Monday, July 10, 2006

Fixing Phase IV

Blogger’s Note: I’m back. Insert lazy blogging excuse here. Actually the truth is that I went and got myself back on active duty…errr…well kind of. I joined the active guard and reserve program. So I’m still home in sunny Austin, TX but just wearing different clothes to work. I’ve been busy transitioning careers, and the blogging policy where I’m at is a little unclear. That's the cause of the slow down. I’ve been hesitant to seek clarification lest I get a cease and desist order, but I figure blogging about this topic is okay.

I’ve been shooting my mouth of in the blogosphere for over a year now, and I guess somebody finally listened. Myself, Bobby Bran, and a couple other smart guys submitted our ideas for a panel at the 2006 TRADOC/CSI Military History Conference this summer at Fort Leavenworth. I’m pretty excited. LTG David Petraeus and Andrew Krepinevich are scheduled to be speakers.

The name of our panel is “Breaking Out of the Box” and is intended to be a discussion on how the US can better organized itself for support and stability operations. The tentative title of my presentation is: “If You Build It They Will Come: The Case for Establishing Standing Reserve Civil Affairs Packages for Nation-Building and Security Assistance Operations”.

My bright idea centers on the fact US military and government is not particularly well structured for “Phase IV” operations—that nasty “nation building” thing that we don’t do. The military is well adapted to enter and survive in zones of conflict. We second to none when it comes to blowing things up and breaking things. But, then what?

The truth is that our efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan have stalled, and the way our military and government is structured is partially to blame. We’ve wished away the nation building problem, and it’s biting us in the ass. Soldiers don’t necessarily posses the skills needed to do all the things it takes to win in “Phase IV”, and the governmental entities like USAID, although they are in the fight, aren’t “expeditionary” in nature. And military civil affairs is often stretched to thin.

What’s needed is a force to bridge the gap between military and civilian skill sets. We need a force that the military controls and doesn’t have to rely on other agencies to use. We need a way to “crowdsource” the American people. We need to create reserve civilian augmentation force to military that taps into the deep reservoir of skills that our nation possesses.

The type of person that I envision recruiting for this effort is someone who is already well-established in their career or profession-- the type of person who is unlikely to join the military or become a pay-for-play contractor, but who wants to help their country. These people would be afforded the same protections of the soldier and sailor relief act, and organized along the lines of provincial reconstruction teams. The teams would be task organized around the different regional combatant commands like CENTCOM.

The teams would be a mix of military and civilians and train to be experts in their regions. They would participate in team-building exercises like Cobra Gold, and be available for the military to use without having to say “mother may I” to the rest of the government or worse having to hire contractors.

Team members would have specialties such as agriculture, education, emergency services, small government, business, public health, utilities, information management, etc.

Of course, the military does have soldiers with these skill sets, but it’s hit or miss when or how you get them. A guy like me could join a civil affairs team and be educated to manage a certain program that I may not be an expert in. I could help you set up an emergency management program, but judging by my brown-thumb landscaping skills, I would not be the right guy to manage an agriculture program. My idea would allow the military to recruit, train, and retain, the right tool for the job. A guy who is an agriculture professor at an institution like Texas A&M is unlikely to elect to go to basic training, but given the opportunity, he might lend a hand by joining a program like this.

So what do you think? Would you join something like this? If so, what skills would you bring with you?


At July 10, 2006, Anonymous BWJones said...

You are likely most correct about the academic crowd, but I love your idea. Although my training is *highly* specialized, there are areas that no matter how specialized ones training is, one can contribute. For instance, I would be most happy to help organize ophthalmologic care or arrange people that are more expert in the clinical delivery of this area.

At July 10, 2006, Blogger Kris Alexander said...


Awesome! That's what I like to hear. Would you mind emailing me so I can ask you some questions for my paper?


At July 11, 2006, Anonymous said...

Welcome back!

I'd started to worry that something catastrophic (other than career change) had occurred.

I think that this is *exactly* what needs to occur in the US military. Close collaboration with USAID is an important factor - they have plenty of civilians who risk their necks in similar situations. Also, Peace Corps, though a vastly different mentality, has many skill sets that would be valuable, from ag. to community health, and business development.

Of course, the trick is to be able to adapt such uniquely civilian skills into a potentially hostile environment. If a Phase IV area was 'pacified' (e.g. Kosovo) it is vastly easier to conduct such operations compared to an example of Iraq/Afghanistan. A buddy of mine just spent a year in Iraq as an auditor for USAID (previously he was Legislative Assistant to a Congressman, and an auditor in the DOD IG's office) and he regularly complained about how difficult it was to do his job monitoring reconstruction work when he had to essentially requisition a convoy to escort him out of the Green Zone.

My question is what do you see as the role for this force? Is it a stop-gap between occupation and eventual deployment of USAID/Peace Corps types? Or is this a long-term civil reconstruction unit that would be on the ground as long as US forces were in-country (in a peacekeeping role)? Building civil society from the ground up is a daunting task, and will take years of intensive effort. I'm not sure that a reserve capacity is appropriate in this case. Perhaps a small, full-time force attached to DOD (but not necessarily military) of people willing to live mostly as expats (I know, I know) or be deployed on a long-term basis would be more appropriate. Model it on the best of the NGO world, like Medecins Sans Frontieres and the ICRC. Make the necessary changes from a crisis model to a development model, and emphasize the professional nature of the corps.

Or, perhaps the answer is to cross-train the appropriate people into a secondary civil development MOS (like Seabees, Intelligence, MPs, etc.) Though this would provoke a nasty fight.

In any event, this is not an easy topic you've chosen to wrestle with - but it is an important one. Best of luck!


At July 11, 2006, Blogger BWJones said...

email sent.

At July 12, 2006, Blogger J. said...

Did you read Zinni's latest book? He basically calls for the same idea that you have, except it's more of a joint civ-mil agency (think Goldwater-Nichols for the entire federal govt) rather than just mil-led. I don't think you can succeed with a DOD mentality, it's got to be different, more joint, more NGO focused if you really intend to get civilians interested. Check out Zinni's book, flip to the last few chapters.

And about gaddam time you started writing again.

At August 01, 2006, Blogger Kristen said...

Your article is a terrific service; it shows careful thought and intelligence.

At August 01, 2006, Blogger Kristen said...

Your article is a terrific service; it shows careful thought and intelligence.

At August 01, 2006, Blogger Iago said...

In Afghanistan they use PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) that are intended to bring together NGOs to provide the civilian expertise and the military to provide security. I'm not sure of their current state of affairs but I know there weren't enough to go around when I was there (2003-2004). It might be worthwhile to see if there's been any studies checking on their effectiveness so far.

At August 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got out of the Navy after 6 years. As a trained Nuclear Officer I have stayed around the utility industry. I have been a plant operator, trainer, and now work for a large OEM selling generation equipment. Building or re-building a nation-wide utility system is amazingly complex. From my time in the military I certainly learned a lot, but the military is used to microcosms, not macro. I thought I knew a lot about generation and distribution when I got out, but the longer I'm out, the more I've learned I don't know.

The point-I agree with what you say, and I think that as much training and preparation needs to go into nation building as there is to war. I think the reserves would be a good place for a majority of nation building forces during peace time. We could be used during Katrina or other national disasters. But there would need to be some full time regulars as well. And it is not just people, but inventory, which translates to money. Oh, and how do you deal with local cultures, especially ones where corruption and theft are the norm? Soft skills, I have found tend to be the thing people go to and need training on the most once they are out of school. In short, any aspect of nation building (electric, sewage, health care, roads, police, fire, etc.) is as complex as war. In the end you are trying to boot strap or restore a nation wide economy. Run all the power lines you want, but what if there are no factories and no jobs. Unemployment leads to unrest. Can you develop a plan for 5% unemployment within 90 days of the cessation of major hostilies?

I'd be glad to join such an effort.

At August 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think of nation building as boot straping or rebuilding an ecomony this is much more complex than blowing things up or killing people-and that is very complex in and of itself. Could you set a goal such as 5% unemployment within 90 days of cessation of major hostilities? How would you accomplish it.

First, I'd be glad to participate. I left the Navy after 6 years. As a Nuclear Trained Officer I've been around the utility industry for 15 years. Electricity on a nation wide scale is complex enough, in and of itself. Now add water, sewage, garbage, health care, police, fire, phone, food distribution, roads and infrastructure etc. We still haven't addressed the type of manufacturing jobs that generate the taxes that pay for all of the above.

As bwjones says, his training is specialized. Nation building brings together a huge number of specialties. In short, I believe it requires as much study and practice as war. As we see in Iraq and Afghanistan, hostilies will continue after the beginning of nation building. Your builders need to be Military-they will be targets and they should be able to protect themselves. Reservists are also out in the civilian world, idealy working daily in jobs that relate to nation building. I think your idea would work out very well, if it becomes a regular field of study and practice.

At August 08, 2006, Blogger Daniel said...

Excellent ideas! The Army is really not adept at Phase Iv Ops. after 24 years in Military Intelligence, and a debilitating injury, I took the advice of the Army Medical Corps and adopted a "less strenuous lifestyle". Now off of active duty I miss the opportunity to contribute. I don't know of what service I could be but if such a program existed I'd be interested.

At August 12, 2006, Blogger chiflada-a-go-go said...

Dear Kris,
I would not give my left chi-chi to volunteer for this pin-the-tail-on-the-ass game. --Not to pooh-pooh on your parade (cuz I love ya 'n all), but there is no political motivation for this Peace Corp charade.
Destruction was the point. Breaking the back of OPEC was the point in the first place. Rebuilding is an excuse to launder public funds into dirty private hands.
And if you have a mind to interfere with this theft, you might end up dead on a small plane crash ie: "Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man," or WORSE, be used as the cover up of a calculated cowboy blood sport.
Mucho Amor,
a non-pearl-wearing Chiflada-A-Go-GO

At December 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You must be kidding. Why would anyone want to give up their successful job and go to a place like Iraq? It's like asking a Roman citizen to go to the barbarian lands and teach those people civilization. I know I wouldn't do it. I think it's time to get out of that horrible back-water. Those people in Iraq are a joke and true barbarians. Your suggestion of bringing in professional people into the Iraq conflict sucks. I think you have spent too much time in the sun over there.

At February 05, 2008, Blogger GeologyJoe said...

Two years after you post this idea I find the blog. I think it is a good idea and one I would be willing to participate in and organize locally.

I will try and read all your related posts to get my self informed.

At February 26, 2008, Blogger Marine Corps Veteran said...

Nice blog. I started my own at

Check it out and let me know what you think. Take Care.


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