FORT KNOX, Ky. -- The U.S. Army Civil Affairs Regiment commemorates its 65th anniversary of inception August 17.
In 1955, civil affairs was formally established as a U.S. Army Reserve branch. It was designated as the Civil Affairs Regiment in October 1959. In October 2006, civil affairs was further established as a basic branch of the Army.
The regiment traces its origins to World War II when the U.S. Army formed units to conduct civil affairs missions across Europe. However, examples of civil affairs’ warrior diplomats can be found as far back as Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, according to Capt. Jeff Benton, civil affairs officer, 1st Theater Sustainment Command.
“Civil affairs ties its history all the way back to Lewis and Clark. They were the original warrior diplomats,” Benton explained. “They had to go to what eventually became the western U.S. Native American tribes’ leadership and navigate and negotiate how that complex society worked in order to better accomplish their mission. It was really about exploring the western United States.”
The Civil Affairs Branch’s purpose is to help military commanders and staff work with civil authorities and populations and assist and support the civil administration of a unit’s area of operations.
During a mission in the country of Sri Lanka, Benton, along with his team of civil affairs Soldiers, worked with government and local authorities to restructure buildings in the city of Batticaloa.
“A few teams put in a project to renovate a school and turned a couple buildings into shelters.” Benton said. “I mention this with a little bit of pride, but the school has a plaque with my name on it. I realized at that time the Army’s objectives and the partners’ objectives do line up. To find the area where our two objectives line up is very fulfilling, especially when you start to see the population there receive the benefit of our assistance.”
The civil affairs force structure is currently found in both U.S. Army Reserve and active components. Civil affairs units support conventional and special operations forces during peacetime and conflict throughout the world, and since 2001, have deployed continuously during the Global War on Terror.
Benton stressed that on this 65th anniversary, it is important to make the distinction that civil affairs is much more than digging wells or playing soccer with the locals.
“The mission itself is really vital, especially with how the world is now. You really have to take into account what's going on in the area and how the people are affected by military operations,” Benton said. “If you don't take that civil component into account, and you think civil affairs is just about soccer balls and digging wells, you're not going to have a very good grasp of how the civil component reacts to the military or any sort of operation in the area. That's why I challenge people to really look at civil affairs and how it facilitates everything going on in an area of operations.”