Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team adds Community Perspective to CJTF-HOA
A team of civilian specialists is enhancing military operations in East Africa by providing their insights in support of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) mission.
The Socio-Cultural Research and Advisory Team (SCRAT) is based at the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, to promote better understanding of the diverse ethnic and cultural environments found in East Africa. They add their collective regional experience into CJTF-HOA's operational decision-making processes.
"They are a team resource for our planning and assessments," said Navy Captain Nelson Hildreth, who supports SCRAT functions as the Director of Plans. "Their socio-cultural perspectives are frequently different from military observations, which are very helpful in our planning processes."
Established as the only permanent AFRICOM social science team on the continent in September 2009, SCRAT and its parent organization, the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, are responses to the command's own recognition for the need to build and continually update knowledge on African countries, outside of typical analytical research.
SCRAT primarily supports CJTF-HOA in three areas by educating military members about the cultural dynamics in the region, by evaluating the impact of activities on host communities, and by providing consultations for planning and engagement purposes.
"Due to their individual knowledge, every SCRAT member provides a different addition to our missions," said Hildreth. "They provide a lot of value in preparing our people."
SCRAT members are graduate-educated social scientists each with several years of academic research and work experience on the continent.
"It is nice to be able to work with the civil affairs teams before they go out because they have really great technical skills and a lot of powerful experience," said Cultural Anthropologist Jessica Lee, who lived in Tanzania while conducting fieldwork on community identity, marginalized populations and non-governmental organizations prior to joining SCRAT. "We help them sharpen their cultural sensitivities and make sure that they're working as smart as they can."
Working with support and approval from U.S. Embassies in Africa, SCRAT has had a successful integration into CJTF-HOA operations by drawing on a wealth of pre-existing social science information written about the continent by analysts, open source experts, and other specialists at AFRICOM. In turn, SCRAT facilitates information sharing with local scholars, regional subject matter experts, the U.S. Government, and interagency partners.
SCRAT members are also continually building up a database of knowledge on East Africa by developing evaluation materials to improve assessment tools, completing academic analyses of scholarly literature about countries, and creating socio-cultural profiles of ethnic groups and geographic sites to enhance the knowledge of CJTF-HOA personnel regarding their host environments.
"During evaluations, we assess the socio-cultural impact of CJTF-HOA activities and engagements on the host populations and also help measure the effects of such projects," said SCRAT member Maureen Farrell, who has lived and worked in Kenya and Uganda. "We then make recommendations for how civil affairs teams, for instance, can tailor their activities, projects, and engagements to have greater effectiveness."
Since its inception, the four-member team has supported nearly a dozen impact evaluations of civil affairs teams and veterinary and civil assistance programs. They have also conducted more than 30 pre-deployment cultural briefings for military teams and advised command elements on location selection for future projects.