US military forces conduct support operations to assist foreign and domestic civil authorities or designated groups by providing essential supplies and services in the face of adverse conditions, usually disease, hunger, or the consequences of disasters. Mission success in support operations, which are normally characterized by the lack of an active opponent, is measured in terms of the ability to relieve suffering and to help civil authorities respond to crises. The ultimate goals of these operations are to meet the immediate needs of the supported groups and to transfer responsibility quickly and efficiently to appropriate civilian authorities. Support operations are usually nonlinear and noncontiguous. Support operations may complement offensive, defensive, or stability operations (before, during, and after execution). (Refer to the discussions of SBCT infantry company operations in Chapter 4 [offense] and Chapter 5 [defense] and for a more detailed examination of support operations, refer to FM 3-0.)


Support operations involve Army forces providing essential supplies, capabilities, and services to help civil authorities deal with situations beyond their control. In most cases, Army forces focus on overcoming conditions created by natural or manmade disasters. Army forces may provide relief or assistance directly, but Army activities in support operations most often involve setting the conditions that facilitate the provision of required direct support to the affected population by civil authorities or NGOs.


The types of support operations are domestic support operations (DSOs) and foreign humanitarian assistance (FHA) operations. They share four forms of operations, which occur to varying degrees in both DSO and FHA operations: relief operations, support to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive consequence management (CBRNE-CM); support to civil law enforcement; and community assistance. The US Army conducts DSOs in the US and its territories, using active and reserve components. It conducts FHA operations abroad and under the direction of a combatant commander. Domestic emergencies can require Army forces to respond with multiple capabilities and services. For this reason, they may conduct the four forms of support operations simultaneously during a given operation.


DSOs supplement the efforts and resources of state and local governments and NGOs within the United States. During DSOs, the US military always responds in support of another civilian agency. DSOs also include those activities and measures taken by the Department of Defense (DOD) to foster mutual assistance and support between the DOD and any civil government agency. These include planning or preparedness for, or in the application of resources for response to, the consequences of civil emergencies or attacks, including national security emergencies or major disasters. A presidential declaration of an emergency or disaster area usually precedes a DSO.

a.   The US military provides domestic support primarily in accordance with a DOD directive for military assistance to civil authorities. The military assistance to civil authorities directive addresses responses to both natural and manmade disasters and includes military assistance with civil disturbances, counterdrug activities, counterterrorism activities, and law enforcement.

b.   In accordance with the Constitution, civilian government is responsible for preserving public order. However, the Constitution does allow the use of military forces to protect federal and civilian property and functions. The Posse Comitatus Act restricts the use of the military in federal status and prevents it from executing laws and performing civilian law enforcement functions within the US.

c.   DSOs focus on the condition of all types of natural and manmade properties with the goal of helping to protect and restore these properties, as requested. Typically, environmental operations are conducted in response to such events as forest and grassland fires, hazardous material releases, floods, and earthquakes.


US forces conduct FHA operations outside the borders of the US or its territories to relieve or reduce the results of natural or manmade disasters or other endemic conditions, such as human suffering, disease, or deprivation, that might present a serious threat to life or that can result in great damage to or loss of property.

a.   The US military typically supplements the host nation authorities in concert with other governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private voluntary organizations, and unaffiliated individuals. The majority of foreign humanitarian assistance operations closely resemble domestic support operations. The distinction between the two is the legal restrictions applied to US forces inside the US and its territories. Posse Comitatus does not apply to US forces overseas.

b.   Foreign humanitarian assistance operations are limited in scope and duration. They focus exclusively on prompt aid to resolve an immediate crisis. Crises or disasters caused by hostile individuals or factions attacking their government are normally classified as stability rather than support operations. In environments where the situation is vague or hostile, support activities are considered a subset of a larger stability or offensive or defensive operation.


During DSOs, Army forces perform relief operations and provide support to incidents involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), support to civil law enforcement, and community assistance. In FHA operations, Army forces most often conduct relief operations; however, FHA may also involve support to incidents involving CBRNE-CM, and community assistance. Army forces involved in support operations execute overlapping activities.


State, local, and host nation authorities are responsible for restoring essential services in the case of a disaster. To support their efforts or those of the lead agency, the National Command Authority (NCA) can deploy Army forces. Army forces execute similar actions during relief operations in DSO and FHA. Humanitarian relief focuses on the well being of supported populations. Disaster relief focuses on recovery of critical infrastructure after a natural or manmade disaster. Both normally occur simultaneously.


Military operations assist civil authorities in protecting US territory, population, and infrastructure prior to an attack by supporting domestic preparedness and critical asset protection programs. If an attack occurs, military support responds to the consequences of the attack.

a.   Domestic Preparedness. The Army's role in facilitating domestic preparedness is to strengthen the existing expertise of civil authorities. This is done in two primary areas: response and training. Response is the immediate reaction to an attack; training includes what happens after the attack.

b.   Protection of Critical Assets. The purpose of this program is to identify critical assets and to assure their integrity, availability, survivability, and capability to support vital DOD missions across the full spectrum of military operations. Critical assets include telecommunications, electric power, gas and oil, banking and finance, transportation, water, and emergency services. An attack on any of these assets may disrupt civilian commerce, government operations, and the military.

c.   Response to CBRNE Incidents. The initial response to the use of WMD is primarily from local assets, but sustained Army participation may be required soon afterward. The Army's capabilities in this environment are--


  • Detection.
  • Decontamination and medical care, including assessment.
  • Triage treatment.
  • Medical evacuation (MEDEVAC).
  • Hospitalization.
  • Follow-up on victims of chemical and biological agents.


Support to domestic civil law enforcement involves activities related to counterterrorism, counterdrug operations, military assistance during civil disturbances, and general support with providing resources, training, or augmentation. Federal military forces remain under the military chain of command while supporting civil law enforcement. The supported law enforcement agency coordinates Army force activities in accordance with appropriate civil laws and interagency agreements. Army national guard (ARNG) units in "state" status can be a particularly useful military resource. They may be able to provide assistance to civil authorities when federal units cannot meet the provisions of the Posse Comitatus Act.


Community assistance is a broad range of activities that provide support and maintain a strong connection between the military and civilian communities. Community assistance activities provide effective means of projecting a positive military image, providing training opportunities, and enhancing the relationship between the Army and the American public. These activities should fulfill community needs that would not otherwise be met. Community activities can enhance individual and unit combat readiness. Projects should exercise individual soldier skills, encourage teamwork, and challenge leaders' planning and coordination skills. They should result in measurable accomplishments and increase soldier proficiency. Commanders of forward-deployed Army units may also apply those concepts when fostering or establishing relationships with host nation communities.

a.   Community assistance at the national level enhances a cooperative relationship between the military and American people. National efforts take advantage of the technical, vocational, and group skills of military professionals. They supplement programs available from the civil sector and other government agencies. The Army's involvement in a variety of assistance programs focuses on economic and social issues that have long-term national security implications. They provide opportunities for the Army to contribute to the growth and welfare of the nation, thus improving the nation's perception of the military. Army and DOD regulations provide guidance on national-level programs.

b.   The Army has extensive national-level responsibilities related to public works maintenance and management. The Department of Army exercises its federal engineering executive responsibilities through the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The USACE manages much of the nation's public works infrastructure. Executed principally, but not solely, through the civil works directorate, this military organization integrates complex federal, state, and local regulations and policies governing the national infrastructure. These include the national waterways, environmental remediation and recovery operations, real estate, disaster recovery operations, and general project management functions.

c.   State and local efforts also improve the community's perception of the Army. Community assistance varies widely ranging from individual soldier involvement to full installation participation. An installation or organization can enter into an agreement with the local community to provide critical services not available in the community, to augment community services unable to meet demand, or to ensure that emergency services are available in the shortest possible time.

d.   Army participation in public events, memorials, and exhibits facilitates interaction between soldiers and the local community. This contact communicates the professionalism, readiness, and standards of the Army. Individual soldiers serve as representatives and role models to the civilian community, promote and inspire patriotism, and generate interest in the Army. This increased public awareness enhances the Army's reputation and secures the confidence of the American people.

e.   Laws, regulations, and policies limit Army participation in community assistance activities. Commanders consider the objective and purpose of community assistance and the limitations under which Army participation in community assistance activities is authorized. Commanders ensure that their initiatives do not compete with local resources or services and do not result in remuneration in any form. Commanders also avoid providing assistance and support to one segment of a community when they cannot also provide the same assistance to others. Actions that appear to benefit a particular group can foster perceptions of bias or partisanship. Ideally, support should be provided only to events and activities of common interest and benefit across the community.


Although each support operation is different, troop-leading procedures used in offensive, defensive, and stability operations still apply. The following considerations supplement those processes and can help commanders develop tailored concepts and schemes for support operations.


The principle of essential support to the largest number guides prioritization and allocation. Commanders allocate finite resources to achieve the greatest good.

a.   Initial efforts usually focus on restoring vital services, which include food and water distribution, medical aid, power generation, search and rescue, firefighting, and community relations. It may be necessary to complete a lower-priority task before accomplishing a higher one. For example, Army forces may have to restore limited electrical services before restoring hospital emergency rooms and shelter operations.

b.   Commanders assess requirements to employ Army forces effectively. They determine how and where to apply limited assets to benefit the most people. In some cases, warfighting reconnaissance capabilities and techniques are adaptable to support operation requirements. For example, unmanned aerial vehicles can survey relief routes and locate civilian refugee groups. Standard information collection methods are reinforced and supplemented by civil affairs or dedicated disaster assessment teams as well as interagency, host nation, and NGO sources. The combination of traditional and nontraditional information support allows commanders to obtain a clear understanding of the situation and adjust plans accordingly.


DSOs and FHA operations are typically joint and interagency; FHA operations are also multinational. The potential for duplication of effort and working at cross-purposes is high. Unity of effort requires, as a minimum, common understanding of purposes and direction among all agencies. Ensuring unity of effort and efficient use of resources requires constant coordination. Army forces enhance unity of effort by establishing a civil military operations center (CMOC) in FHA operations and by providing liaison elements, planning support, advisors, and technical experts to lead civil authority in DSOs. Commanders determine where their objectives and plans complement or conflict with those of other key agencies through these contacts


In conjunction with supported agencies and governments, commanders establish relevant measures of effectiveness (MOEs), similar to the tactical METT-TC factors considered during mission analysis, to gauge mission accomplishment. MOEs focus on the condition and activity of those being supported. Because they are discrete and measurable and they link cause and effect, they are helpful in measuring the progress and success of the operation. In famine relief, for example, it may be tempting to measure effectiveness only by the gross amount of food delivered. This may be an acceptable MOE, but a better MOE may be the total nourishment delivered, as measured by the total number of calories delivered per person per day or the rate of decline of deaths directly attributable to starvation. MOEs are situation-dependent and require readjustment as situations and guidance change.


The timing and feasibility of the handover from military to civilian authorities depends on mission-specific considerations. The two most important considerations are the ability of civil authorities to resume operations without Army assistance and the necessity of committing Army forces to competing operations. Commanders identify and include civil considerations as early as possible in the planning process. Commanders must continually consider the long-term goals of the civil leadership and the communities they assist. While the immediate goal of support operations is to relieve hardship and suffering, the ultimate goal is to create those conditions necessary for civil follow-on operations. The successful handover of all activities to civil authorities and withdrawal of Army forces is a positive signal to the supported population and the Army. It indicates that the community has recovered enough for civil agencies to resume control, that life is beginning to return to normal, and that the Army has successfully completed its support mission.


Although each operation is unique, support operations are generally conducted in three broad phases: response, recovery, and restoration. Army elements can expect to be most heavily committed during the response phase. They are progressively less involved during the recovery phase, with only very limited activity, if any, during the restoration phase.


In the response phase, commanders focus on the life-sustaining functions that are required by those in the disaster area. The following functions dominate these response operations:


  • Search and rescue.
  • Emergency flood control.
  • Hazard identification.
  • Food distribution.
  • Water production, purification, and distribution.
  • Temporary shelter construction and administration.
  • Transportation support.
  • Fire fighting.
  • Medical support.
  • Power generation.
  • Communications support.


Recovery phase operations begin the process of returning the community infrastructure and related services to a status that meets the immediate needs of the population. Typical recovery operations include the following:


  • Continuation of response operations as needed.
  • Damage assessment.
  • Power distribution.
  • Water and sanitation services.
  • Debris removal.


Restoration is a long-term process that returns the community to pre-disaster normality. Restoration activities do not generally involve large numbers of military forces. When they are involved, Army elements generally work with affected communities in the transfer of responsibility to other agencies as military support forces redeploy.

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