By John Crosby
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 12, 2010 - In addition to the surge of military forces in Afghanistan and the drawdown in the U.S. military presence in Iraq, U.S. officials are implementing a "whole of government" approach in both countries, deploying teams of civilian subject-matter experts in fields such as security, agribusiness and logistics from several U.S. government agencies, including the departments of State and Homeland Security in addition to the Defense Department. These teams hold an array of specialty missions such as maintaining equipment, rebuilding infrastructure and setting up systems for maintaining stability. The teams require a military escort to provide security, and must complete a Defense Department crash course here to learn the rules, culture and language differences, and security risks in their area of operations.
Several trial programs are in place at the Joint Maneuver Training Center here. The programs are geared to shift focus from preparing soldiers for combat to creating a mobilization process aimed at civilians, giving them the most comprehensive, relevant and cost-and-time efficient training course possible, officials said.
More than 70,000 personnel have been trained for deployment here since 2003, making it a prime platform to produce these training programs. Experience gained in conducting these trial courses eventually could lead to Camp Atterbury developing into a national deployment center for civilians in addition to its current role as a military mobilization hub.
"Not only can we train you, but based on our knowledge and skills from seven years of mobilizing soldiers, we can push you into the right theater, fully equipped and fully trained to do your mission," said Army Col. Barry Richmond, deputy commander of the Camp Atterbury and Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations.
Creating a system aimed at civilian entities presents several challenges, as the military has procedures, means of communicating and techniques that differ from those of each different civilian governmental department. Programs need to be tailored to specific units, their missions and for where the unit is deploying.
The civilian mobilization-training program will have some similarities with the training provided to soldiers, as well as some differences. For example, a noncombatant civilian will not require the same classes and field training as a combat soldier. Also, civilians don't have the same medical and dental benefits systems, legal preparation or financial pay systems in place for deployment as servicemembers do.
Camp Atterbury officials and contracting agencies are working together through trial and error to smooth out a format to organize and implement a streamlined system for deploying civilians.
"It's learning all of these differences and putting it in the right sequence so that it runs as smoothly as our military deployment process does," said project officer Army Lt. Col. Bill Welcher, noting that the unit can train a soldier for deployment quickly.
"Basically, we are trying to put a process together that will allow us to do the same thing for a civilian," he said. It has been quite a learning experience."
The trainers are learning from hands-on experience in working with each of the trial mobilizations of deploying civilian units. One such unit, mechanics with the Army Material Command, completed training here last week and deployed to Iraq on March 5. The unit -- composed of civilian employees from Army depots in Tobyhana, Pa.; Red River, Texas; and Anniston, Ala. -- will cover down on a brigade combat team in Iraq and work as a maintenance section.
"I've never seen a better place that is more willing to take and tailor things and change for somebody else," said James Deloach, a civilian operations officer with Army Material Command. "My first impression of the military was the attitude that they already had a system in place and weren't willing to make any changes -- you know, that attitude of 'This is our process, this is how we do it here in the military, this is how things are going to stay.'"
Deloach said the difference between his initial perception and the relationship with his new military partners was like day and night.
"I am so totally pleased with the [Camp Atterbury staff]. Their mindset was, 'What do we need to do? Let's figure this out. Let's make it work.' That has been their attitude since Day One."
The measure of the success of these programs will determine the future of Camp Atterbury and its development into a national deployment center. Current programs may train as many as 17,000 civilians next year, Deloach said.
"We are trying to create a training environment that has the benefit of a military partner, without [civilians] being dumped into the military training machine," Richmond said. "We are creating a neutral environment where civilian personnel can come and feel comfortable about training."
(John Crosby works in the Camp Atterbury public affairs office.)