Civil Affairs candidates at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School carry tires while participating in a team-building event during Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection (CAAS) at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, March 2, 2021. (K. Kassens/U.S. Army).

The U.S. Army’s Civil Affairs soldiers are the definition of diplomatic warriors. They are highly skilled in tactical operations but can quickly transition into a suit and tie to talk to a host nation’s diplomats at a level most U.S. politicians struggle to achieve. To join the ranks, a soldier must pass the Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection course. 

Located at Ft. Liberty, the assessment and selection course isn’t the longest of the different entrance training courses required for most special operations units, but it’s not for the faint of heart. That being said, you should know that soldiers must sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to attend the training — so some details of the course are closely guarded. 

Don’t let the shorter assessment and selection timeframe trick you, though: it’s a grueling test for the most fit, but Civil Affairs isn’t just looking for athletic ability. 

“Somebody who’s smart, like a higher IQ, is going to be very successful here. Somebody who can interact with strangers and different cultures — having that adaptability piece is very crucial, even at Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection event,” said Ed, whose last name is withheld due to the nature of his work as the officer in charge of Civil Affairs Assessment & Selection. “Then, being a good team player because we test them on the team application and see how they interact on the team, what their leadership personalities look like, what their fellowship personalities are, and things of that nature.”

Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection: Everything you need to know

A brief history of Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection

Civil Affairs traces its history back to Aug. 1945, when the 95th Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Military Government Group, helped Japan transition away from a wartime society before the unit was inactivated in Kurume, Japan, in June 1946. 

The Detachment was inactivated and activated during the different conflicts, serving critical roles during the Korean War and smaller conflicts around the world. At the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion had 206 soldiers assigned to regionally aligned companies. With the uptick of operations during the War on Terror, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion was authorized more soldiers and redesignated as a brigade on March 16, 2007.

Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection was first established as a pilot under the 95th Brigade Headquarters in 2010. The first class to attend the course was in October of that year. During the pilot program phase, all people attending assessment and selection were approved for the following four phases of the Civil Affairs Qualification Course.

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Elvia Kelly, a John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) public affairs officer, said they do not know the exact attrition rate of the early classes, but 90 to 100 soldiers per class were passing the training back then.

The course was moved from the 95th Brigade headquarts to SWCS in late 2011 and became part of Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group. Several changes have been made to improve the overall program over the years. 

“Events were refined to better draw out attributes; scenarios were tailored to create a more robust environment for candidates to navigate; and a number of events were removed and/or replaced to improve the assessment of candidates,” Kelly said. “Some changes were implemented to better collect data for the qualification course. Event staging and course schedule have been revised over time to support cadre work cycles and assessment environment, as well.”

How long is Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection?

1st Lt. Ian Bridson attempted the assessment and selection course but did not get selected, though he made it to the end. He had trained hard and was well prepared for the course, but the 10 days showed him time is nothing but a sliding scale when you are being tested physically and mentally for multiple days in a row. 

“We were all sitting around eating dinner and looked at each other and said there’s no way in hell we’ve been here for only 10 days. It feels like we have been here for a solid 30 days — that’s the feeling we had at the very end,” Bridson said. “Just the sheer amount of pain, muscle fatigue, and stress everyone had been through is enough to make you not want to go again.”

Once a soldier has successfully passed the assessment and selection, they aren’t going to their unit — yet. They will move on to the four phases that make up the Civil Affairs Qualification Course: military occupation specialty (MOS) training, tactical “SOF skills” training, a final culminating exercise, and then language training. 

Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection requirements

Like many of the schools and courses offered within the military, soldiers must meet basic requirements for height and weight standards for their age bracket. You can check their current PFA standards here. 

In addition to the PFA standards, a soldier must meet all the requirements necessary to join the military in the first place. Specific requirements outside of initial entry training requirements include: 

  • Possess a valid SERE-C Physical Exam
  • Be airborne qualified or be willing to volunteer for the training. 
  • Must be eligible for an interim SECRET security clearance
  • No history of domestic violence charges
  • No history of driving under the influence charges
  • No failed drug tests
  • Have a Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) score of 65 or higher

There are additional requirements for military personnel, both enlisted and officers. Specialists must attend and graduate the Basic Leadership Course, have no more than six years of time in service, and have 12 months or more left on their contract. Enlisted soldiers must have the rank of specialist or sergeant. Sergeants must have a minimum of two years and no more than eight years time in service. 

For those going for the 38W MOS (civil affairs medical sergeant), soldiers must have a minimum score of 11 in aptitude area GT and 101 in the aptitude area ST on the ASVAB. Soldiers going for the 38R MOS (civil reconnaissance sergeant) must have minimum scores of 107 in aptitude area GT and 100 in aptitude area CO.

“Pretty much every time you want to try and change MOS, your branch of service, or whatever you want to do, there’s always a packet involved — the government loves its paperwork,” Bridson said. “With civil affairs here at Fort Riley, the special operations recruiters are actually very open. They go to a lot of units and a lot of training events in the Fort Riley area to recruit from.”

Make sure you check with your special operations recruiters in your area to find out the most up-to-date requirements to join civil affairs. 

Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection preparation

A civil affairs officer who was previously assigned to the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade who is not cleared to speak on the record said he trained for selection using CrossFit, ultramarathon training, and much more to get himself physically ready. 

“Do not mistake me. It is physically grueling and challenging,” the former civil affairs officer said. “But at no point did I ever feel like I was going to quit. It was more the mental fortitude that is required and the mental resiliency that you need to make it through.”

Both the officer in charge and the NCO in charge of the assessment and selection recommended that anyone interested in trying out follows the training program offered by their team. 

It’s not just physical fitness a recruit must master ahead of the training, it’s the mentally demanding tasks that test your ability as a good leader and teammate. It’s cultural circumstances that you’ll be thrust into without much notice, if any. You’ll have to rise to the occasion using your communication skills in a way you’ve never had to before. 

Soldiers must sign nondisclosure agreements (NDA) covering the entire course and other NDAs covering specific portions of the course. No specific preparation guidance was provided because of the NDAs that may help with cultural scenarios one might be subjected to during assessment and selection. 

Ed likes to recommend that people try to connect with complete strangers at events or while out doing a hobby activity. 

“A well-versed person who’s probably caught up on just the general news. It’s not something they need to do, but it’s definitely something that’s going to help,” Ed said. “What I always tell a candidate who lacks that adaptability to step into an unknown scenario and be successful in whatever their hobbies are is go step into an uncomfortable situation with a bunch of strangers and try to have general conversations with people and be able to get what you want.” 

Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection: Everything you need to know

Everyone recommended that civil affairs hopefuls show up with razor-sharp communication skills in all formats. If you grew up mainly writing via a keyboard, Bridson recommended that you get better at writing on paper. If you’re not good with communications in all formats, you won’t be able to conduct your work as a civil affairs soldier. 

“You have to be able to write reports. You have to be able to do it with or without a computer,” Bridson said. “You have to be able to do it while you’re tired after you just spent 20 hours with like a governor or something. You have to be able to do that kind of stuff. That’s exactly what they’re trying to get at during the selection process.”

Bridson sustained an injury during the assessment and selection that had negative effects on his physical performance, but he suspected his writing on paper was part of why he wasn’t selected. After finding out he didn’t get to move on, one of the cadre asked him how much he writes on paper. That’s an example of what you need to master ahead of the course. 

The last note on preparing for assessment and selection comes from the former 95th Civil Affairs Brigade officer and it’s something you must possess but isn’t necessarily trainable. 

“Being able to build relationships in these places and get your mission accomplished, whatever that mission is, is by being a human. Just being a human and having empathy,” the officer said. “That’s one of those things that’s not trainable or teachable. That right there is paramount to building relationships. You can’t just be a military robot.”

What is Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection really like?

Soldiers need to go into selection with an open mind, be physically fit, and be comfortable jumping into high-stress situations, like a tribal leader wanting to ban U.S. troops from his village. Critically thinking through an emotionally charged cultural scenario isn’t easy, and saying the wrong thing can solidify a person’s resilience to a U.S. presence. 

That skill set will develop as a soldier moves further into the Civil Affairs Qualification Course. The former civil affairs officer said that despite showing up very physically prepared, the mental aspect of the physical challenges is hard to prepare for. 

“The big thing was everything being an unknown distance; that really makes it difficult to pace yourself,” the officer said. “Do I go hard and then just burn it to the ground kind of mentality? Or do you hold back a little bit, and if you hold back, did you hold back too much?”

Bridson recalled how one of the cadre pointed out that their assessment and selection is “shit on a lot” in comparison to other training like Ranger School or the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP). The cadre member said the timeline is shorter — it’s no long-term endurance event — like the special operations version of a sprint. 

There was almost no downtime between the unknown-distance physical feats and high-stress training scenarios. In the end, when the recruits were all waiting for the final answer on whether they would move into phase one, Bridson said they all had the same thought. 

“We were all sitting around eating dinner and looked at each other and said there’s no way in hell we’ve been here for only 10 days. It feels like we have been here for a solid 30 days, so that’s the feeling we had at the very end. Just the sheer amount of pain, muscle fatigue, and just mental stress everyone was in was just enough to make you not want to go again.”

The key thing to remember is that your every action is being analyzed by the cadre. Every conversation you have with someone, your physical performance, and your cultural interactions are all under the microscope to ensure you are a good fit for civil affairs. 

Civil Affairs FAQs

You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How hard is Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection? 

A: It’s no walk in the park and you must be physically and mentally dialed in to successfully make it through the course. 

Q: What does a civil affairs soldier do? 

A: A civil affairs soldier has knowledge of civil populations and governance influence behaviors of a targeted audience and counter threats. Civil affairs teams find, disrupt, and defeat threats while building relationships with those afflicted within the operations area. 

Q: How big is a Civil Affairs Team? 

A:  A Civil Affairs Team, called a CAT, has four people on the team. Each team has a civil reconnaissance sergeant, a civil affairs medical sergeant, a team sergeant, and a team commander.

Q: Does passing Civil Affairs Assessment and Selection make you Jason Bourne?

A: No, it does not. But, you’ll have similar skills when it comes to blending in with indigenous populations to further the mission of the United States of America.

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