For those of you who don't already know, I'm currently serving on a deployment to Afghanistan. My last deployment was in Iraq and I was doing a completely different job, so both the location and work are proving to be somewhat of a challenge.
Anyone not familiar with what a Civil Affairs Officer does could easily google the term and find a variety of different job descriptions. CA is most commonly associated with humanitarian aid and development in a combat or austere environment. Some prime examples of what we do, many of which I have often used myself, include handing out relief supplies, building wells and schools, or working with the host nation government to help strengthen its public institutions. While these are things that we do, what is hard for people to understand is WHY we do them.
The best answer, I think, for what we do is helping the Battle Space Owner (such as a Company or Battalion Commander) win the support of the local populace in order to deny the enemy a safe haven in the area. In many cases, we do this by giving civilians on the battlefield certain things they need or want; however, it is all intended to get something from them in return. Through negotiation and coercion, we can gain points of leverage on the populace that enable Coalition Forces to navigate through an area without civilian obstruction and gain a foothold in enemy occupied territory. If this seems hard to understand, don't worry, it is even harder to explain!
On this tour, I am serving as a Battalion Civil Affairs Officer (S9) and am responsible for helping root out Taliban using the needs and wants of the local populace. This doesn't necessarily mean that all we do is give them food and clothes, or build them schools and clinics. Rather, I am using these potential goods and services as leverage to turn the populace against the enemy. It's a key component in the Counterinsurgency strategy; however, many commanders do not see it that way. Often, all they want to do is kill the enemy; yet, they fail to consider what the fighting can do to the local nationals and how it affects their perception of both Coalition Forces and the enemy. If all we do is blow stuff up and kick in doors, then civilians are more likely to side with the enemy. My job is to show the locals that we are the good guys, not the Taliban.
I'm on a unique mission for two reasons. First, it's not what most people associate with war. Their initial reaction is to think of me as nothing more than a Soldier who walks the streets of Afghanistan, getting shot at or blown up. While this scenario is often the case, they don't quite understand WHY I have to do that. Second, I have to show both my Battalion leadership and peers why I am relevant to their operations. Without me, they risk alienating the locals through fear and intimidation. With me, they have the power to rally thousands of people in the fight against the Taliban.
Over the next several months, I hope to chronicle my efforts and share with you all my successes and failures. It's going to be a long and hard journey, so wish me luck!