If you have driven down upper State Street near San Roque recently, you may have noticed that the U.S. Army Reserve Center on the corner of State and Las Positas has been quieter than usual. The U.S. Army 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, the reserve unit based there, deployed in mid August, spending a little over a month training at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, before going to the Middle East. Having recently arrived in Kuwait, the unit is awaiting orders as to how they will be dispersed. Lieutenant Colonel Quincy Handy, the battalion’s commander, is already in Iraq with the advance party, hashing out the details of the unit’s deployment.
Major Allan Dollison, the 425th’s public affairs officer, said civil affairs units are typically broken up into small teams and then attached to larger units needing their services. Currently, that is what is taking place for the men and women in the unit, but because of the many changes taking place in Iraq right now, their mission and dispersal are in flux. “The mission in Iraq is so fluid and vastly changing that the battalion right now is literally developing the roster as to who goes where as we speak,” said Dollison in an email. “They already had a plan, but with the ever-changing mission and the soon to be in place SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement], the plan we arrived into Kuwait with : had to be massively re-done. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because the war is changing for the good, from my impression, so far.”
A SOFA is standard operating procedure when the American military sends troops to a foreign country. The most notable applying to U.S. Forces are those made with Japan and South Korea, where there have been permanent troop installations for many years. Among a number of administrative issues it deals with, SOFA essentially gives the host country’s courts jurisdiction over U.S. servicemembers. Troops are still subject to American courts and the Uniform Code of Military Justice for crimes committed against one another and against the military, but this kind of agreement with local authorities sets legal guidelines for the military to follow regarding personnel and property in the host country.
While they are still caught up in the inbound shuffle of a year-long deployment, the 425th’s soldiers are beginning to receive assignments for their tour. Dollison-who is a deputy district attorney in Humboldt County when he isn’t performing reserve duty-said he will be working on the Rule of Law project, which is designed to assist Iraqi judges and lawyers with the establishment of their court system. “The key is that you can’t tell them what to do, but assist them with what they are doing and make sure their system complies with their constitution, code, and the rules they have in place.” Other soldiers in the unit will be placed based largely upon their civilian specialties. “The unit wants to know everyone’s skills,” Dollison explained. “If a specialist is an electrical engineer-which in Civil Affairs, he might [be]-then that job skill would gravitate him to electrical power issues in Iraq.”
According to Dollison’s assessment of the big picture in Iraq, things have improved dramatically. “There is clearly a massive reduction in the amount of violence,” he wrote. “Most of what are called ‘kinetic ops’-taking the fight to the bad guy-have been dramatically curtailed.” His sentiments were echoed by another soldier in the unit, who said security gains have soldiers feeling confident that their deployment will not be a difficult one.