Soldiers from the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion traveled to Wilmington last week to learn about port operations ahead of an upcoming deployment.
The soldiers will be partnered with the Navy for the deployment across several countries in the Pacific Command theater, where they could be called upon to advise on port operations. They are scheduled to leave at the end of February.
“We’re learning how ports operate so we can be one step ahead,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Peckenpaugh, a Civil Affairs specialist.
They will apply their knowledge to foreign ports in efforts to keep them operable during times of crisis. A closed port could be crippling for a country that counts on it as the main economic driver or route for imports, such as food.
The 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion, which has been stationed at Fort Bragg since 2012, is the last unit of its kind.
Its higher headquarters — the Fort Hood, Texas-based 85th Civil Affairs Brigade — inactivated in October, leaving only the 83rd Civil Affairs Battalion among active duty civil affairs units in the conventional Army.
These soldiers are trained to deploy in small teams and work with a partner — whether a government, military or civilian agency — to make improvements within a host nation in areas that could include education, infrastructure or agriculture. They are trained to work out a strategy to improve weaknesses to ensure the country could respond and sustain itself during a time of chaos, such as a natural disaster or political unrest.
It’s a different type of mission than what most associate with the Army – and that’s what these solders enjoy.
For Peckenpaugh, it will be his first deployment with Civil Affairs, but not his first humanitarian mission.
He was part of the team from the 82nd Airborne Division that deployed to Haiti in 2010 to assist people after a devastating earthquake. The deployment was rewarding, he said, because people could see the combined efforts of different military branches improving their situation.
“They could see an end,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Quan Thai, a Civil Affairs specialist, said he enjoys serving this unique role in the Army.
“When people think Army, they think destroy, war, kinetic operations, but it’s more than that,” he said.
Thai has deployed to South Korea and Thailand to conduct humanitarian missions with the battalion. While in Thailand, he was part of a team that assessed locations for new schools to be built.
“The U.S. is involved everywhere, and we help other countries,” Thai said. “I enjoy being relevant where lots of people don’t even think the U.S. is participating. They see us and they see different organizations, like Doctors Without Borders and we’re all working in sync to deliver aid to people in need.”
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at [email protected] or 486-3528.
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