Small Wars Journal

Don't Call it CMOC

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Don't Call it CMOC

by Colonel Gary Anderson

Download the full article: Don't Call it CMOC

As the disaster assistance and humanitarian relief operation in Haiti matures, there will need to be a coordination center where the U.S. military, non- governmental organizations (NGOs), international relief organizations (IOs), and Haitian governmental ministries can prioritize aid and organize the operation. Whatever we call this coordination center, we should not call it a Civil-Military Coordination Center (CMOC).

CMOCs were formed during complex humanitarian emergencies such as the post-Desert Storm Kurdistan emergency, Somalia, and the Rwanda genocide. They began as ad hoc responses to situations where no host nation government existed to manage humanitarian aid. They usually had an American military officer in charge and they filled a needed coordination function.

Eventually, they found their way into U.S. joint doctrine. In doing so, they morphed from a function that needed to be done into a doctrinal organization replete with a table of organization that is totally inappropriate for a situation like Haiti. Haiti is a simple humanitarian disaster. It has a functioning, if badly damaged, government which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised to support in her visit last week. An American led CMOC structure would undermine that objective in the eyes of the Haitian people and the world.

Download the full article: Don't Call it CMOC

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps Colonel who was the J-3 (Operations Officer) for OPERATION SEA ANGEL in Bangladesh and a Military Advisor to the US Mission in the UN-led OPERATION CONTINUE HOPE in Somalia.

About the Author(s)

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps Colonel who has been a civilian advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is an adjunct professor at the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs.



Thu, 02/04/2010 - 3:27pm

First off, CMOC is Civil Military Operations Center, not Civil Military Coordination Center. US doctrine calls interaction between the military and civil populations Civil Military Operations (CMO); see JP 1-02 for the full definition. Some European nations refer to such interaction as Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC); we've been a bit reluctant to assume that we will always have "cooperation." JP 1-02 defines the CMOC as: "An organization normally comprised of civil affairs, established to plan and facilitate coordination of activities of the Armed Forces of the United States with indigenous populations and institutions, the private sector, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, multinational forces, and other governmental agencies in support of the joint force commander." CMOC is what we, by doctrine, call our slice of the pie in multilateral operations. I've seen and heard Humanitarian Operations Center (HOC), CIMIC House, Humanitarian Activities Coordination Center (HACC), Civil Military Coordination Center (CMCC) and numerous other terms. For the US, CMOC is the content neutral one size fits all DOCTRINAL establishment. If a nation, or the UN, or some other entity has established an organization to coordinate and/or control response efforts, that's where we will fall in. During disaster response, the job of the folks in the CMOC isn't to be the 500# gorilla; it is to assist the locals respond to the disaster and to assist in coordinating response efforts in accordance with the orders that sent us there. Please remember that the CMOC is not a humanitarian assistance or disaster relief only entity; its primary role is to support the commander during military (combat) operations by minimizing civilian interference with those operations. And, the term isnt new. It was long ensconced in doctrine when I first came across it in 1984.


Fri, 01/22/2010 - 4:49pm

Plan, organize, implement all under a synchronized control mechanism is the objective. Whatever the "entity" is called, no one does it better than the US military.

Although the United Nations no doubt will have eventual overall authority because it represents the member states.. in the interim it will be a US responsibility.

Whether is is called a CMOC or EOC or some other "operations center"..really does not matter...what matters is that synchronization of efforts result in immediate distribution of medical and food aid to the people of Haiti.

In Haiti for Operation Uphold Democracy/January of 1995 and know of the challenges there with food distribution and security.

Other travels include: Bosnia, Croatia, Horn of Africa (2 tours), Afghanistan and Iraq.

James S. Robbins (not verified)

Fri, 01/22/2010 - 4:21am

Their president vanished for almost a week. Our people were doing everything they could to get Haiti to lead and they either could not or would not. SOUTHCOM kept saying Haiti was the lead agent until the absurdity of it became clear and that talking point was removed from the PAG. It would be great if the Haitians wanted to exert leadership, but in fact they want us to clean up the mess and then come back when it is done.

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 01/20/2010 - 11:17am

The Incident Command System that Matt talked about in response to your Maneuver Welfare paper seems like a better way to go. I have been to several classes on it and a couple of simulations but Matt has had some real situation experience with it. It was created to handle situations just like Haiti or any natural disaster type situation.

I wholeheartedly agree with Col. Anderson's point here. In the Tsunami Relief effort (Op Unifed Assistance), we called it the Combined Coordination Center for many of the reasons laid out above. Given the time period (early 2005), CMOCs had the reputation as that place the military shunted off NGOs and tried to influence/manipulate their humanitarian efforts to meet military objectives.
Of course, in the context of a disaster response not undertaken within a conflict, we could be freer with information and coordination. In fact, the CCC was really a room off of the Joint Operations Center (JOC) floor and almost anyone, NGO, coalition, etc. was allowed into the JOC and the CCC. We also conducted most of our operations via UNCLAS net and cellphones.