Drought, famine, IEDs, MEDEVACs, angry mobs, corrupt contractors and wily, demanding village elders: Soldiers from the 418th Civil Affairs Battalion faced them all today in suburban Kansas City.
The product of over four months of intensive planning, the battalion-level Field Training Exercise (FTX) allowed Soldiers to practice Civil Affairs operations in realistic, demanding scenarios. About 40 Soldiers conducted the missions, while 30 more played roles such as local contractors, the mayor, chief of police, their wives "and rioting citizens.
In the scenario, the battalion set up a Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) in a small village in Afghanistan. The 2,500 inhabitants, though friendly to the American presence, currently suffered from a food shortage due to drought. The mission of the CMOC "in actual operations as in training-- is to push information to battalion on the needs of the village, provide humanitarian assistance, and foster good will and a working relationship with the local population, according to Maj. Timothy M. Burkett, B Company commander.
The 418th CA Battalion’s reserve center does not own any real estate on which to conduct exercises, so the Soldiers took advantage of the adjacent and now closed Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base, according to Maj. John Bennett, the officer in charge (OIC) of the event. Empty base housing offered the Soldiers an ideal location to practice Civil Affairs in an urban environment --without disturbing any actual Missouri residents.
Inside the CMOC, Burkett met with the village mayor and his wife. While not governing the small Afghani village, they are Soldiers assigned to the battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC). Mayor Mohammed is Spc. Daryl Bryant, the CBRNE NCO, and his “wife,” Sophia Sadiki is 1st Lt. Shayla Sparks, S4 section chief.
“We have nothing,” the mayor stated. “We need food, medicine.”
Burkett explained that he will have energy bars sent directly to the mayor, “so that your people can see YOU deliver them.” He also detailed plans to send a medic with bandages and antibiotics.
Aware that the culture disapproves of unrelated males addressing females, he politely asked the mayor for permission to speak to his wife. Permission granted, he told Sadiki that he will also send a female medic to treat females in a secure area where no males can observe.
While the CMOC monitored operations, Soldiers from both companies left in convoy to conduct an agricultural assessment, a key Civil Affairs task assessing the effect of the drought. Returning to base they encountered an IED. Three Soldiers are wounded with burns, a broken arm "and respiratory distress. The “casualties” carry information sheets listing their symptoms so that some Soldiers can practice setting limbs and applying bandages, while others pull security and report back to the CMOC.
“We were pinched between two IEDs, then started taking indirect mortar fire,” Staff Sgt. Andrew Eager, B Company team sergeant.
When the report came into the CMOC, the battalion medic, Sgt. 1st Class John Glisson, immediately took action. He cleared the front room, readied medical supplies and initiated the report so that the MEDEVAC helicopters could launch.
“Let’s get a nine-line,” Glisson directed. “I want them urgent, I want three litters, go ahead, let’s call it in.”
Pfc. Guy Tennison has a sucking chest wound, which Spc. Logan Birmingham treated. The battalion chaplain, Capt. Travis Cox, went from Soldier to Soldier reassuring them and asking questions about home and family.
“If you’re in a mass casualty event,” Glisson said, “You always want your chaplain there.”
The Soldiers took a brief “pause ex,” and then the next operation began. The hungry villagers have formed a mob and are approaching the CMOC gate. Glisson asked the commander if they should pull up a gun truck.
Burkett took the opportunity to explain the philosophy of Civil Affairs. “I don’t want to point a gun at someone who’s not pointing a gun at me,” he said. “When it comes to escalation of force, I don’t want to shoot when I can use words. It’s ‘verbal judo,’ the de-escalation of force without force.”
As the mob demanded food and tried to press past the Soldiers, Burkett negotiated for the mayor, village leader and chief of police to enter the CMOC compound. Soldiers escorted them inside (actually up the driveway of the house simulating the CMOC). Burkett convinced the police chief to quiet the mob in return for some food and water, but when the citizens refused to comply, the village elder took over, as he was the leader with the most influence. This interaction illustrated how complicated the power relationships can be in some cultures.
“This is big picture, real world,” Burkett said. “The things we’re doing are the things I’ve seen work.”
The conduct of the 418th CA BN’s FTX was equal in realism to anything that Burkett saw on active duty, he said. Burkett previously served 18 months near the Pakistani border in Afghanistan.
“This is very similar to what you see in theater,” said Col. Oliver Lattimore, commander of the 308th CA Brigade, the 418th CA BN’s higher headquarters. “This is how the world operates in a lot of countries.”
Article by Maj. Corey Schultz, Public Affairs Officer