By 1st Lt. David ChaceJuly 9, 2009
FORT DIX, N.J. - "You're about to be in a situation where each one of you is the only person who can make a difference," said Brig. Gen. Mark Hendrix to a formation of more than 200 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers standing behind seven brand new unit guide-ons bearing the civil affairs branch insignia and colors.
Hendrix, the Commanding General of the 350th Civil Affairs Command in Pensacola, Fla., spoke at the units' reflagging ceremony June 19 at Fort Dix, N.J., welcoming the Soldiers to the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne). The flags, having been unveiled for the first time, marked seven Army Reserve companies' official transition from chemical support units to civil affairs units.
Members of the Army's civil affairs community find pride in applying their individually rich and varied backgrounds to America's humanitarian and diplomatic efforts around the globe. Army Reserve civil affairs Soldiers bring an additional force multiplier to military operations, often calling on their civilian skills and occupations as doctors, lawyers, engineers and farmers. The civil affairs community can add another unique skill set to its arsenal - that of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological experts.
The Army's increased need for trained civil affairs operators around the world has warranted the chemical companies' official re-designation as provisional civil affairs units for their upcoming deployments to Iraq.
"They've been asked to mobilize, retrain as civil affairs Soldiers and they will all be deploying to Iraq soon,"said Hendrix.
"Nobody thinks it's easy to retrain for a completely different [military occupation specialty] and a completely different mission," he said. "It's just one of the most impressive things that I've ever seen."
Until they deploy, four of the re-designated units fall under the Army Reserve's 412th Theater Engineer Command: the 1479th, 1320th, 1357th and 1411st Civil Affairs Companies (Provisional) of Fort Tilden, N.Y., Fort Totten, N.Y., Camden, N.J. and Edison, N.J., respectively. The remaining three re-designated chemical companies fall under the Army Reserve's 335th Signal Command (Theater) until their deployments: the 1314th, 1472nd and 1490th Civil Affairs Companies (Provisional) of Decatur, Ga., Chicago and Anniston, Ala., respectively.
Each of the seven companies consists of four smaller, more versatile civil affairs teams, a military operations cell and a headquarters element.
Until these units' transition, USACAPOC(A) units have provided the majority of the Army's civil affairs forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to civil affairs units' success in bringing stability to Iraqi regions, the chemical companies were chosen to join the civil affairs mission and build on USACAPOC(A)'s success.
It's uncommon for entire units to change missions and specialties, but it's not unheard of, Hendrix said.
"One of the most decorated infantry units in World War II began its life as an anti-aircraft crew," he said. "These changes are as much a part of our tradition and history as anything we do in the Army."
The Soldiers' extensive training in civil-military operations has prepared them to operate in areas across Iraq, regardless of mission intensity. Over the next year, these units will be an essential part of the drawdown of civil affairs forces in Iraq.
"We're looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead of us," said 2nd Lt. Sean Eakin, a civil affairs team leader in the 1357th Civil Affairs Company (Provisional). "We know we've got an uphill climb, but we've got to do what we've got to do."
Eakin, a chemical officer with a civilian career in physical training, spent two and a half months at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the rest of the companies' officers at the Mobilized Civil Affairs Course. The course, managed by USACAPOC(A)'s 1st Training Brigade, is the command's standard course for training and validating its permanent civil affairs officers. Eakin and his fellow chemical officers were trained alongside civil affairs officers from the Army Reserve, as well as the Navy and Marines, on an exhaustive list of civil-military operation policies and procedures.
"We did a field exercise with Iraqi role players, which was just amazing," Eakin said. "[It was] probably the best training that we had the whole cycle." The week-long exercise is designed to give the officers practical civil affairs experience in a fast-paced environment before they deploy as team leaders, company commanders and operational planners.
As provisional civil affairs units, the re-classified companies will revert to their original designations as chemical units following their return from Iraq. Eakin said that many Soldiers and officers, including himself, have already submitted paperwork to permanently transfer into the civil affairs specialty upon their return home.
While the units' officers attended training at Fort Bragg over the spring, their Soldiers and non-commissioned officers were familiarized with their new specialties at Fort Dix.
"There's been a lot of interaction with role players," said Cpl. Jeff Van Dusen, also a member of the 1357th Civil Affairs Company (Provisional). "And then there's been a lot of classroom work - just getting the theoretical framework of how civil affairs operations are supposed to go down."
Because every civil affairs unit faces different situations, Van Dusen said he and his colleagues have been taught to trust their own common sense and rely on their civilian backgrounds. Soldiers in the Army Reserve have additional areas of expertise from their civilian careers. Approximately 94 percent of the Army's civil affairs force is made up of Reserve Soldiers.
Van Dusen is excited about moving into civil affairs operations, even though he's been a chemical Soldier his entire career.
"For me, it's great, because my old job was the absolute worst possible scenario ever," he said. "Radiological, nuclear, biological and chemical; that stuff is not good." Van Dusen said that as a civil affairs Soldier, he has the opportunity to do good things for the Iraqi people during his deployment.
Civil Affairs Soldiers support a laundry list of mission-essential aspects anywhere America's military is present, primarily by providing a link between a field commander and the civil authorities in foreign areas of operations.
According to Hendrix, members of the new civil affairs companies will be operating "outside the wire" and in Iraq's cities and villages to help their field commanders understand the cultural and political climate in their areas of operation.
"They'll be conducting assessments, directing projects, helping to bring about the rebuilding of the infrastructure and working with the local elected officials," Hendrix said.
Hendrix told the units that their commanders overseas have high expectations for their civil affairs assets in theater. "They're counting on you to help create the conditions that will bring about long-term stability.""