ASHWAUBENON, Wis.—As the Humvees rolled slowly through the city’s streets, children waved and others stopped to watch as soldiers dismounted their vehicles to meet with civil authorities and assess the local infrastructure.
For three days in August, 22 Civil Affairs soldiers of the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalions, Charlie and Delta Companies, traveled in their High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, or "Humvees," 37 miles north of their headquarters here to the small town of Gillett.
Once there, they began conducting a realistic training exercise. Other soldiers assigned to the headquarters element remained behind at the unit’s location to operate the tactical operations center.
Teams used the Oconto County Fairgrounds as their forward operating base to conduct assessments on some of the surrounding municipalities while also meeting with local key leaders.
Although the population of Gillett is only 1,303, the city offers services that one would find in larger cities.
The city has garbage and recycling pickup, police and fire departments, parks, schools, a dentist, doctor office, chiropractor, and optometrist offices and other small businesses and essential services.
“We chose the city of Gillett for the first time this year because of the size, demographics and municipalities offered within the city and surrounding area,” said Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Leon, Delta Company first sergeant and noncommissioned officer in charge of the Civil Military Operations Center. “It replicates what we may find in an overseas environment,” he added.
Civil Affairs soldiers are the commander's link to civil authorities when operating overseas. These \soldiers have specialties in many areas of the government and can assist the host nation’s government to help meet the people's needs and maintain a viable civil administration.
This training and interaction with local authorities, such as the Gillett Police chief, fire chief and mayor, allows the soldiers to conduct assessments and sharpen their skills by putting into practice what they know.
“Everyone has skill sets outside of the Army that bring value to the team,” said Spc. Nathaniel Buss, Delta Company Civil Affairs Operator. “I am in college as a criminal justice major, because of the knowledge I have gained from that education, and while overseas, I can use that to help people, like a police chief, gather available resources and increase their capabilities,” he said.
During the assessments, the soldiers gathered information and learned about the infrastructure of the area, the leader’s role in the municipality, and their personality from hobbies, interests and religion, to daily activities.
While the leaders they met with were chosen in advance, the items they discussed in their assessments were not scripted, which is how civil affairs teams would operate while deployed.
The 432nd has been conducting realistic training exercises in similar surrounding cities for the last eight years. There are plans to come back to Gillett for future exercises.
“I hope everyone got the same feeling I got to be able to see you train,” said Irene Drake, the mayor of Gillett. “I hope that some of the teen-tweens got to see you doing things. I feel it’s important for them to see you out and about, it could impact their future. It’s different then just talking to a recruiter,” she said.
“We hope that you can come back to Gillett and have a muffin at OJ's or coffee at the Cracked Cup on the way up north,” said Drake. “It’s important for us to support our troops, and say thank you for serving our Country,” she added.
It has been more than 17 months since the unit returned home from their last deployment overseas to Afghanistan. With no plans for a future deployment, the soldiers are taking this time to focus on sharpening and refining their civil affairs skills.
“I was on the last deployment and now that I’m back, there are a lot of soldiers who are on this type of a field exercise for the first time, so it’s great to pass the knowledge I have along…plus it was great to refresh the assessment skills and meet with key leaders, “ said Buss.