To be ready for future missions, civil affairs units need a diverse set of skills and knowledge to meet the needs of commands they are assigned to.

For the Soldiers of Company D, 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, a three-day culmination exercise gave them the opportunity to put training into practice.

In small, four-person teams, usually made up of an officer and three noncommissioned officers, civil affairs Soldiers work with civilian agencies and organizations to practice strengthening and stabilizing friendly governments, while working to keep other, outside forces from destabilizing the area.

Civil affairs units act as a liaison between the inhabitants of an area and the military commander. They advise the commander of the status of the civilian population as well as providing assistance to locals by either coordinating their operations with other agencies or through direct aid and supplies.

According to Lt. Col. Kyle Simpson, commanding officer of the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, this training is necessary for his Soldiers because it ensures they have the skills and knowledge needed for deployment. Additionally, the exercise allows Simpson to assess whether his Soldiers have met that goal.

"We want to make sure that every Soldier we send out on a mission has, not only the skills that they need for force protection, but that they are also extremely proficient in their core civil affairs tasks and they can execute them at a high level of performance," said Simpson.

The Soldiers going through the exercise saw the benefits of the training. Pvt. Amie Smith, a medic assigned to CA Team 8342, Company D, 83rd CA, is new to the unit and had little exposure to civil affairs training before this exercise.

"This actually gave me a chance, as a medic, to be integrated into what civil affairs does," said Smith. "My team did a really good job of making sure that I know what the mission is, what we need to accomplish, and they made me a part of this team."

The three teams went through a week of planning and preparation before the exercise and they went through various scenarios designed to test their skills and knowledge. The teams interacted with role-players who played the parts of non-governmental organization representatives, local officials and civilians in the fictional nation of Pineland. They were assessing the recent finding of a large number of dad fish in the local river.

Capt. Lauren Merkel, Team leader for CA Team 8345, went through a scenario at a local boat ramp that had her and her team working on skills they had not widely used in the past.

"It gives us a chance to talk and work with people outside of the military, which forces us to stretch a little," said Merkel. "The scenarios were a little bit awkward, but a lot of times when youíre working across cultural boundaries, sometimes it is a little awkward. So you have to learn to relate to people as people."

Locations in Fayetteville, Raleigh and Wilmington were used for the training, which included a water treatment plant, a port facility and a local lake. Simpson said that use of the off-post areas provided more realism for the training.

"We push to get off-post training and we would like to do more of that because thatís the environment that we operate in," said Simpson. "Outside of combat scenarios, a lot of our missions are stand-alone, operating in a civil environment in support of combat commands or for an embassy."

With the culmination of the two-day exercise, Simpson said he was pleased with the results of the training his Soldiers received.

"There is a growing demand for civil affairs from the combatant commands and the more we can get our people deployed on a routine basis, we have the opportunity to shape the environment, to set the conditions for future operations, thatís really what we do," said Simpson.