Civil Affairs exercise replicates deployed experience, tests Soldiers mentally


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice Archive/2008/October/081030-04.html

FORT PICKETT, Va. (USASOC News Service, Oct. 27, 2008) – Most military training can easily be assessed as a “go” or “no go,” trained or untrained. The Soldier hit the target or missed, completed the performance measures, received at least 70 percent on a given test or did not.

But when a Soldier meets with a village leader in a country and cultural environment far from home to maintain a positive relationship after the village’s infrastructure was severely damaged during a fierce fire fight the previous night, assessing the performance is not a simple pass or fail.

Soldiers from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne), conducted their first battalion-level culmination exercise Oct. 19-25, which focused on the critical thinking and negotiation skills necessary to conducting successful civil affairs operations around the globe.

“The goal was to place the teams in situations where they could take all of their previous training and roll it up in to one,” said Maj. Basil J. Catanzaro, operations officer, 96th CA Bn. (Abn.), 95th CA Bde. (Abn.). “This training wraps together all their shoot, move and communicate skills with civil affairs skills sets.”

“Shoot, move and communicate is pretty easy,” Catanzaro added. “When you take guys out on to a range you can have quantifiable feedback as to whether they are hitting targets. Civil Affairs tasks are a lot more subjective. It takes a lot more art as opposed to science. A lot of the tasks revolve around the teams’ ability to think critically, think outside the box and react to situations and how to respond in an appropriate manner.”

In order to properly conduct the training it requires a lot of outside support to produce a realistic environment where a team’s actions can be assessed, said Catanzaro.

The leadership in the battalion looked back on their training previously in the unit and knew they would have appreciated larger scale training conducted at a battalion level that in the past was never conducted or could be supported.

“I have been in this battalion off and on for seven years now,” said Lt. Col. David Mauser, commander, 96th CA Bn. (Abn.), 95th CA Bde. (Abn.) “Every time I have been with this unit and deployed, and we deploy quite a bit, it has always been at the team level or company level that we have done training. We do very well. We can shoot, move and communicate very well. The one thing we could not do back at (Fort) Bragg is conduct scenarios with free-thinking role players.”

The exercise was based on several scenarios familiar to civil affairs such as, meeting town leadership and making an assessment, negotiating contracts and making payments. Soldiers assigned to the battalion headquarters acted as role players and provided logistical and administrative support.

The scenarios were developed by the battalion operations section based on the leadership’s prior deployment experience and company commander and team leader suggestions regarding their training needs, said Catanzaro.

“The realism of the scenarios was the best part. They were civil affairs-focused and it allowed us to train back here on what we will actually be doing down range,” said Cpt. Eric S. Currence, civil affairs team leader, Co. D, 96th CA Bn. (Abn.), 95th CA Bde. (Abn.) “The realism of the scenarios added to the training; they did a good job of mirroring the Middle Eastern culture and the types of missions we went on, like the contract negotiations and project assessments are all things we will actually be doing.”

Many of the civil affairs Soldiers agreed they benefited greatly from the after-action review where the battalion’s observer controllers, representing the most senior and experienced Soldiers in the unit, gave feedback concerning each team’s actions during the scenarios.

“The chain of command and the OC’s gave us a lot of feedback, and every night we went over that and brainstormed on how we would do things better,” said Currence. “I’m the only one on my team who has deployed with civil affairs. This will help the rest of the team understand what we will be dealing with when we deploy.”

Overall the battalion saw the exercise as a great success, said Catanzaro. But being this is the first exercise the battalion has conducted they have identified areas where improvements can be made. For the next exercise, the unit plans to develop the scenarios further so the role player reactions can be more consistent and realistic, receive support from other units within the brigade to increase the number of role players and possibly increase the overall length of the exercise.
Though the situations experienced at Fort Pickett were not real, the stress and need to think critically was, and this is what the leadership and Soldiers believe will make the difference. Because, the next time these Soldiers encounter a village leader, it will not be a fellow CA Soldier, but it will be a real situation with possible international consequences.


Soldier negotiates with a role-player in a training scenario. The 96th Civil Affairs Brigade held its first pre-deployment training as a Battalion at Fort Pickett in Virginia on 20-25th Oct. US Army (Photo by Cherish Washington USASOC PAO)

Soldiers, leaders and the town's people agree on ideas for community in a training scenerio that took place in Fort Pickett, Va. US Army (Photo by Cherish Washington USASOC PAO)
We had a (much smaller) trainup similar to this when we were training for the Sinai peacekeeping mission in the late '90's... I always hated the scenario-based training, back then it almost always seemed to end with some "training aid" in a mandress getting an ass whoopin'.