News Stories

USACE Offers Technical Expertise to 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion

Published April 4, 2018

The 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion based at Fort Bragg has a global mission.  When deployed, they support every combatant command and U.S. ambassadors with targeted civil affairs operations through grassroots-level diplomacy such as assisting in humanitarian aid missions.  They help establish food and water distribution, offer medical assistance and help establish long-term relationships.  These efforts reduce and/or mitigate civil vulnerabilities that are influenced by state and non-state groups for legitimacy over relevant populations.

   Enter the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  A select Wilmington District team from the Engineering Branch provided Soldiers of the battalion with technical expertise in dam safety, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), watersheds and hydrology after the Battalion Engineer, Capt. Austin Wesley, reached out to a number of Wilmington District contacts asking for assistance for the unit’s upcoming validation exercise named Operation Rockfish.  The Soldiers were particularly interested in planning for catastrophic events such as dam failure and natural disasters.  The battalion is getting real-world experience to train for overseas missions by assisting counties that surround Fort Bragg with emergency response and planning and disaster preparedness plans.  The Civil Affairs Teams offer their expertise in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief planning and preparation. Key to their assessments will be to identify local infrastructure and the impacts of a natural disaster on utility services and evacuation routes.  It’s a win-win situation; the Soldiers get hands-on experience that they can apply to their overseas deployments, and county governments get no-cost assistance improving their disaster response plans.       

   “This is something that we do for validation during the exercise; to seek out and identify local officials because that’s what we do overseas,” said Battalion Engineer Capt. Austin Wesley.  “When deployed, we have to identify who the local officials are that we need to talk to, and what are the relationships that we need to build to streamline the process of delivering Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief to certain regions.  This exercise in North Carolina is a great way to practice that, and it helps us to work with a county that has a potential problem and to help solve that problem.”  

   “We gave the Soldiers background information on watersheds and hydrology to give them a good understanding of how water behaves in a system,” said Wilmington District Dam Safety Program Manager Megan Garrett. “The group learned that dams have different purposes and are operated differently based on those purposes. In addition, we explained the conditions under which a dam might fail and cited several examples of dam failure aftermath including public response to such disasters.”

   Garrett said the group received general information about how to read inundation maps and the factors that go into map creation. Consequence mitigation measures such as having emergency action plans and public awareness programs were discussed as well.

  “We also explained first-hand lessons learned from experiences working with governments in foreign countries and responding to flooding and a dam failure in South Carolina in a rapid assessment capacity,” she said.

  Wilmington District civil engineer John Hazelton, a veteran of three volunteer deployments to Afghanistan working on the Kajaki Dam, tied in his overseas experience to something that the Soldiers could relate to.  

   “I approached the presentation by remembering the basic questions I have myself whenever I see a dam threatened in the news,” he said.  “Discussing the hydrology and hydraulics of dams from around the world certainly makes a technical presentation more interesting. I also wanted to provide the Soldiers with data sources and contacts for stateside reach back assistance should they deploy oversees and have a dam safety question. USACE has experts in all areas of dam safety and we can help put them in touch with various subject matter experts.”

  The Soldiers of the battalion come from various backgrounds and missions from within the Army.  Some were pilots, medics or came from special operations, but have all gone through a rigorous assessment to become Civil Affairs.  Hazelton said they grasped his technical and complex presentation quickly.

    “They were very curious about how Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps and the dam failure inundation maps were created,” Hazelton said. “They asked a couple of particular questions that pointed out some unknowns in our computer modeling such as debris blocking flow at bridges. Their questions reminded me to point out the limitations and assumptions that we must take in analyzing dam failures.”

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports the Army with technical expertise and prepared Civil Affair Soldiers with enough information to familiarize them with the subject matter, making them more effective for the training exercise as well as overseas.  For Garrett, any opportunity to explain dam safety is gladly welcomed.

     “One of my passions is educating people about dam safety. Many people do not understand the risks dams pose and why it is important we keep them from failing and also prepare for the case that a dam does fail. Anytime I’m asked to educate people about dams in anyway, I am interested.”