NIENBURG, Germany -- Elements of the U.S. Army Reserve's only forward-deployed, multifunctional civil affairs unit in Europe, joined allies, partner nations and non-government organizations in the 2018 iteration of NATO's largest civil-military exercise in Europe, Nov. 9-16.
B Company, 457th Civil Affairs Battalion -- based in Grafenwohr, Germany -- supported Joint Cooperation 18, which trains on cooperation between civil and military authorities in a multi-national environment. The exercise focused on training and enhancing interoperability between U.S. Army civil affairs and NATO civil-military cooperation.
"It's a good way to see how NATO does their CIMIC," said Maj. Eric Kirsch, B Co. commander, who served as 457th Civil Affairs Battalion's lead representative. "This is also valuable training for more junior Soldiers who may have just finished civil affairs school. It gives them a chance to exercise their skills. Here, they have the opportunity as a junior Soldier to handle tasks that would often be handled at a more senior level."
More than 370 Soldiers and civilians from 22 allied and partner nations supported the exercise in and around Nienburg. The scenario picked up from previous year's iterations setting of the fictional Falun province of the fictional country of Framland. The 2018 scenario focused on Article 4 of The North Atlantic Treaty - which allows any member to bring concerns to the council when the territorial integrity of any party is threatened. This progresses from the 2017 scenario which focused on Article 3 which provides for mutual aid.
"In this scenario there are rising security concerns," Kirsch said. "Security instability causing people to flee the region."
NATO forces operated two civil-military cooperation centers - one to the south of Nienburg and another in the downtown area. Roleplayers acting as civilians affected by the conflict could come into the centers with their concerns.
"I'm working in the CIMIC-south," said Sgt. 1st Class Marc Leng, 457th Civil Affairs Battalion non-commissioned officer-in-charge. "There are eight different nations in our CIMIC center. People come in and tell us their problems. We point them in the right direction so they can get assistance."
The scenario is also building off of the feedback from previous exercises, allowing planners to add more detail to the storylines.
"It's becoming more in depth, more intricate as they're growing the scenario," said Staff Sgt. Albert Witherspoon, B Company civil affairs team sergeant. "The scenario is broadening."
The exercise also includes a robust source media coverage specific to the exercise. Team members could use the sources to gather open-source data to help complete their mission. However, the adversary also has the means to leverage that media for its own purposes.
"This year it's all about fake news," Kirsch said. "Social media and what role that plays. Specifically in military operations. We had role players earlier today that were engaging in their own psychological operations. They were trying to create a scene that they could use on social media."