July 26, 2012
DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia - Civil affairs and military information support Soldiers, alongside Navy "Seabees," have formed teams capable of just about anything. Five teams from the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion have recently arrived in the Horn of Africa and replaced Soldiers from the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, and with them bring an experimental team concept.
A typical civil affairs team brings with it five civil affairs Soldiers, often with a wide gamut of experience, but the new joint civil affairs team concept underway here incorporates two additional members. The first is a military information support Soldier who specializes in communicating with the local populace and identifying cause and effect relationships. The second is a Navy construction battalion (CB or "Seabee") sailor who specializes in engineering. According to the 490th leadership this is an unprecedented mixture of expertise to help people in need. But if the plan plays out, other functional specialists may find themselves on the team as well.
"We are planning on adding CB's, special operations Soldiers, (and) medics, so we can have a mini functional specialty cell embedded in each CA team, which will expand our capabilities," said Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Asplund, the noncommissioned officer in charge of planning for the 448th. "In years past, there was a big push to build, but we over saturated the area. So now we have wells drilled but capped off and not being utilized. If instead we can go in to an area and make small improvements in a lot of areas, it'll result in a large improvement in the overall area," added Asplund.
Asplund knows first hand the impact a civil affairs team can have on an area, having deployed to Mahmadia, Iraq in 2005 and again to Mosul in 2008. In Mosul, Asplund was responsible for more than $3 million of construction to help rebuild and stabilize the area. But he also understands what a military information support Soldier, the other half of the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), can bring to the table and is confident military information support Soldiers can not only enhance the mission in Ethiopia, but beyond.
But what kind of impact can one Soldier have? Military information support teams normally deploy as a tight knit group of three Soldiers with a specific objective; but Maj. Asa Pearson, commander of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion and former military information support Soldier himself,; believes that one Soldier can have a significant impact on a civil affairs team.
"As fellow ambassadors in uniform and communication specialists, they (the MISO Soldiers) are able to bring the large, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa messages to the ground level and help refine the communications the civil affairs teams are having with the local community, military and government officials." Pearson said.
Spc. Anthony Serna, of the 345th Tactical Psychological Operations Company (Airborne), is also optimistic about his ability to bring a new facet to the team.
"One of the biggest things I want to accomplish before I leave is to get the local media involved; where traditionally I would put out a mission directly. (I want to) bring the reports to the local Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAPS) and Veterinary Civic Action Programs (VETCAPS) so they can tell their people in their own words with their own feelings," explained Serna. "A lot of the local papers tend to focus on feel good stories, so I think we can put our face on that as well to show we are working with the local government to make Ethiopia a leader in the Horn of Africa as it historically has been."
Regardless of the impact, a secondary effect of this experiment could be a relief in tensions between the two sister components of USACAPOC(A).
"There is a lot of misunderstanding between the sisters MOS's (military occupational specialties) in CAPOC. I've always thought of civil affairs as the guys who hand out money and dig wells. But there is a lot more that goes into their jobs. And it's a lot closer to my job then I originally thought," said Serna. "And I'm sure a lot of civil affairs Soldiers think we are just speaker monkeys."
Spc. Alissa Anderson, a civil affairs specialist with the same civil affairs team agreed. Until she met Serna and her other team mate Construction Battalion Petty Officer 3rd Class Kasey Dotson, she didn't know what military information support operations did, let alone anything about a Navy Sea Bee.
"It's been interesting because I've never worked with any other branch of the military," said Anderson. "Now, I'm able to work with military information support, a job I never understood, and a Sea Bee as well. I feel that now I'm getting the full spectrum of what the military can do."
But this cross training goes beyond just learning what each other can do - it can also have in impact on improving their own skills and understanding the secondary and tertiary effects of their actions.
Dotson added, "In a way I've learned how to do my job better, because CB's are half CA, half construction. When we are in places doing construction in horrible conditions, it can make us unhappy campers. That attitude can rub off on the local population, which is something I learned from Serna. That negative attitude and agitation that we get from our jobs can really have an effect on the overall mission of CJTF-HOA."
The far reaching impact of this super team's actions is having on the Horn of Africa and maybe beyond into the Army and Navy doctrine is still unknown, but what is known is that this experiment is being played out one conversation at time.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Spc. Anderson asked a small boy outside of a school in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia the team was visiting.
"Construction," a small boy responds.
"Oh like her," Spc. Anderson says as she points to CB3 Dotson. The boy nods his head and smiles.
"I paint," another boy says as he points to the freshly painted walls on the schoolhouse which was a civil affairs project.
"You painted this?" Anderson asks.
"Yes," the boy responds.
"I need to paint my room," Anderson says.
"I will paint it for you!" the boy says with a huge smile. The group shares a laugh and builds a bond.
It's interactions like these, which ensure relations between U.S. forces, and the local populace can remain peaceful and fruitful for both sides.