College Students, Professor Discover Army Civil Affairs
December 10, 2008
OSHKOSH, Wis. - Dr. Alfred T. Kisubi, professor of human services at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, knew that the military was always involved in world affairs especially when it came to the reconstruction of societies or humanitarian efforts. But he didn't know that the U.S. Army's efforts to bring stability to a region such as Afghanistan included something like teaching Afghans how to maintain a sanitary system or implement a system of checks and balances into local government.
"I knew there was something to learn about the U.S. Army's efforts in humanitarian operations that CNN wasn't showing," Kisubi said. He approached recruiters at an information table to invite them to speak on the Army's humanitarian efforts for a class called "Globalization and Human Services."
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph McGuigan, a recruiter stationed at Oshkosh, initially looked for assistance from his battalion headquarters in putting together a presentation. The possibility of locating a civil affairs Soldier who could travel to Wisconsin was considered as part of the battalion's Total Army Involvement Recruiting program. But the short notice, coupled with the Thanksgiving holiday, made it a logistical burden.
"I wanted to get a civil affairs Soldier to speak about the Army's humanitarian efforts because I have no background in civil affairs. I'm a former military police," said McGuigan. "I probably could have spoken to the class from a power point presentation, but it's better for everyone if a civil affairs Soldier speaks about civil affairs."
McGuigan opted for conducting a video teleconference even though he said he wasn't sure it would be possible because of the Army's security networks.
"It looked like an obstacle at first, but we (with battalion headquarters) found a way to make it happen," McGuigan said.
Nick Dvoracek, director of media services at UW Oshkosh, said that although the university uses an internet protocol and Fort Bragg still uses Isolated Subscriber Digital Network for video teleconferencing, they were able to link through a "bridge" device from an extension site in Madison.
"If the video teleconference had been from university to university, we would have simply gone from IP to IP," Dvoracek said. "But in this case we connected from an IP to what amounts to a super telephone line via Madison."
On Dec. 4, the day of the video teleconference, McGuigan introduced himself to a class of about 20 students in person and to Capt. Conrad Jakubow, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, who sat in a conference room at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Jakubow explained how as a member of the special operations community, his team embeds with the local populace to figure out the root cause of instability. He focused primarily on his experience in Afghanistan where his team functioned as the liaison for the state department to determine the best way to solve the region's instability problems.
"What we do is fill the gap where many people or agencies such as the state department can't go," Jakubow said. "Terrorists like al-Qaida look for those spots of instability to manipulate them. It's my job to look for those spots, diagnose the problems and find a solution."
But Jakubow clarified that there is no solution that is purely military. Winning the war against terrorism involves more than just eliminating the terrorists.
"We still have to win the support of the people," Jakubow said. That involved having meetings with Afghan elders and grasping tribal dynamics of who's who. It takes time to learn who to trust and who not to trust," Jakubow said.
Jakubow said distributing bags of rice and blankets and building schools is only part of what they did. The more substantial effort was in creating a problem-solving government, one in which Afghans could collaborate to help themselves.
Although at times the videoconferencing encountered delays, it did not interfere with the interaction. The students asked what values the civil affairs teams were teaching to the local population, what strategies worked best, how they dealt with corruption, and what opportunities were available to those who wish to follow in the same path.
Rachel Nimmer, a junior at UW Oshkosh, said she was impressed with the ability to have an interactive presentation with someone in another part of the country.
Nimmer said Jakubow's discussion introduced a fresh topic since most of her professor's expertise is based on Africa
"I had no idea the Army did this sort of work," Nimmer said. "I remember when Dr. Kisubi said someone from the Army would come; I think we were all kind of skeptical about a recruiter coming in to talk to us. I didn't expect this at all, it was interesting to hear about the humanitarian efforts that our government really does."
She said she was pleased to hear that there are civil affairs Reserve units that focus on projects outside the realm of special operations because that's an option she would consider.
Kisubi, as one who was born in Uganda, said he grew up with the belief that the military was brutal and used to control people instead of defending them. Learning about the Army's civil affairs operations from Jakubow's experience in Afghanistan changed his outlook.
"Today, you (Jakubow) have taken away my fears of the Army," said Kisubi to Jakubow during the interaction. "If I wasn't 59 years old, I would be joining the U.S. Army."