Army activates 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion

By HENRY CUNINGHAM | The Fayetteville Observer | Published: September 26, 2012

The Army on Tuesday activated the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, which will eventually add 230 soldiers to Fort Bragg.

The battalion, which has about 150 soldiers so far, will prepare for missions in the Middle East.

The 83rd and other civil affairs units will be "squarely in the center of the operational arsenal of every commander," Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Irizarry said. He is deputy commander of Fort Bragg's John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, which selects and trains civil affairs soldiers and writes doctrine.

On the left shoulders of their uniforms, the soldiers will wear a six-sided patch with crossed swords and a quill pen. They wear the Army's standard black beret. Their headquarters is on Smoke Bomb Hill near the 20th Engineer Brigade.

"I can think of no better home for the 83rd CA Battalion than Fort Bragg and the Fayetteville community," said Col. Leo Ruth II, commander of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas. Ruth is former commander of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg.

The 83rd Battalion is part of the 85th Civil Affairs Brigade. The brigade is part of Forces Command, which has its headquarters at Fort Bragg.

Lt. Col. William Rice took command of the battalion in a ceremony on the 20th Engineer Brigade Memorial Field. The battalion will work with U.S. Army Central at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina.

At a time when other units are returning from Afghanistan, the 83rd is getting ready for a possible deployment to Afghanistan next year.

The battalion's area of operations includes some of the world's hottest hot spots: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

The brigade's other regionally oriented battalions are being activated at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas, Fort Stewart, Ga., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Civil affairs soldiers typically work in four-soldier teams and specialize in enhancing the relationship between military and civil authorities. Forscom civil affairs teams have a captain, a sergeant first class, a staff sergeant and a junior enlisted medic, Rice said after the ceremony.

Typically, soldiers bring a wide range of skills from previous assignments and are combat veterans, Rice said. The languages in which the battalion will specialize include Russian, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, Urdu and Persian-Farsi.

Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Saunders was among the soldiers on the parade field.

"I would rather make friends than kill enemies," said Saunders, 31, of Rochester, N.Y. "You can only kill people. You can't stop ideas."

The battalion traces its military lineage to the 41st Civil Affairs Company of the Vietnam War.

Guests at Tuesday's ceremony included three veterans who served with the 41st Civil Affairs Company in Vietnam: retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie Gonzalez, 70, of San Antonio; Ray Sullivan, 68, of San Mateo, Calif.; and Earl Palmer, 72, of Gainesville, Ga. They served between 1967 and 1970.

The Vietnam-era teams "operated by the seat of our pants," as opposed to today's teams, which "are so much more organized," Sullivan said.

"When you went into a village you hadn't been in before, you knew immediately if there had been a civil affair presence," Palmer said. "The people were more open to you. They didn't stand back. They'd come and talk to you."

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