Civil Affairs: the Army's middlemen

Spec. Michelle Lunato
First published in
SFOR Informer#147, September 12, 2002

Armed with a cell phone, a vehicle and the drive to make a difference, Civil Affairs (CA) soldiers are helping people displaced as a result of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina return to their communities. They need homes rebuilt, utilities installed and roads paved before they can return. Without help, the 1,140 displaced people of the Suceska village will not be able to return home.

Suceska - Civil Affairs is not armed with tools or manpower to do the construction, but, in their own way, they are critical in the returns process.
“The only thing we can do is contact the international community,” said Maj. Lewis Gaiani, CA officer. “All I have is a cell phone and a list of numbers.”
They work with the Finnish Civil-Military Cooperation (CIMIC) to find the needs of an area, then, set out to find groups that can help. Spending numerous hours a day on the telephone and in vehicles, CA soldiers contact several non-governmental organisations in an effort to give the hopeful returnees some assistance.
“We act as a facilitator and bring different groups together,” said Gaiani.

Help for the village
On one visit to the village of Suceska, the CA team brought an organisation offering micro-economic loans. The group met with over 50 villagers to explain the program and how it could help them. The soldiers also obtained a list of displaced people who are trying to return to the village. This list was crucial in their efforts since it proves to potential donors that there is a need and a reason to help this particular village.
As the CA team builds relationships between their 13 opstinas (municipalities) and a wide variety of organisations and the infantrymen pound the streets gathering CA information, the returns process mission is progressing, slowly, but surely.
“Civil affairs is the most important mission here,” said 1Lt. Spencer Harris, CA officer.

To assist the mission even more, CA began bringing several organisations to the Medical Civil Action Programs (MEDCAP). While local nationals waited to be seen by Task Force Med Eagle soldiers for health care, they had the opportunity to gather information from groups such as World Vision, Mercy Corps and Bauern Helfen Bauern, who offered help in loans, home rebuilding and legal advice.
This new idea went over well and will be continued in future rotations, said Gaiani. “For a MEDCAP to be a success and have long lasting impact, there needs to be host nation participation,” he said.
People working together
And that is what defines the essences of the CA mission - the detective work of bringing together the right organisations with the right people in need. Their complicated mission may not be fast, but it is making a difference, explained Gaiani.
“If I left tomorrow, I would be happy that we've been able to help a lot of people,” he said.

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US


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Photo: Spec. Michelle Lunato

Suceska villagers meet civil affairs soldiers at one of the community homes to see what organisations can help them rebuild their homes and community.

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Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Tarina Reed

Maj. Lewis Gaiani, civil affairs officer for the 1st Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. chats with a representative from an Austrian non-governmental organisation which helps people returning to their pre-war homes.

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Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Tarina Reed

Sgt. Tiffany Lopez, 1st Bn., 14th Inf. Regt. civil affairs specialist, interacts with a group of school children during a routine visit to a village.

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Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Tarina Reed

Staff Sgt. Jo Beth Thomsen, 1st Bn. 14th Inf. Regt. civil affairs NCOIC, loads up a donated backpack with school supplies for her young friend.