March 13, 2016 –
UTICA, NEW YORK – On a mild afternoon, sunlight enveloped a schoolyard where four UH-60 Blackhawks sat in the grass. While more than 250 local took pictures inside of the Blackhawks, two groups of Soldiers met to discuss last minute key leader engagement questions. As children ran around the adjacent Blackhawks, the civil affairs teams conducted cold load training as a short time later the rotary blades started to turn. With a crowd of spectators waving goodbye, the Soldiers embarked on a mission designed to test the unit’s knowledge of civil affairs and resolve.
Soldiers with Bravo Company 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion conducted foreign humanitarian assistance and air insertion training during an exercise at the New York State Preparedness Training Center.
Weeks prior to the exercise, most of the unit’s personnel deployed to the Horn Of Africa resulting in their decision to prepare remaining Soldiers for future missions by conducting the most realistic training possible.
“The NCO’s showed you the steps you have to go through and by watching them do their engagements it helps you to say what you’re going to say when you have to talk to someone,” Pvt. Danielle Asch, a civil affairs specialist with Bravo Company 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, said. “They push you to be a good Soldier, but don’t push you to be a certain way and it does prepare you for other exercises and missions.”
Inside the NYSPTC state of the art training facility civil affairs teams were tasked with conducting air evacuations, providing liaisons for foreign humanitarian workers, and assessing needs for future coordination of civic assistance operations during mission Oriskany.
In an area surrounded by local militia & enemy forces, but armed with knowledge of the facilities trap doors, role players challenged themselves to confuse the civil affairs teams forcing Soldiers to react or overreact during the scenarios.
Cadet Victoria Schaefer, a civil affairs specialist with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion and role player, said they wanted to out think and frustrate the Soldiers to see how well versed the groups were in civil affairs. “We were running around in different rooms and messing around with the Soldiers in the beginning because we said to ourselves this group is not going to catch us so it was fun,” Schaefer said. “It was hard to plan because you don’t know what the Soldiers are going to do and you have to go off of them. If a Soldier starts to become shaky in their role then you have to pull back a little, but if they have their stuff together then we have to challenge the person.”
Schaefer said it’s interesting being a role player who’s studied civil affairs because recalling on her advanced individual training role players and instructors would constantly challenge her thoughts on the concept of civil affairs as a whole.
As each team looked to take control of the situations being thrown at
them from dealing with unruly aid workers to corrupt law enforcement and
terrorist organization sympathizers, the Soldiers adhered to a golden rule in civil affairs, which is to never make a promise you can’t keep.
Asch said communicating within the teams was important because every Soldier has their own strength and weakness, which can help or hinder with the implementation of civil affairs in a foreign country within the civilian population.
“I think our team reacted very well for the most part because there were some challenges we all had, but it was all about communication skills,” Asch said. “The role players threw us some curve balls and made us think outside the box because when our team practiced we thought certain things would happen, but the role players made it more complex than what we planned for. You never knew what someone was going to say and you didn’t know what was going to offend someone.”
“This mission took me out of my comfort zone and overall I feel the training was useful because it was a real world situation and it helped us to know what to do,” Asch said. “For me I haven’t been in very long so it gave me more information on what civil affairs Soldier do. It’s a big change because I’m used to seeing it in books and on paper and doing it is different than reading about it. This mission was very realistic and it was fun because it’s not something everybody gets to experience.”
At the end of mission Oriskany, The 403rd conducted realistic training in one of the most realistic training environments in New York with the hope of meeting their real world objectives.