It has been 22 hours since the team has had any sleep, and the commander of the small four-man squad is just as tired as the rest of his men. In that time, his team has marched about 12.5 miles and encountered civilians several times. Every such encounter is fraught with potential danger. Now the team has finally reached its destination village. The commander breathes a sigh of relief when the local police chief courteously welcomes the team into his office.
His sense of relief goes away, though, when the chief asks him and his team to stack their weapons off to the side, where they would be out of quick reach if needed. Just as the commander is trying to figure out a polite way to decline, he hears a groan from somewhere in the back of the building. Is a prisoner being tortured?
The marching, the sleeplessness and the fatigue are all real, but the “village” is located in North Carolina, and all the “villagers” are soldiers in the U.S. Army, dressed up to play their roles. It’s all part of an elaborate 12-day “culmination exercise”—or CULEX, in Army terminology. The exercise is designed to test the skills of adaptive thinking and leadership of Special Operations Forces civil affairs and psychological operations personnel in the Army’s Reserve Command.
“Adaptive thinking is about cross-cultural communications,” says Maj. Eric Le Gloahec, a special projects officer at the Army’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “It’s not just problem-solving. It’s thinking outside the box.”
These out-of-the-box cross-cultural communications skills are crucial to civil affairs and psychological operations personnel, who will encounter Iraqi and Afghan civilians in real situations like the scenario described here. The civil affairs function deals with civilian populations wherever the Army is.