|Sailors from USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) at a community relations project at the Chania Daily Center Orphanage in Crete. (U.S. Navy photo MC2Spencer Fling/Released)
While each military service is required to maintain a civil affairs capability, the US Navy recently divested itself of its only civil affairs capability, the Maritime Civil Affairs and Security Training Command (MCAST). This policy required each of the Services to maintain civil affairs capabilities and directed the Secretary of the Navy to “provide for civil affairs personnel and units in the Navy and Marine Corps military force structure.” While it may be disputable whether the structure of MCAST (a headquarters that would assemble CA teams when requested) fully satisfied the formal requirement for civil affairs units, it did provide a niche capability that was in clearly in demand by the Geographic Combatant Commands, particularly SOUTHCOM, AFRICOM, and PACOM. Its participation in efforts like Community Watch on the Water—a campaign conducted in collaboration with the Kenyan government, local law enforcement, and local citizens to build trust and reduce crime and violent extremism—proved its value as a member of the civil affairs community despite its small size and short lifespan.The author of the piece offers up a definition of sorts:
But implicit in this policy is that the Navy will provide maritime-specific civil affairs capabilities rather than generalized civil affairs capabilities, such as those found in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Thus, in order to support the Navy position on civil affairs, some definition of maritime civil affairs is required. However, to date, no comprehensive definition or description of maritime civil affairs has been promulgated by the Navy, in joint doctrine, or in Department of Defense policy guidance. Without such a definition, it is impossible to assess whether the Navy is achieving the standards it has set for itself, or to inform the other services and interagency partners what support they may be able to expect.
“Those military operations that enhance the relationship between military forces and civil authorities in localities where maritime forces are present; require interaction and consultation with other maritime interagency, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations; indigenous maritime populations and institutions; and the maritime private sector; and which involve application of maritime functional skills to problems that normally are the responsibility of civil government to enhance the conduct of civil-military operations.”but notes
A fact sheet from the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) described MCA as “an enabling force working directly with the civil authorities and civilian populations within a Combatant Commander’s maritime area of operations to lessen the impact of military operations imposed during peacetime, contingency operations, and periods of declared war.”Of course, the time, talent, money and personnel to form such a group are at a premium in the Navy - and it is doubtful that most surface warfare officers or aviators would survive in their communities if they fell out of the normal career pattern to pursue expertise to specialize in something like "Maritime Civil Affairs" regardless of the fact it is a mandated by DoD.
It might be a useful career path in the reserve force, however, and if I were to suggest a place for this expertise to be developed and nurtured it would be in reserve centers and not the active force.