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With run phase complete, 81st CA Battalion set sights on deployment

September 18, 2012

FORT HOOD, Texas --BOOM! Billowing columns of smoke poured from windows as cries for help fill the air. A screaming woman can be seen carrying a small infant through the panicked crowd of local residents just struck by an artillery round that has wrecked simulated havoc on a small town located at the BOAZ Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site Sept 12.

Local leaders run to the street as they wildly wave their arms in an attempt to communicate a sense of urgency to the approaching American Soldiers. As the small group of Soldiers enter into the town they are immediately inundated by the chaos of multiple casualties, angry mobs and adamant foreign officials trying to get resolution to their plight all at once. The Soldiers, assigned to 81st Civil Affairs Battalion, make-up a civil affairs team or CAT and were expected to calmly manage the situation as some evaluate and treat casualties, and others maintain security and address the concerns of the local leaders, using translators to communicate.

Training since the unit activation nearly one year ago to now, this was just one of many scenarios the civil affairs Soldiers encountered as they participated in their culmination exercise from Sept. 4 to Sept. 18 in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

The scenario-based training was intended to improve the civil affairs team members' skills in a myriad of fields, such as civil reconnaissance, civil engagements, project management, veterinary evaluation and treatment, key leader engagements and site assessments as they prepare for an upcoming deployment slated for later this year.

"The training up to this point has been individual training. This culmination exercise really pulls it together," said Command Sgt Maj. Ronald Barker, 81st Civil Affairs Battalion. "It is all collective tasks that they will have to accomplish as a team, utilizing those individual skills."

In a deployed environment, the civil affairs teams are expected to work with a wide range of units ranging from special operations groups to traditional infantry and engineer. Comprised of just four Soldiers, including a team leader, team sergeant, sergeant and junior enlisted Soldier, each civil affairs team member is expected to have the ability and knowledge to shoot, move and communicate efficiently and effectively to successfully complete any mission.

"These teams will be working with infantry and armor battalions, so they are expected to be able to perform tactically," said Barker. "So we can move with them safely to the objective."

To further equip these Soldiers with the required skills, they took part in scout gunnery tables and convoy live fire exercises. The training, however, goes further than just weapons and warrior tasks. As a four man team, the CAT rely heavily on a well round, robust training regime that further builds on the ability of the small unit to operate independently from larger echelons, such as company or battalion sized elements.

"The difference in training from a traditional maneuver element compared to a civil affairs company," said Lt Col Joshua Potter, commander, 81st Civil Affairs Battalion, "is that we all still have the same warrior tasks that any other Army unit must do, in addition to skill sets that enable us to accomplish civil reconnaissance and civil engagements. This means extra language training and training specifically on the different regions we will be working in," said Potter.

While deployed, the battalion will not be focused on any one area, rather throughout the entire country of Afghanistan, working within 20 areas. According to the battalion commander, the unit will be responsible for supporting civil operations as far north as Mazar-i-Sharif and down to Kandahar.

"We have [studied] for weeks, zeroing in on specific districts that we will be working in, said Potter."These teams and these companies know those districts and provinces they will be working in very well."

Civil operations in a deployed environment entail skills beyond weapons familiarization and basic warrior tasks and drills. Civil affairs units often receive training in addition to the basics. A core civil affairs competency is the ability to successfully negotiate terms of agreement during key leader engagements. Utilizing a traveling team from West Point's Behavioral Science and Leadership Department, Soldiers received advanced negotiations training, which will be used when the teams meet with local leaders as they assess the needs of an area.

Negotiation skills make up one building block of the training process required to conduct the civil reconnaissance operations required of any civil affairs team. Language training is also required of the team members so as to facilitate communication with the local population. Together these skills are used when the team leader interacts with village leadership during a key leader engagement.

"The nuances of what we do look simple, but are quite complex," said Capt. Tammy Sloulin, an 81st CA Bn. civil affairs team leader. "When dialoguing with someone through an interpreter and trying to remember the customs and courtesies of a culture can be challenging."

"The more we can be involved in that sort of training," said Sloulin, "the better capable we are to conduct ourselves downrange."

As a team leader, Sloulin takes a lead role at times during key leader engagements.

A key leader engagement is a meeting in which members of the civil affairs team proactively engage the area leaders in a meeting to assess and outline the particular needs of a specific area. This scenario was used during the training that took place to familiarize the team with the sequence of events, as well as utilizing translators in their negotiations.

The particular scenario required the CAT leader to meet a village farmer, assess the condition of a herd of goats and take samples that were notionally tested at a simulated medical facility.

"Every day through this culmination exercise, we are doing different scenarios. So this particular scenario we are in the village and [civil affairs team members] have to meet with local leaders," said Maj. Seth Middleton, operations officer for 81st Civil Affairs Battalion. "The medics, using their training, are investigating the underlying cause of the simulated sickness."

As much of the Afghan nation is agrarian, or farm, having the knowledge and ability to successfully examine animals such as goats and horses allows civil affairs teams another tool in their toolbox when building positive relations with a local populace. The medics of the 81st Civil Affairs battalion practiced these skills during the culmination exercise during the above scenario.

"I thought it was very beneficial," said Spc. John Friberg, an 81st Civil Affairs Team medic. "Being able to assess animals gets you closer to the locals in Afghanistan."

As a paramedic prior to enlisting in the Army, Friberg saw few differences with assessing a goat during the training exercise, as compared to a human casualty.

"The only difference really is that the goats can't really talk back," he said.

While animal evaluation may play a large role in building rapport with local villagers while deployed, a large portion of the exercise focused on recreating the deployed environment.

Accomplishing such a broad training exercise required support from units local to Fort Hood, as well as indigenous personnel from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Soldiers assigned to 3rd Cavalry Regiment took part in the training filling the role as security forces to the civil affairs teams as they maneuvered through the MOUT site. While monitoring the crowds seemed simple enough, some 3rd CR Soldiers were surprised to see how fluidly the CAT moved through the crowds of role players with little hesitation.

"We are masters of the basics," said Master Sgt. Bryan Lockwald, the Civil Management Operation Center NCO for 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C. "You can practice warrior tasks and drills, but we know we can react. That gives us the ability to go out in small teams."

Additional support was provided by indigenous personnel from countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey. These individuals were asked to play roles such as translators, mullahs, town mayors and corrupt individuals. They were also asked to inform Soldiers participating in the training of any possible cultural gaffes that may occur during the training scenarios.

Employed by a company called Combat Training Solutions, these vital contracted role players offer a sense of authenticity that can only be duplicated during deployments and were asked to fulfill certain roles for the duration of the two week training exercise.

One such role player acted as an interpreter during the final days of the exercise, but has supported other training exercises in a similar capacity.

"I have worked five years," said one role player. "Three years in Austin, two years in Baghdad, Iraq I am excited to work here."

Some of these role players have made tremendous sacrifices to flee war torn countries such as Iraq, just to have the opportunity to live and work in the United States.

"I am one of the lucky ones," said a female role player that asked to remain anonymous. "I was lucky to escape the violence of my country."

Even though the culmination exercise was meant to test a civil affairs team and its capabilities under duress and deployed conditions, the main goal was to stress and practice a main objective throughout the scenarios.

"It's not about us finding short term fixes," said Middleton. "It's about finding long term solutions and drawing the Afghan government in to implement those solutions."

This particular training exercise wrapped up training that has taken place since October of last year, shortly after the unit officially activated. Up to now, segments used in the culmination exercise were used as stand-alone training tools to hone specific skills. For instance, in November of last year, B Co., 81st CA Bn., used a small mock up of a town to focus specifically on site assessment abilities.

As the unit completes the training, they prepare now for a scheduled deployment ceremony in late November. A nine month deployment to Afghanistan is slated to begin soon thereafter.

Working in unison with Army units, combatant commanders and local government officials, 81st CA Bn intends to provide the Afghan people the skills, materials and knowledge necessary to aid in an autonomous nation.

"Throughout the course of our time [in Afghanistan] our goal is to empower the government, so we can draw out and so they can solve their own problems without us there," said Middleton.

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