WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2009 – A recent Facebook post by a U.S. soldier heading home from Iraq highlights some of the nonmilitary roles American troops often assume in today’s counterinsurgency wars.

“My time in Iraq approaches its end,” the junior enlisted soldier wrote, listing military duties he performed on tour, followed by the more unorthodox roles: “I’ve been a public affairs guy, mechanic, carpenter, custodian, business capital injector and loan approval officer.”

To relieve troops of these additional tasks, a Defense Department initiative known as the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce, or CEW, is training and equipping a civilian work force of department employees capable of deploying overseas to support military missions.

“We call it a ‘force multiplier,’” said Marilee Fitzgerald, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for civilian personnel policy. “It allows the military to do what they do best, and it relieves them, because we can do some of the things they don’t need a warfighter for.”

Currently, about 110 such civilian volunteers are participating overseas as part of the CEW, which the department officially established in January, and the program has received more than 7,200 resumes, according to defense officials.

In addition to a salary bump, one benefit of CEW is that when participants return to their domestic Defense Department jobs – which are guaranteed upon return – they do so with a broadened perspective, Fitzgerald said in an interview last week.

“They understand the mission better, they understand how to contribute better, and they have an understanding of what this Department of Defense is all about,” she said. “It translates to some really powerful messages for them.”

Jobs in highest demand at the CEW have been in the fields of intelligence and contracting, but the program covers a broad range of career fields, including engineering, acquisitions, human resources, law enforcement and logistics management. Employees in deployable-designated positions will be trained, equipped and prepared to serve overseas in support of humanitarian, reconstruction and, if absolutely necessary, combat-support missions.

Certain duty positions may require compulsory deployment, but eligible employees will be asked to sign an agreement at the time of hire, officials said, adding that all participants to date have been volunteers – none of whom were directed by the department to deploy.

The CEW comes to fruition as the military’s focus on the counterinsurgency approach in Iraq and Afghanistan places an emphasis on “soft power,” or means of government influence traditionally carried out by nonmilitary personnel. Counterinsurgency — known as COIN in military circles — is a form of warfare in which a civilian population is in the center of a tug-of-war between an insurgency and the forces attempting to stop it.

According to the U.S. military’s COIN doctrine, military operators have assumed these typically civilian roles because the military often possesses the only readily available personnel capable of meeting a local populace’s needs.

“Military forces can perform civilian tasks, but often not as well as the civilian agencies with people trained in those skills,” the manual reads. “Further, military forces performing civilian tasks are not performing military tasks. Diverting them from those tasks should be a temporary measure, one taken to address urgent circumstances.”

Fitzgerald said one change that could help draw attention to the civilian talent pool at CEW is the fact that the civilians increasingly are considered in the policymaking decision process.

“It is both in theater at the [combatant command] level and here at the expeditionary cell that they begin to talk about which [job] could be civilian and which one needs to be military,” she said, referring to military command centers where personnel needs are first formulated.

“We are building the capability to continue the conversation at [U.S. Joint Forces Command] so that we get it at all three spots,” she said of the combatant command responsible for tracking and allotting forces for U.S. operations. “This notion of the combatant commands having the capability to consider the civilian talent is a major paradigm shift.”

Fitzgerald, who returned recently from a trip to Iraq, where she got an up-close view of CEW participants on the job, said those interested in joining the work force are well served by a “pioneering spirit.” But she added that participants can deploy with assurance that their former job will be there upon their return.

“Know that when you leave, you leave with the tremendous support and care and concern of the organization that you left, and your job will be waiting,” Fitzgerald said. “We tell them the coffee cup will be where you left it.”

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