The 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion was activated Thursday morning in a formal ceremony on Fort Stewart’s Cottrell Field.
Parent unit commander Col. Leo J. Ruth II, 85th Civil Affairs Brigade; Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Irizarry, deputy commanding general, JFK Special Warfare Center; Brig. Gen. James Owen, deputy commanding general, U.S. Africa Command; and Col. John Hort, 3rd Infantry Division deputy commanding general-rear, were all present for the ceremony.
According to Maj. Bryan D. Woods, public affairs officer for the 85th CA Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, civil affairs battalions advise area commanders on improving services and institutions in the community in which they are operating. He said the 82nd CA Battalion’s “Warrior Diplomats” will be “regionally oriented” with the U.S. Africa Command’s theater of operations.
“The 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion is currently about 150 soldiers, but it will grow to about 250,” he said. “A civil-affairs battalion consists of a civil-military operation center, civil-affairs planning teams, a civil-information cell and five companies of civil-affairs teams.”
Woods said these four-man teams advise local farmers, mayors or tribal leaders about ways to improve farm production as well as develop and maintain a stable civil administration.
The activation ceremony began with battalion commander Lt. Col. Simon Gardner and Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence Janis uncasing the unit’s colors. Following the ceremony, Ruth noted in his opening remarks that this is Forces Command’s third civil-affairs unit to be activated in recent years.
“The U.S. sees Africa as a fundamental part of the world,” Ruth said. “Africa is significant to the U.S.’s total strategy. ... And while progress is being made (to enhance U.S relations in the region), there is still much to be done.”
Gardner said he expects to send civil-affairs teams to several African countries within six months for “de-mining missions.” Civil-affairs teams will work with U.S. engineers and help teach African Army personnel how to disarm and remove landmines, he said.
He said his medical personnel already have spent six months working in Savannah hospitals to expand their medical knowledge and earn certification as paramedics.
Gardner said his unit plans to contact local fish hatcheries and poultry farms. They’ll ask to observe how they operate, and then use that knowledge to advise farmers on increasing production, he said.
In his own remarks, Gardner said the activation of the 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion now perpetuates the 28th Civil Affairs Company that was inactivated on Fort Bragg in 1974. Two former members of that unit were on hand for Thursday’s ceremony.
“I was a (radio-telephone operator) with the unit,” explained retired 1st Sgt. Daniel Holloman. “We went on a lot of medical missions and food-supply missions in Vietnam. In one village, we helped them set up modern farming operations, and they became the largest produce producer for the U.S. Army while I was there (1967-1969).”
Retired Master Sgt. Thomas Houston said he served as the property-book officer for the 28th Civil Affairs. He said he didn’t like it when his unit was inactivated but was giddy when he heard the 82nd Civil Affairs Battalion was being activated.
“We’ve been here for a year, and we’re just starting to stand up,” Gardner said. “We started with just three guys, but we’ll soon be 250 ... We’re not the experts. We find the experts and learn from them.”