the team’s tactical road march disappear around a corner. “Now it’s up to them to put it together.”
Always teaching, always learning
“Why, why, why, why, why,” Flanagan taps his clipboard with each word. “Keep asking ‘why,’ until you’re sick of it.”
The team is now seated in a semicircle in a small clearing in the woods, and Flanagan is leading an after-action review of the students’ encounter with Long and Faruk.
“Keep asking those follow-on questions,” he says, then gives an example. “Hey, you’ve got equipment? Great! What type is it? How much does it weigh? How did you get it here? What kind of trucks do you have? Where do you get your fuel? Those answers
will come out, just keep asking.”
Overall, the students did a very good job, although they missed one key piece of information that will come back to bite them in a later scenario. Flanagan isn’t telling them what they missed; not yet, at least.
In front of him, over a dozen soldiers are changing their socks and cracking open military meals-ready-to-eat; all of them have notebooks open, and some are looking at maps of the area to plot their next move. It rained last night and the North Carolina humidity comes with its fair share of mosquitoes.
Flanagan looks at the scenario’s team leader, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Parker.
“[The role-player] was pushing you to schedule a meeting. Why did you freeze on the meeting?”
“I couldn’t commit to a time,” Parker responds.
“OK, that’s no problem,” Flanagan nods. He wasn’t questioning the decision his student had made, only verifying that Parker had applied the right logic to that decision.
Flanagan makes a few more remarks, takes a couple questions from students and then designates the students who will be evaluated in the following scenario. This is a big class, and the scenarios are designed to test only four soldiers at a time. The others are placed in security details when the scenarios involve role-player engagements, but they’re allowed to closely observe the engagements as long as they stay quiet and don’t get involved.
“That way, everyone is getting something out of every scenario,” Flanagan said.
This class is made up of officers and non-commissioned officers from both the active-duty U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve. Additionally, one allied student from Indonesia has been embedded in the active-duty soldiers’ class.
Although the Army Reserve Soldiers’ Civil Affairs Qualification Course is primarily run through an online distance-learning program, Flanagan said they’re all expected to perform the same roles to the same standards in the culmination exercise, just as they will as Civil Affairs leaders throughout their careers.
“I think we’ve got lots to learn from the Reserve soldiers,” said Capt. Tammy Sloulin, a member of the active-duty course who understands the value of experience in the civilian sector – she’s a former elementary school teacher.
“The Reserve soldiers bring a skill-set to the table that active-duty folks, as Civil Affairs generalists, take years to learn,” said Maj. Al DeVeyra, the course manager for the Civil Affairs Qualification Course, which is part of 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) in SWCS. “The Reserve brings with it a variety of skills – public administration, civilian law enforcement, judicial – it runs the full gamut of the systems that are out there that we’re engaging.”
“From my perspective as an active-duty soldier, the area between being a Reserve and active-duty soldier gets narrower and narrower, especially in Civil Affairs,” DeVeyra said. “These Reserve soldiers are deployed in some cases longer than the active-duty soldiers; they’re definitely learning a lot from training with each other.”
All graduates of the course will report to their next assignments prepared to paint a picture of a commander’s common operating environment by conducting assessments and key-leader engagements within the area, De Veyra said.
“Civil Affairs soldiers need to be able to think on their feet, and know what they have in their pockets to use as tools for answering the commander’s questions and being his link to the civilian population,” he said.
Building rapport and maintaining relationships with the role players is the first step, but there’s more in-depth work to be done after those relationships are in place, Flanagan said.
“The most important thing that they should be able to do by the end of the exercise is the overall analysis, where they identify, as a class, all the different pieces of information from the role-players and figure out how to bring A, B and C together in order for the people of Pineland to support themselves,” Flanagan said.
The team members stand up and gather up their gear; they’ve identified the next location they need to visit, developed a list of questions and figured out the route they’ll be marching. It’s time for them to move out.
If it was easy, it wouldn’t be training
“Good morning, sir. We’re with the U.S. Army, and we’re looking for a place to store humanitarian aid supplies. Can you help us?”
This is how the team’s new leadership should’ve introduced themselves to a role-player named Robert after stumbling onto his “property” in Pineland.
Should’ve, but didn’t.
Instead of walking down Robert’s driveway up the road, this team takes a shortcut through the forest – catching him off guard. To make matters worse, a nervous team leader has trouble articulating his mission.
“We’re here to do an assessment,” the team leader says.
“What the heck is an assessment? What’s that supposed to mean?” Robert complains in a Southern accent. “I didn’t know if you were here to off me, or what.”
The team could really use a do-over, but there are no do-overs in real-life, and their instructors hang back to see how the 4-man team of Civil Affairs students recovers from their rocky start.
They’ve been searching for available storage areas within the fictional country of Pineland all morning. Mark Long’s Red Cross warehouse wasn’t available, but he suggested that Robert’s boathouse by Moss Gill Lake might be a possibility.
“Now, who told you about me,” Robert says. “Here in Pineland, we native Pinelanders don’t tell each others’ business. If someone’s throwing my name around to the Army, I can tell you they’re no friend of mine.”
This exercise may have started on the wrong foot, but there’s clearly more behind Robert’s attitude. Role-players like Robert are purposely confrontational, as designed by the course’s cadre; the scenario teaches students to adapt to uncooperative personalities – the bolder students might even break contact as soon as the realize that someone like Robert is rude, difficult and even intolerant of a significant portion of the local population.
This team doesn’t break contact, their leader is determined to work through this situation and build rapport with him.
Four team members take turns asking questions. They ask Robert about his kids, his business and his property. One-by-one, team members ask Robert a variety of questions, each one making him more and more uneasy.
“It’s called the shotgun effect,” said Flanagan following the exercise. “It doesn’t really work all the time, and it didn’t work here.”
“No, you can’t use my property to store your goods. But I’ll tell you what: I’ve got delicious, clean water here in my lake, and I’m willing to sell it to you. My only stipulation is that you promise that you’ll only give my water to native Pinelanders,” Robert says, conspicuously excluding the large number of refugees living throughout Pineland.
The team can’t, and won&rs
quo;t, promise this, but Robert scribbles a make-shift contract on a notepad and tries to pressure the team’s leader, a captain, to sign it. The leader refuses, and the resulting confrontation leads Robert to say goodbye to the team, requesting they get off his property.
Sgt. Sergio Bradford, the only non-commissioned officer participating in this scenario, has been taking notes for most of the engagement, but here he steps up and offers Robert a cigarette, which is graciously accepted. In return, Robert offers some glowing praise for Bradford’s professionalism and work ethic. The team quickly learns something new about Robert: he doesn’t trust officers, but is happy to chat with an NCO.
“Just as human dynamics dictates, he’s going to like whoever he likes, and then he won’t want to talk to anybody else. And if we want to build a relationship with him, then we have to work our way around it,” Flanagan told the students.
The engagement closes politely; although the team didn’t find the storage space they were looking for, they identified another member of the Pineland community, and can report to the other Civil Affairs teams the best way the interact with him in the future, if necessary.
“This engagement wasn’t horrible, but I can’t say it was good,” Flanagan tells the students. They know this, but this is only the third day of the exercise. It’s part of the learning experience, he says.
The students have almost two more weeks left of the culmination exercise, with each day introducing new variables and information as they develop a thorough picture of the Pineland culture, demographics and personalities. Tomorrow, all the Civil Affairs teams will begin collaborating with each other, pushing reports up to a civil-military operations center and receiving requests for information from different teams and their higher headquarters.
This cooperation leads to an additional, essential learning objective: analyzing all the information gathered by different teams and connecting certain resources and leaders with each other, thus enabling the citizens of Pineland and local non-governmental agencies to coordinate solutions without the help of the United States military.
“One thing that we definitely want each student to take away, no matter which unit they’ll report to: once they graduate out of here, they are all branded as U.S. Army Civil Affairs soldiers,” DeVeyra said. “We put our mark on each and every one of these students knowing that they have the very foundation of being successful; but to be a total tactician in this field you have to continuously improve.”
Principles of public administration, and unique characteristics of regions and cultures throughout the world, take years to master, DeVeyra said, pointing out that the U.S. Central Command areas of operation are not the only places where the U.S. Army is, or could be, engaged.
“Just develop that fervor for learning more and more about other people,” he said.