An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.













NEWS | March 18, 2024

Shaping civil considerations through simulation: 353rd CACOM participates in Austere Challenge 2024

By Sgt. 1st Class Gregory Williams 353rd Civil Affairs Command

Battlefields come in many different forms. Whether it's within a mountainous countryside or on a 15-inch computer screen, decisions will be made, setting off a chain of events. This sequence of events can either garner desired results or have consequential effects on combatants and the surrounding area.

Keeping this consideration in mind, civil affairs and psychological operation soldiers engaged in a virtual simulation where icons and symbols represented people and actions. As role players and exercise coordinators manned different workstations throughout the base, the end goal remained the same. Do whatever it takes to take care of the civilian population.

Fourteen Soldiers with the 353rd Civil Affairs Command participated in Exercise Austere Challenge 24, a command post exercise (CPX) focused on training combatant command coordination and U.S. interagency and integration amongst the U.S., NATO, Allies, and partners in planning across multiple domains, here from February 29 - March 15, 2024.

Austere Challenge 24 allowed civil affairs and psychological operation army reserve soldiers to strengthen their interagency collaboration capacity by working with active-duty units, allied partner nations, and governmental organizations.

"Exercises like Austere Challenge give us a deep understanding on what the critical needs are for the local populace in that area during a time of war," Staff Sgt. Joseph Nuttall, a civil affairs sergeant with the 353rd Civil Affairs Command, said. "Exercises like this assist us with identifying critical infrastructures quicker and paint a greater picture of the civil domain during a significant event. Displaced citizens can hinder kinetic operations and our ability to maneuver through an area of operations so it's important to plan with non-governmental organizations to establish evacuation routes or a reception center.”

During the exercise, civil affairs elements monitored the basic needs of displaced populations through online reporting processes. These reports and actioned items not only registered as lending assistance to friendly forces within the simulation but prevented enemy forces from exploiting local communities.

Nuttall said civil affairs products are always relevant and can be helpful to battlefield commanders even in a simulated war environment where real-world human considerations took on the form of lines, numbers, and digital characters.

“Our teams were able to shape the battlefield by gathering atmospherics from virtual civil engagements with local leaders, site assessments on critical infrastructure, and by identification of potential civil vulnerabilities,” Nuttall said. “Civil affairs always play its part on the battlefield no matter what the scenario is.”

For some civil affairs soldiers the exercise was their first time entering into a digital battlespace and presented early challenges that had to be overcome with massive amounts of communication, reporting, and hourly synchronization meetings.

Maj. Charles Reedy, a civil knowledge information officer with the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, 353rd CACOM, said combatant commanders saw the value in deploying their civil affairs assets, which alleviated pressure within certain areas of the simulation for players and the exercise provided a great learning experience for some soldiers.

“Our four-person team ran 24/7 operations, reviewed over 300 situational reports, slant and spot reports, assisted in scenario scripting, and also had the opportunity to work alongside other designated unified action partners, the United Kingdom and Estonia partners alike, so I’m proud of my soldiers,” Reedy said. I would rather have those face-to-face interactions instead of looking at an icon, but this exercise did sharpen our skills in gathering, researching, and writing reports, which is essential in combat operations.”

Reedy said in future exercises he would like to see civil affairs teams tasked to their prospective units in person and the exercise integrate the usage of additional civil information management cells, which would dictate the pace of movements.

“If we’re able to do this and have the ability to go straight to the commander and tell them how we can affect the battlefield, this would give us a bigger voice” Reedy said.

As the exercise concluded, soldiers were able to not only gain additional insight into the intricacies of performing in a joint operational environment but also expand their personal networks, which will benefit NATO missions down the line.

“Working with our international partners reassures me that victory will always be secured because NATO is an unbreakable alliance,” Nuttall said. “It was great to work with other highly trained professionals.”

As battlefields continue to evolve, there is one undeniable fact: challenges have to be met because there can only be one winner.