FORT PICKETT, Va. - A circle of humvees idled quietly on Blackstone Army Air Field, Va. providing security as Alpha company's commander, Maj. Rachel Levy, tried to reach headquarters for the company's first mission of the day. The mission was simple, meet with two civilians at a deserted sports stadium and assess the land as a potential location for displaced civilians. The catch' Who were these civilians' Are they friendly, squatters or do they legally own the land' Civil Affairs Soldiers use information they gather to better inform military commanders of their operational area and lessen the impact of military operations during peace, contingency operations and war.

Soldiers from the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), from Riverdale, Md., participated in a three-day battle assembly that focused on civil military operations, March 18 through 20, at Fort Pickett, Va. The Soldiers were immersed in real-life scenarios that allowed them to engage with foreign local populace, foreign law enforcement, and foreign officials. They were sent on missions to conduct local assessments of land that could be used for displaced civilians, as well as checking out a local lumber yard for any information they could gather on the importance of the mill.

Alpha Company had the hard task of informing the two role-players, who were civilians on the property, that their land would now be used as a temporary home for displaced civilians. The two men, whom had a large family, didn't want to give up their land but the culturally-oriented and linguistically-capable Soldiers were able to build rapport with the role-players which lead to an agreement that would benefit both the military and the civilians.

"This type of training is extremely important," explained Capt. Charles Timney, of Alpha Company. "Assessing is a big part of CA, so anytime we get the chance to focus on this is good. It's all about teaching the new Soldiers about their job. This is really their first taste of CA after completing AIT (advanced individual training) and they've had a blast. This training has also been very humbling for the Soldiers who have been around for a while."

For Spc. Joshua Benedict, an Alpha Company Soldier, this training was exactly what he needed to see.

"It allows us to know what to expect and to know how to react to certain situations, since I haven't been deployed before," Benedict said.

Spc. Andrew Boyd, who just came to the unit last month, agreed that the training gave a real insight to what CA is capable of. Boyd, part of Charlie Company, was given a different scenario to better train Soldiers on assessments.

"We were told to do an assessment of a lumber yard in our exercise's area of operation. Things like, who the owner is, how the mill is run, any problems they've encountered, and their community relations ... any type of information that can be used to better inform our higher headquarters," explained Boyd. "We also want to let the people know that we are there and to see how we can help them, while they help us."

"The world of CA is new to me; this training was real eye-opening for me and let me know what to look forward to in the future," continued Boyd. "It's invaluable; especially to have people who have been in those situations before and learn from their real-life situations and how they handled those situations."

Pfc. Dustin Khaksar, of Delta Company, also a newcomer to civil affairs, agreed that the training was realistic and helped him understand more of what his job incorporates.

"Role-players were walking around the city taking my pens and talking to me, I had to learn quickly how to think on the fly how to handle that type of situation," said Khaksar. "It definitely made me be more aware of my surroundings and to not just walk around the city blindly."

The after action reviews were the biggest learning concept for Pfc. Champaine Tisdale, of Delta Company.

"After we were done with our four scenarios, we got together for our after action review and were quickly informed that we were entering a fifth scenario," explained Tisdale. "We were hit by a sniper and it really taught us to be on our defenses at all times."

Most of the younger Soldiers agreed that working with the interpreters was a great learning experience. Staff Sgt. Brandon Lantz and Spc. Christopher Weston, both graduated from the Defense Language Institute where they learned Arabic. Lantz played a father who was upset with the Soldiers because his son was accidently ran over by a presumed U.S. military vehicle and Weston played the interpreter.

"What we wanted to do was get the Soldiers thinking and how they were going to deal with really bad scenarios and to really explain yourself to people who don't understand why you're doing what you're doing," said Maj. Olaf Shibusawa, civil military operations center chief for Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "There's no play book on how to do CA and deal with these scenarios. These are guidelines and how each of their choices can affects the outcome of the mission."

The 450th Civil Affairs Battalion is part of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) headquartered at Fort Bragg, N.C. USACAPOC(A)'s nearly 12,000 Soldiers comprise about 94 percent of the Department of Defense's civil affair's forces Army Reserve CA and Military Information Support Operations forces are 5 percent of the U.S Army Reserve force, but comprise 20 percent of the Army Reserve deployments. Since 94 percent of the Civil Affairs forces are in the Reserve component, these Warrior-Citizens bring to the Army team finely honed skills practiced daily in the civilian sector as judges, physicians, health inspectors, fire chiefs, police officers, and other professions.

Spc. Ryan Shifflett, of Alpha Company, is one of the Citizen Soldiers who brings his civilian work experience to his Army job. Shifflet works as a police officer in Washington D.C. , and deals with the public on a day-to-day basis.

"I'm accustomed to talking with people who usually don't like me and we have to talk about their problems and ask questions on how to resolve those problems," Shifflett said about his policing work carrying over to his CA job. "But the Army has also helped me to pay more attention to detail and step it up a notch. This training gave me a good idea what to expect and to learn from people who have lived those scenarios ... it was good to hear what they did during their tough situations."

"It's essential for training days like today, that allow us to not only focus on CA tasks but also our Soldiering tasks," said Capt. Dan Keenaghan, Charlie Company acting commander. "We've heard it before, we train as we fight. The more training we do, the more we learn."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16