Working With the Military in the Field


The information in this appendix is intended to inform Assessment Teams and Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DARTs) about working with military organizations during field operations. This information will focus mainly on those response activities where the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) works with the U.S. military, but the information may be applicable to working with coalition and multinational military forces, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The information includes how the military organizes and conducts field operations and how, when, and where Assessment Teams and DARTs can coordinate OFDA’s disaster response operations with military operations.

For more information, several military publications dealing with military doctrine for humanitarian relief activities are available through OFDA’s Washington, DC (OFDA//W’s), Operations Division. Chapter V, "Commonly Used Acronyms and Terminology," has additional DOD terms.

A. Military Operations Involving Coordination With OFDA Disaster Response Activities

In general, the relief operations involving the military can be divided into two categories: natural disasters and complex emergencies. Natural disasters include earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, etc., and are not initiated by or involved in human conflict. Complex emergencies are situations that develop because of or during a human conflict (war, insurgency, riots, etc.). When the military’s mission is in support of humanitarian assistance, the DART will have much more significant involvement and input into the military’s operational planning and activities. If, however, the military mission is to carry out peace operations or another more traditional military mission, the DART’s involvement will focus on the humanitarian aspects of that operation.

1. Natural Disasters

a. Point-to-Point Logistical Support

When OFDA’s response option to a disaster is to provide relief commodities from OFDA stockpiles and commercial

aircraft are unable to meet the time or operational requirements for delivery of those commodities, OFDA may request the use of Department of Defense (DOD) aircraft for which DOD will most likely be reimbursed. These U.S. military aircraft may be used to airlift OFDA relief commodities to a point close to the disaster site or to shuttle relief commodities within the area of the disaster. To arrange for this military airlift support, OFDA’s Logistics Officer will prepare documentation that specifically details when, where, and what type of support is needed and how that support will be reimbursed. When the requirements have been identified and accepted by DOD, OFDA Logistics will continue to coordinate with the appropriate military staffs to expedite the delivery of the commodities. OFDA Logistics may request assistance from an Assessment Team or DART with customs, offloading, consignment, and accounting for the relief commodities.

OFDA also works very closely with the State Department’s Office of Political/Military Affairs (PM). PM often serves as a facilitator between DOD and OFDA. For example, when DOD receives a request for support to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that requires validation, or when no military presence is available in an affected country, OFDA will work with PM to assist in validating and targeting the response activities.

Other key partners within DOD include:

  • The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
  • Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).
  • Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict.
  • Joint Chiefs of Staff.

b. Disaster Relief

When the military is involved in disaster relief activities, military assets are provided primarily to supplement or complement the relief efforts of the affected country’s civil authorities or humanitarian relief community. This support may include providing logistical support, transportation, airfield management, communications, medical support, distribution of relief commodities, or security. In such cases, OFDA will assign personnel to work at different levels of the military organization (see "Military Structure during Operations" below), including the field or tactical levels, as liaisons between the military and the relief community to ensure that the efforts of both are mutually supportive and not duplicative. The military has recognized OFDA liaisons and representatives as valuable members of their staff and has looked to them to foster a unity of effort in humanitarian assistance.

2. Complex Emergencies

Complex emergencies involve relief operations that are conducted in the midst of an armed conflict or in conjunction with military and diplomatic efforts to prevent or end an armed conflict.

a. Peace Operations

Peace operations are military operations conducted in support of diplomatic efforts to establish and maintain peace. These operations may also have a humanitarian relief component. Peace operations are usually one of the two following types.

  • Peacekeeping. Military operations undertaken with the consent of all major parties to a dispute, designed to monitor and facilitate implementation of an agreement (cease-fire, truce, etc.), and support diplomatic efforts, such as negotiations, mediation, arbitration, and judicial means, to reach a long-term political settlement. If the military force is deploying under a United Nations (UN) mandate, this type of operation is usually referred to as a "Chapter VI operation," referring to Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which is titled "Pacific Settlement of Disputes."
  • Peace Enforcement. Application of military force or threat of its use to compel compliance with resolutions or sanctions designed to maintain or restore peace and order. If the deployment in this case is under a UN mandate, this type of operation is usually referred to as a "Chapter VII operation," referring to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is titled "Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression."

b. Relief Operations During Conflict

Relief operations during conflict are fundamentally similar to peace enforcement operations in scope, intent, and procedures. In both types of operations, any or all of these conditions are possible.

  • The DART will be involved in coordinating relief efforts in concert with U.S. military operations.
  • The UN will not have necessarily issued a mandate (Chapter VI or VII) and may not have the lead role.
  • The role of the DART as an impartial humanitarian effort becomes blurred in the eyes of the target audience, and perhaps in the eyes of other donors, international organizations (IOs), and NGOs.
  • DART members become potential targets of American opponents and therefore must increase team security, which reduces the DART’s operational capacity.

B. Characteristics of Military Culture

1. Organizational Culture

Like most organizations, the military has a distinct organizational culture with an often unwritten set of rules, regulations, viewpoints, perspectives, and operating procedures. This culture is based on the unique tradition, mission, structure, and leadership of military history. DART members who are aware of the military environment and culture will be better prepared to liaise with relief community members who have not worked with the military. Some of the main characteristics of the military organizational culture are the following.

  • Highly structured and authoritarian way of life with a mission-focused, goal-oriented approach—both explicit and implied.
  • Strict sense of discipline, tending to adhere to rules and regulations.
  • Strong work ethic with high regard for physical and mental strength.
  • Decisive leadership that expects loyalty of subordinates and allies.

The following section describes how the military’s cultural norms may be displayed to the relief community during an operation.

a. Meetings

Military personnel expect meetings to be highly structured and efficiently managed by someone "in charge." Meetings attended by autonomous relief agencies expecting a con-sensus approach to issue resolution may be viewed by the military as inefficient and lacking focus. The military expects that meeting participants will leave with a clear understanding of their task.

b. Coordination

Concern for operational security will likely result in a reluctance to share information about planned activities, although the military can be expected to want indepth information about civilian activities. The military will respond well to clearly stated missions, efficient processes, organization, responsibility, and competence.

c. Operational View of the Mission

Some military leaders may be concerned that humanitarian operations degrade combat readiness. This may result in a desire to minimize participation in some operations. Although humanitarian operations may be viewed with mixed feelings organizationally, the military is excellent at dutifully executing national direction and generally feels a great sense of accomplishment at helping others in need. If this direction is clearly to support humanitarian operations, the military’s response can be provided effectively with a single-minded purpose.

d. Deployment

The military deploys with a comparatively high standard of support that is designed to make the military as self-sustaining and self-reliant as possible. The military tries to avoid "mission creep," which occurs when armed forces take on a broader mission than they initially planned for. Recently, the military has incorporated humanitarian assistance into its mission planning process. When these missions are planned and executed, the DART must be involved to ensure interagency coordination and a single focus. Bereft of outside agency input, the military will generally fill the void as it sees fit.

Overriding all other priorities will be internal force protection. Force protection is the security program designed to emphasize the protection of soldiers, civilian employees, facilities, and equipment that are part of the military organization. Force protection will have significant impacts on disaster relief operations, thus affecting freedom of movement, security, and logistics.

C. Military Structure During Operations

1. Chain of Command

The Department of Defense receives direction from the National Command Authority (NCA), which consists of the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense, or their duly authorized alternates or successors. The NCA has the constitutional authority to direct the Armed Forces of the United States. NCA direction is passed to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The JCS consists of the chairman and the chiefs of staff of the various services (Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force). The military divides the world into five geographic areas or areas of responsibility (AORs). The JCS chairman directs commanders of various AORs to carry out operational activities. An admiral or general in each AOR, called the Combatant Commander (CC), will head U.S. military operations for that particular AOR. The AORs are listed below and defined in chapter V.

  • European Command (EUCOM).
  • Pacific Command (PACOM).
  • Central Command (CENTCOM).
  • Southern Command (SOUTHCOM).
  • Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

In addition to geographical commands, OFDA works with the following two other functional commands on a regular basis.

  • Special Operations Command (SOCOM). In command of special operations units that include, among others, Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations (PSYOPS). Headquarters is in Tampa, Florida.
  • Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). Unified command for providing management of all surface/air/sea lift. Headquarters is at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

2. CC Authorities During Critical Humanitarian Relief Situations

CCs have an inherent authority in their AORs to respond to a disaster in cases of imminent loss of life or limb, even if the U.S. Ambassador in the affected country has not issued a disaster declaration. OFDA may work with the CC to share costs on certain relief activities.

3. Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team

Some CCs have developed what they call a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team (HAST) to assess existing conditions after a disaster and the need for military forces. HASTs usually focus on the requirements for military support to the relief effort and the ability of the affected country to handle the deployment of follow-on forces (e.g., airport or seaport capabilities). Assessment Teams or DARTs may encounter HASTs in the field. If Assessment Teams or DARTs encounter HASTs, they should first ascertain the objectives of the mission of the HAST. If the HAST mission involves identifying victim needs, the Assessment Team or DART must determine what the HAST has identified as priority requirements and its recommendations. Coordination of efforts is key to a successful operation.

4. Joint Task Force

During a large-scale disaster response, the CC may set up a Joint Task Force (JTF) or Combined Support Force (CSF) for the field management of large military activities. A JTF or CSF is established when a mission involves two or more military services on a significant scale and requires close integration of effort to meet specific military objectives. The CC designates a commander for the JTF who is responsible to the CC.

The JTF is divided into the following six main command staff designations that correspond to those at the CC headquarters and the Joint Staff.

J-1 Administration; deals with internal personnel issues.

J-2 Intelligence; gathers, analyzes, and reports on information, including classified information.

J-3 Operations; mainly focuses on current operations.

J-4 Logistics; provides internal support for the JTF and may include support to disaster victims.

J-5 Plans and Policies; normal location of Civil Military Operations Center (CMOC) (see below).

J-6 Communications; provides all telecommunications needs for JTF.

5. Civil Military Operations Center

U.S. military forces participating in a humanitarian operation will in most cases establish a CMOC or similar coordination center with another name. The purpose of a CMOC is to coordinate and facilitate the United States’ and any multinational force’s humanitarian operations with those of international and local relief agencies and with the affected country authorities. The CMOC will look to the DART representatives to provide advice to the CMOC staff and assist in screening and validating requests for military support from the relief community. DART representatives can also provide a valuable service to the CMOC by informing the CMOC staff of the capabilities, areas of expertise, and operational methods of the relief organizations. Similarly, the DART representative can advise and educate the relief organizations about the military. The CMOCs, depending on the size and nature of the military operation, may play a larger role than just coordinating the military’s involvement in humanitarian relief efforts. CMOC responsibilities remain the same, regardless of changes in nomenclature, size, or location. The CMOC is called a Civil Military Center when it falls under the auspices of NATO or a UN-mandated coalition. In some cases, the CMOC has been involved in repairing infrastructure and supporting the reinstitution of civil administration, such as a police force and a judicial system.

The exact organizational structure for military support to humanitarian operations has been highly operation-specific. In some cases, the CMOC has used subordinate elements to facilitate or expand its mission, while in other cases, larger umbrella organizations were established that included the CMOC. Such organizations have included the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center (HACC) that managed military support to humanitarian operations in Haiti, the Humanitarian Information Center that fostered information dissemination during the Kosovo crisis, a Humanitarian Operations Center (HOC) to coordinate movement in Iraq, and a Coalition Humanitarian Liaison Center to expedite regional activities in Afghanistan.

6. Special Operations Forces

All the units involved with Civil Military Operations fall under the command, policy, and procedures of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This command is responsible for the U.S. military’s unconventional operations that include, among others, civil affairs and psychological operations. Some significant dif-ferences separate these units and individuals from the standard military profile. First, most of the units are regionally focused and have varying degrees of language capability that allow them to be culturally aware and communicate. Second, more than 95 percent of the Civil Affairs and PSYOPS members are in the Army Reserve inventory, which means that most of the personnel work daily in their specific civilian field (i.e., transportation manager, city controller, judicial administration, etc.) and are professionally current in their field. Third, because they are in an unconventional command, are culturally aware, and work in civilian areas most of the time, the personnel in these units generally tend to be more flexible and creative and less rigid in their thoughts and ideas.

a. Civil Affairs

CMOCs and HACCs are usually staffed by personnel from Civil Affairs (CA) units in the Army or the Civil Affairs Group (CAG) in the Marine Corps. Their function is to provide the interface between the military and the civilian population, organizations, and government. CA personnel are a part of the Army’s SOCOM or Marine Corps CAG and are trained in skills such as governmental functions, economics, and public infrastructure management, which make them an optimal choice to form the core of the CMOC staff, into which other functional military specialists integrate. CA personnel are capable of supporting humanitarian assistance operations in a variety of functional areas. CA units may serve as the pri-mary advisor to the JTF Commander (CJTF) on the impact of military activities on the civilian sector. They also provide a primary military liaison with local civil authorities in the affected country.


Another SOCOM group that DART representatives may encounter in a JTF setting is PSYOPS. PSYOPS units convey messages and themes intended to have an impact on selected target audiences. Their objective is to influence behavior and attitudes and constrain undesirable actions. PSYOPS personnel can provide the CJTF with analyses of perceptions and attitudes of the civilian population and the effectiveness of ongoing information campaigns and humanitarian assistance operations. They also provide language capability and equipment, such as radio broadcasting, print, loudspeakers, and audiovisuals, to disseminate necessary information to the affected population. DART representatives must track PSYOPS actions closely to ensure that the goals and operational activities of OFDA’s field staff and those of the JTF, through PSYOPS, are tracking consistently to avoid a conflict in the message and actions of the U.S. Government (USG) toward the victims and relief community.

D. Your Deployment With the Military

1. Before Departing

Both OFDA and the military appreciate the value of having you, a DART Military Liaison Officer (MLO), present with the JTF. Not all military commanders, however, have worked with or are even familiar with the mission and field operational methods of other USG agencies, including OFDA. Therefore, OFDA/W must coordinate with the appropriate CC staff to define your scope of work (SOW). Some military offices may refer to a SOW as a "terms of reference" (TOR). OFDA/W should then request through the CC staff (1) a point of contact (POC) for you to facilitate your entry into the military organization and (2) that your SOW/TOR be forwarded to the JTF. OFDA/W should also cable your security clearance level in a message cable to the geographical CC and the JTF if possible. Without that information, gaining access to the military installation or the JTF and then to planning meetings and briefings may prove difficult. Always carry copies of your travel orders (TO) and your SOW/TOR letter.

2. Arrival

On arriving at the JTF as the MLO, you should have a copy of your TO with security clearance, passport, USAID/OFDA badge, a letter with SOW/TOR, and/or any paperwork that clearly establishes your identity and position. Given the high level of communication currently available, you should already have obtained a POC from the CMOC; have that contact information available. When contact is established with the CMOC counterpart, ensure that you are "badged" and have access to all areas and briefings required for you to be effective. Table F-1 lists the titles, ranks, and insignias of commissioned officers, and can help you distinguish among officers of different ranks.

Table F-1. Title, Insignia, and Rank of U.S. Military Commissioned Officers

Army, Air Force, and Marine Title



Equivalent Navy, Coast Guard, or Public Health Service Title

Second lieutenant

1 gold bar



First lieutenant

1 silver bar


Lieutenant (junior grade)


2 silver bars




Gold oak leaf


Lieutenant commander

Lieutenant colonel

Silver oak leaf




Silver eagle



Brigadier general

1 star


Rear admiral (lower half)

Major general

2 stars


Rear admiral (upper half)

Lieutenant general

3 stars




4 stars



3. Getting Visibility

After you have made the proper contacts in the CMOC, as soon as possible make an appointment with the JTF Commander and other senior staff. The "gatekeeper" for the JTF Commander is often the JTF Commander’s chief of staff, whom you may need to educate on your liaison role with the military operation. The JTF Commander’s availability to you and your importance to him or her will again depend on the operational mission of the JTF. If the operation’s focus is not humanitarian relief, your access to the JTF Commander will be limited. If the focus is humanitarian relief, you may find yourself dealing directly with the JTF Commander on a continual basis. The value added as DART MLO is to be able to present issues and concerns of DART in order to influence military actions that impact humanitarian assistance.

4. Your Mission

You will work most closely with the CMOC and with the commanding officer or director of that staff. The CMOC will usually have coordination meetings with the relief community to share information and to map out the requirements, capabilities, and mutual concerns. Your job is to observe and advise, not to facilitate or run CMOC meetings, which is the job of the CMOC staff. CMOC meetings will be held as required, probably daily. The military and the humanitarian relief community must understand that your mission is to advise and assist both sides to work toward a coordinated effort. This will mean that at times you may be caught between competing or conflicting desires and objectives. Do not compromise your status, because if either side sees or perceives you as favoring the other, your credibility and effectiveness in the job will be diminished. Your main task is to encourage the military’s operation to be as cooperative and supportive to the humanitarian relief effort as possible. But also realize that the military may have to temper that support within the context of its mission objectives.

5. Meetings and Briefings in the JTF

Within the time constraints that always exist in these types of operations, attend as many JTF planning meetings and briefings as possible, based on their relative value to the humanitarian relief effort. These meetings will keep you informed about what the military is doing and the problems and constraints that it are encountering.

6. Contact and Visibility With the Affected Country, UN Relief Agencies, Private/International/Nongovernmental Organizations, and Donor Governments

An important aspect of your assignment is ensuring that you and other members of the DART maintain contact and visibility with the relief community to better understand how their activities are progressing and what issues are arising between the relief community and the military.

Affected country relief officials, relief organizations, or donor governments may arrange these coordination meetings. The mechanism for coordination among these organizations will depend on the ability of the affected country or other lead coordinating agency to organize them. If the affected country does not have this capability or other coordinating agencies are unable to perform this role, other coordinating groups will come to the forefront, including, perhaps U.S. or foreign military.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), United Nations Children’s Fund, and World Food Program may take on a coordination role by setting up coordination centers where private voluntary organizations (PVOs)/NGOs/IOs and UN relief agencies can discuss operational activities. These coordination centers may have various names such as Humanitarian Operations Centers (HOCs, the military term for this type of center), or Onsite Operations Coordination Centers (run by OCHA, or sectoral coordinating committees for such issues as health, nutrition, water, or sanitation. The PVOs/NGOs/IOs may also set up coordination groups in addition to or instead of other efforts. The CMOC director or staff may want to participate in these meetings as another way to assess requirements and to inform the relief community of the capabilities and limitations of the JTF to support relief operations.

7. Staffing

DART staffing for the JTF assignment is another important issue. You may be the only DART representative to a JTF or several staff members may be required to assist in the effort. It will be difficult to remain visible and involved with the military; work with the affected country, the relief community, and other donor governments; travel to relief sites; and continue to maintain a regular reporting schedule. Plan your staffing requirements accordingly.

8. Reporting

Before you leave OFDA in Washington, the reporting requirements must be decided: to whom, how often, and in what form. If the JTF is spread out and several DART members are with the JTF staff, what will be the reporting chain? When you are preparing your reports, keep several important issues in mind. The JTF will prepare at least one situation report a day. It may all be unclassified, partly classified (the usual case), or completely classified. Be aware that the information they have collected may have come from your situation report, the relief organizations, or CMOC staff directly. If the information they have collected is useful to the DART, make sure what you report through your reporting chain does not duplicate information you and other members of the DART in other locations have already reported. Clarify any differences in reporting data, such as tonnage carried or gallons of water purified. Remember that the U.S. military figures will not be in the metric system while most of the relief community information will be. Also, make sure the military information you report is not from the classified portion of their information. Be aware not only of classification but also of the sensitivity of military reports and information. You may be privy to their reporting, which may take several forms, such as situation reports, commander’s reports to the CC, lessons-learned reports, and others. You must realize that what is submitted by the JTF may not be the total information or the same analysis or the same decision that comes out in Washington through the JCS. If you report what you read or overheard at the JTF as the military position, you may find that in reality the military position is much different in Washington than at the JTF level. And if the word gets back that you have been reporting incomplete information that has caused confusion up the chains of command of OFDA and the military, your credibility and effectiveness will certainly be compromised.

9. Support

When planning for your assignment, define with the Team Leader or OFDA/W how you and other DART members assigned to the military will be supported, especially if the JTF is not collocated with the DART headquarters. Will your support come from the USAID Mission, the U.S. Embassy, the DART Administration Officer, through an allotment to the mission or Embassy to pay for your support, or will you have to fend for yourself using an amended travel authorization and increased cash advance? Identify in advance how you will be housed, fed, and transported to and from the JTF, and what type of telecommunications equipment you will have access to or should bring with you. What about simple issues like office supplies? Be as self-suffi-cient and independent of the JTF as possible because the JTF will be burdened enough with its own logistical and administrative issues. Your need for support may reduce your flexibility to respond to humanitarian relief issues, and it could affect your credibility with the JTF. You may be viewed as another support requirement instead of as an asset to the operation.

10. When Are You Done?

When is your job complete? Because you are closest to the military and humanitarian relief issues, you will be relied on by the Team Leader to define when your DART assignment is no longer necessary. Every effort should be made to ensure that the JTF’s needs have been met. Be advised: if you have been useful and quite independent of JTF support, a tendency will often emerge in the JTF to want to keep you around for as long as possible, even when the value of your support has greatly diminished. You have to think in terms of the DART’s needs as well as the JTF’s.

11. Closeout

The closeout of a DART from a JTF is similar to any DART closeout. You must make sure that those groups that have been supporting you (mission, Embassy, and DART Administration Officer) are aware of the closeout assistance required. Enough lead time is always important. Complete any reporting requirements with the military, including exchanging any pertinent documents. Make sure that the relief community is aware of your departure, whether the military will remain, and how the community can access DART or OFDA for questions or concerns.

12. Other Assignments

On occasion, OFDA has assigned individuals to work with multinational military organizations, such as NATO military forces. Under these circumstances, the individuals assigned will be working independently of a DART. These individuals are referred to as Humanitarian Advisors (HUMADS). The HUMAD takes on the role of representing the interests of the entire relief community, not just the USG. If you are assigned to serve as a HUMAD, having a well-defined SOW/TOR is critical as is the need for all parties that you will be working with, civilian and military, to understand the scope and limitations of your role.

As a final point, remember that a military operation with the magnitude of a JTF is very complex, and many times issues arise that are internal to the military and the JTF. Out of courtesy to the military, if you are present when internal issues arise and your presence is not needed, you may want to excuse yourself until these discussions are completed. This will be appreciated by the military and may prevent you from observing situations that may prove embarrassing to certain members of the JTF staff, especially when their actions (or lack thereof) are being discussed.