HOHENFELS, Germany –
Amid the cold and show of a Bavarian winter, battlefield refugees streamed into Kittensee, a cluster of concrete block buildings in the western part of the Joint Multinational Readiness Center.
Soldiers from Company D, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, taking part in Combined Resolve XVI, were there to greet them and work with local government officials and aid organizations to lessen their burden. Part of a U.S. Army Reserve unit headquartered in Danbury, Conn., the 411th faced a unique challenge, said Capt. Charles Ruzkowski, the company commander.
“We try to take care of the civilian populace of the area,” said Ruzkowski, an animator by trade who once served as an infantry platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. “We are focused on the refugees coming in from the fighting areas, moving their way out of the battle zone.”
A few kilometers away, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, were maneuvering against an enemy force, through mud, ice and slush. The brigade currently is a rotational force supporting of Atlantic Resolve in Poland. The exercise, which began in early December, was grueling at best.
“Within the exercise there is a lot of stuff going on with the infantry, the kinetic side is what we call it, two forces fighting,” Ruzkowski said. “But, within the area they are fighting there is always going to be civilians, cities, towns, hospitals, homes and all sorts of normal every day infrastructure.”
During times of conflict, civil affairs has the role of assisting civilians and being the connectivity between the maneuver commander and civilian leadership. Training for that role includes honing skills on how to best interact with civilian government and nongovernmental organizations, then building mechanisms to feed that information into operations channels for consideration.
Inside the brigade tactical operations center, Capt. Alex D’orchimont, an attorney from New York City, opened his laptop on a collapsible table and sat on a metal folding chair – establishing the civil-military operations center or “CMOC.” This connected the civil affairs mission to the operation. Navigating tent’s mud-splattered canvas floors, Spc. Edwin Hernandez, a New York City police officer, fed D’orchimont information for a report.
Civilian leaders had concerns about military traffic moving too fast through their towns. Refugees were receiving misinformation about where to go for aid. The CMOC makes sure these reports filter up through operations up to command channels, input that can shape leaders’ decisions.
“The brigade staff will take a look to see if there is anything they can do,” said Hernandez, who deployed to Iraq in 2009 with civil affairs. “Then it rolls down to our unit and at the next meeting, we can give the local community an update.”
The brigade’s civil affairs officer or S-9, Capt. Tim Johnson, 31, an active-duty officer from Lovettsville, Va., worked closely with the Reserve Soldiers during the exercise. He was glad to learn they has extensive civilian experience in law enforcement, firefighting, education and cybersecurity – skills not always found in a combat brigade.
“Having these guys here, gives the brigade a unique capability as they have a different way of thinking, analyzing problems and coming up with solutions,” Johnson said.
Maj. Thomas Howard, an active-duty civil affairs officer who serves as a JMRC observer-controller, worked with Army Reserve Soldiers from the 353rd Civil Affairs Command before. Because of their civilian jobs skills as attorneys, police officers, corrections officers and other fields, they often have a broader capability than the typical active-duty Army civil affairs company, especially when it comes to helping local authorities.
“If we have large scale operations, the civil affairs units from the Reserve are going to be a lot more adept at being subject matter experts in the governance piece,” Howard said. “Reserve Soldiers come to the fight with that knowledge.”