Small Wars Journal

Improving the PRT-Military Relationship

Via e-mail and subtitled A U.S. Army Member of an Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team Offers Practical Advice to Foreign Service Colleagues.

To the crew at Small Wars Journal:

I'm a pretty religious reader of your site but have not been a commenter or contributor to date. This morning, an Army officer friend sent me this short article, which he had received from a mutual friend in the State Department. I thought it might create some interesting discussion on your site.

The piece, which was published in the February issue of the Foreign Service Journal (Improving the PRT-Military Professional Relationship by Captain Sean Walsh), offers suggestions from an Army Captain on how foreign service officers can work more effectively as part of PRTs. In a nutshell, his recommendations are 1) recognize that the military is in charge; 2) shape your priorities accordingly; 3) learn our lingo; and 4) don't bum rides from us. It struck us all as an extraordinarily narrow and counterproductive mindset, especially coming from a young officer. At any rate, perhaps you can use.

Hat tip to Mark for sending this along.


redcatcher (not verified)

Mon, 03/09/2009 - 2:32pm

CPT Walsh's thoughtful article brought up a few points that I would like to raise for consideration.

In his explanation of why commanders don't like to receive drive-by taskings or unexpected changes, Walsh highlights one of the principal reasons DoS chooses to use contracted security -- control over resources, missions and priorities.

I agree completely with Walsh's notion of supporting and supported elements. That said, if you receive a supporting force and choose to limit its mobility or ability to apply its particular specialty to the effort, then you shouldn't be surprised if you don't get the maximum benefit from that element's participation.

When the decision was made that DoD would not provide security for State personnel in Iraq, there was no alternative to the contractors other than to stay home -- a myth, but one for which State employees were roundly denounced by our military colleagues anyway.

I believe the frustration and impatience Walsh saw in his State colleagues may have been the result of their inability to control the circumstances in an environment where "the reality is that the military runs the show." That fact, along with the implication that the brigade commander -- "a full colonel" -- is in charge of the PRT would lead me to hope that he also accepts that the "full colonel" is also responsible for the ultimate success or failure of that PRT.

I would also encourage the young captain to be more gracious in his dealings with folks who are as interested as he is in doing the best job possible by not giving in to the temptation to characterize the Foreign Service written exam in the manner he did in the article. It lends nothing to the debate.


Sun, 02/22/2009 - 11:01am

BayonetBrant is dead on. CPT Walsh wrote a good article, and he is very up-front about the fact that it is from a somewhat narrow POV. It needs a counterpart article from the DOS side, but he explicitly states as much. As someone who just spent 3 years as an enabler (ANGLICO) instead of a commander, I can tell you that some of his advice holds true for military units that provide support to maneuver commanders.

For folks interested what the next generation of PRTs will look like, it's worth taking a look at S/CRS's planning.

Part of that plan includes something called a Civilian Response Corps (hiring started last fall).

DEPSEC England actually signed a directive last month establishing a DOD Civilian Expeditionary Workforce that seems to be in direct competition with the above construct. I jotted some thoughts and links below.…


Thu, 02/19/2009 - 9:53am

I feel like the synopsis shortchanges the point of the article (which isn't that long, anyway).

CPT Walsh seemed to make it clear that he was really only addressing one half of a solution, but it was the half he felt he had the appropriate knowledge to address. If PRTs and the Army are going to meet in the middle, they both need a road-map to get there. Walsh only has access to half that map, and it would have been presumptuous of him to try to write the necessary complement to this article.
In fact, he openly solicits the FSOs to write their half of the picture for a professional military journal.

The email snippet above makes it sounds as though Walsh is telling the State Dept "these are the military rules; suck it up and drive on" when the article (to me) takes a decidedly different - and much more cooperative - tone.

Rob Thornton

Wed, 02/18/2009 - 4:41pm

I've heard there are 3 tasks coming down the pike as guidance for BCTs conducting these types of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - number 3 being key to this discussion:

1) Support the development of Foreign Security Forces
2) Assist and Enable Foreign Security Forces
3) Support and Enable the development of the HN Government we are assisting.

#3 probably means (but not limited to) supporting those USG agencies who have been designated the lead for those activities.

They simply cannot operate independently in many environments in which military have been deployed for security reasons. They are not generally expeditionary, but we do need them. For another example of how some PRT members have helped foster Unity of Effort with their military counterparts I'd refer you to the Mosul SFA Case Study published on SWJ. Read the interviews in APP A with PRT Chief Dr. James Knights, ECON and Dev lead Jim Holtsnider, Rule of Law Lead Reid Pixler, PRT DEP COL Mark Brackney and 4/1 BCT DCO LTC Mike Boden. These gentlemen and the 4/1 BCT CDR COL Steve Twitty realized they had to synchronize lines of effort and support each other to achieve Unity of Effort.

BEst, Rob

MikeF (not verified)

Wed, 02/18/2009 - 3:57pm

The captain's demands sound like my ex-wife (emphasis on EX)!!! The primary learning point for EVERYONE on the joint-interagency level is to learn how to work together to accomplish a mission. Good leaders set their egos aside and focus on team-building not authoritarian rule.


Mike Few