FORT HOOD, Texas, Sept. 22, 2011 -- A brand new unit now has a home at Fort Hood. The 85th Civil Affairs Brigade officially stood up at the "Great Place" Sept. 16, after years of planning and coordination.
Although the unit is now official, it is still very much in the building phase, according to Col. Leo Ruth II, the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade commander.
"In 2007, the Army saw a need for additional civil affairs capabilities," Ruth explained. At that time, only one active-duty brigade-sized civil affairs unit existed -- the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) which is aligned under U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
After the surge in Iraq was announced in 2007, Ruth said nearly half of the USASOC civil affairs Soldiers were deployed to the Middle East to support ongoing operations. Plans were made to build another brigade, although that process took some time.
"We are in the build phase now," Ruth said. "By the time we finish building the brigade, we will have five battalions. Each battalion will be oriented on a geographic combatant command."
The 85th Civil Affairs Bde. is a direct-reporting unit to U.S. Army Forces Command. In addition, the brigade's first battalion, the 81st Civil Affairs Battalion, stood up Sept. 16 at Fort Hood. That battalion is oriented to Southern Command.
In September 2012, two additional battalions will stand up. They include the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg, N.C., which will be oriented to Central Command, and the 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Stewart, Ga., which will be oriented to Africa Command.
The two final battalions will activate in September 2013 and will include the 80th Civil Affairs Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which will be oriented to Pacific Command, and the 84th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bliss, which will support European Command.
There's a simple reason for the roll out of the brigades, according to Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Berry, the brigade's senior enlisted advisor.
"Part of the challenge of what we have (is) the MOS (military occupational specialty) and the branch have only existed since 2007," he said. "So as we're building capacity in the branch, we're expanding the units at the same time."
Soldiers that are interested in the civil affairs branch have a challenging road ahead of them before they can join a battalion or a brigade.
"We recruit from inside the Army," Berry said. "The process is quite lengthy."
Interested Soldiers must first meet the qualifications and go through a screening process. If they make it through that level but are not yet parachutists, they must complete Airborne school. After that, there is the official civil affairs MOS qualification course, and finally, the Soldiers must learn a foreign language, which means months of additional schooling.
Soldiers are still in the process of reporting to Fort Hood, but the foundation of the brigade has been firmly emplaced. Ruth said that's due in part to the strong support from Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., the III Corps and Fort Hood senior enlisted advisor, and other key leadership at the Great Place.
"It's taken a dedicated effort from the corps staff and the MSE (Mission Support Element) staff, and it's taken great support from the corps commander and the command sergeant major, and we have received nothing but outstanding support from those entities," Ruth added.
"It's very busy, but it's also very rewarding to do something that not very many people have an opportunity to do in the Army, and that's stand something up from nothing."
Standing up a brigade requires identifying unit facilities, creating procedures and policies, and working closely with Human Resources Command to make sure positions are properly staffed, in addition to dozens of other tasks on a daily basis.
"I don't think we could do this at any other place except Fort Hood, and that goes back to the superb level of support we're getting," Ruth said.
The Civil Affairs brigade at Fort Hood equips FORSCOM with a crucial tool, a team of "warrior diplomats," eager to leave their mark on the world.
"The mission is to provide FORSCOM with a civil affairs capability," Ruth said. "It can do three things, (including) support the Army Force Generation cycle with civil affairs operators. The second capability that we provide FORSCOM is the ability to provide peacetime engagement throughout the world, and then the last thing we provide is the ability to support any emergent operations.
"So if we have another Haiti (earthquake) or flood in Indonesia, now we have civil affairs Soldiers who can go out and lend their expertise in mitigating those disasters," he added.
Civil affairs Soldiers play a crucial role in both war and peace, although Ruth admitted that the branch is sometimes misunderstood.
"There's a misnomer out there that what we do is hand out MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) and dig wells," he said. "That's not exactly what we do. We can facilitate that, but we do things for specific reasons, and that's really to legitimize the local, regional or national government, and facilitate the commander's ability to operate in theater."
At the tactical level, civil affairs Soldiers serve as an intermediary between a commander on the ground and local village representatives. That's where the in-depth training and language skills make all the difference in the world.
"Because of all that training and the way we select those Soldiers, we're going to be able to provide the Army with a mature Soldier, a Soldier that has the ability to think on his or her feet," Berry said.
"You can put them in a situation and they may not know the answer when they get there, but they're going to keep working at it until they figure out what the answer is. They also have the ability to work with people and understand people."
"Our motto is 'warrior diplomat' because we have to be warriors. We have to be Soldiers," Ruth said. "But the Soldiers also have to add the diplomatic capability to where they can diffuse dissension, identify what the local vulnerabilities are and really bring people together."
Both Ruth and Berry said they envision a bright future for the brigade at Fort Hood. Already, the unit has developed solid ties to the Fort Hood community.
"We began our initial communication with the city of Round Rock," Ruth said, "that is the community we will partner with."
Ruth said so far, he's been impressed by the close ties between the Central Texas region and Fort Hood.
"I'm highly impressed with the community partnership that Fort Hood has, not only at the schools but in the towns," Ruth said. "I've never seen this level of community involvement at any other installation I've ever served at."
To mark the brigade's activation, the unit will host a ceremony at the flagpole in front of III Corps Headquarters Sept. 30 at 9 a.m. The public is invited to attend.