By Brandon OConnorJanuary 30, 2020
When U.S. Military Academy graduates commission in the Army starting as second lieutenants, their careers will likely take them to combat zones fighting for America, but in recent years Soldiers have also been deployed to help in humanitarian crises such as the Ebola outbreak in Africa.
No matter the challenges graduates will be asked to face, the academy's Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations is working to make sure they are equipped to work with international and domestic agencies outside of the Department of Defense as well as the civilian population in the areas they deploy to.
The center is in its eighth year and is based in the geography department at West Point. The CMO center educates cadets on how to work with civilian organizations and populations during military operations by teaching classes, sponsoring symposia and speakers, funding cadet trips and working to integrate CMO principles into classes throughout the academy.
"The Army itself really doesn't start to address a lot of the functions of CMO until majors get to ILE (Intermediate-Level Education program), at least in terms of how we doctrinally establish it," John Melkon, the civilian director of the Center for the Study of Civil-Military Operations, said.
"We're hoping that when (cadets are) thrown into those situations, which increasingly they are at a younger grade, they'll have an understanding and a better mindset for being able to tackle the complications that come with working with civilian counterparts."
The center was founded in 2012 following a donation from USMA Class of 1989 graduate John DeBlasio who served as a civil affairs officer in the Army.
The goal is to train future officers to work alongside their civilian counterparts in order to not repeat perceived mistakes from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Since we've been in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army realized you don't just go in and win the fight and leave very quickly," Lt. Col. Jason Ridgeway, the CMO center's military director, said. "A lot of what we've been doing over the last 20 years has been joint, interagency and dealing with the civilian populace and not just fighting battles outside of populated areas. I think the donor, John DeBlasio, really wanted to capture the lessons we learned in the last 20 years in those two fights and make sure we didn't lose the next one."
To help accomplish that mission, the center annually hosts an African Symposium at the academy to discuss civil-military applications on the continent. The most recent conference was held in September and included a keynote by former U.S. Representative to South Africa, Cameron Hume.
The symposium also included conversations about the importance of CMO work in the Lake Chad Basin as a tool to combat the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Melkon said he was able to see the impact the center was having, and specifically its impact in Africa, following the Ebola outbreak when an officer who was deployed to assist in the humanitarian efforts reached out to him to let him know how much her CMO training had helped.
Instead of not knowing how to work alongside civilian populations and agencies, she told him she was able to fall back on her training at West Point and link in with regional experts and identify the important groups she should be working with.
As part of the center's mission to improve CMO functions in Africa, it has recently entered into a partnership with Stellenbosch University and the South African Military Academy to study civil-military operations in the region.
The center also sponsors cadet trips to each of the Army's regional commands each summer to give cadets on the ground training, hosts an annual student workshop on CMO and operates a CMO colloquium club for cadets interested in the subject area.
"One of the main things we do is provide opportunities to cadets," Ridgeway said. "We send cadets to a number of locations both domestic and overseas. A lot of what they do is get the opportunity to see how civil affairs operations work in the military. Other times, they get to see a broader picture of how civil society and the military operate together."
Thus far, the center's role has been mostly educational, but along with the new partnership with South African colleges, the center recently hired new staff to allow for more research into CMO and the role it can play globally.