A CST-3 member supporting VSO for Special Operations Task Force-South (SOTF-S) talks with Afghan children.
A CST-3 member supporting VSO for Special Operations Task Force-South (SOTF-S) talks with Afghan children in Khakrez District, Kandahar Province, on 5 June 2012.

The U.S. Army Cultural Support Team Program

Historical Timeline

1 USAJFKSWCS, “Concept Plan for the Cultural Support Program: An Enduring Army Special Operations Capability,” 27 July 2010, 10, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC, hereafter “CST Concept Plan.”

2009

August Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan (CJSOTF-A) briefs International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) about increasing U.S. female service member support to Special Operations Forces (SOF).3

3 CFSOCC-A, “CFSOCC-A CST Brief,” 11-15 July 2011, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter CFSOCC-A CST Brief.

*IAW USSOCOM Sanitization Protocol for Historical Articles on Classified Current Operations, pseudonyms are used for majors and below who are still on active duty, unless names have been publicly released for awards/decorations or DoD news release. Pseudonyms are identified with an asterisk. The eyes of personnel in photos are blocked out when not covered with dark visors or sunglasses, except when the photos were publicly released by a service or DoD. Source references (end notes) utilize the assigned pseudonym.

2010

10 March ISAF directs U.S. Forces, Afghanistan (USFOR-A) to develop a Cultural Support Team (CST) concept.4

4 USASOC G-3, “Female Manned Cultural Support Teams,” 27 August 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “Female Manned CSTs.”

25 May U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) issues Tasking Order specifying five key CST tasks:

  1. Directly interacting with Afghan women and children;
  2. Providing medical care for Afghan women and children;
  3. Searching and questioning Afghan women and children;
  4. Supporting information operations (IO) messaging to the female population and “minimiz[ing] civilian interference with military operations”; and
  5. Advising Special Operations Task Force commanders and small unit leaders on female aspects of Civil-Military Operations (CMO).

U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) directed to train Army CSTs.5

5 Excerpt of text in USAJFKSWCS, “Cultural Support Team Command Update,” 26 August 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; see also CFSOCC-A CST Brief.

10 July USCENTCOM drafts Request for Forces (RFF) for 64 females for CST missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (mission reduced to only Afghanistan before the first CST training class).7

7 “Female Manned CSTs.” This number was based on input from Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A), the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the Joint Forces Special Operations Component Command-Iraq (JFSOCC-I).

Unofficial CST insignia design for CSTs
Unofficial CST insignia design for CSTs assigned to Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan (CFSOCC-A)

26 July-25 August The USASOC proponent for CST training, the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS), conducts three In-Progress Reviews (IPRs) to prepare for training. CST Program of Instruction (POI) is completed in September. Tentative start date for the first CST Assessment and Selection (A&S) is 1 November 2010, to be followed by the 6-week CST Training Course (CSTC), finishing around 15 December 2010.8

8 USAJFKSWCS, “Cultural Support Teams, IPR #1,” 26 July 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; USAJFKSWCS, “Cultural Support Teams, IPR #2,” 20 August 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; USAJFKSWCS, “Cultural Support Team Training Course IPR,” 25 August 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files. The CST program was refined during these IPRs, which explained that each CST would have 3 members ranked E-4 to 0-4 and would support Special Forces Operational Detachments-Alpha or U.S. Army Ranger units; that the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (SWTG) and various USAJFKSWCS directorates would oversee CST training; that the CST program would be open to all females across the Army; that the 3-5 day A&S would be followed by the 21 day CSTC, consisting of Orientation (3 days), General Culture (10 days), Afghan Culture (5 days), Engaging (2 days), and a Situational Training Exercise (1 day); that CST selectees will have also satisfied requirements of Civil Affairs (CA) A&S; and that U.S. Army Special Forces Command and 75th Ranger Regiment will directly assist CSTs with Pre-Mission Training (PMT).

8 September USCENTCOM RFF 855 MOD 4 requests 20 females to support SOF.9

9 “CST Concept Plan,” 10.

1 October The 95th CA Brigade begins internal training program for CST applicants to help prepare them for A&S.10

10 “CST Concept Plan,” 10.

1 November The CST pilot program launched as 57 CST-1 candidates from USASOC and III Corps (Fort Hood, TX) units begin A&S at Camp Mackall, NC. 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (SWTG) has primary responsibility for all CST training, the active duty, reserve, or National Guard status of applicants notwithstanding.11

11 USAJFKSWCS, “TDD [Training and Doctrine Division] SITREP, 1-5 November 2010,” 5 November 2010, 2, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; USAJFKSWCS, Information Paper, “SUBJECT: Cultural Support Team Assessment and Selection Pilot Course (CSTAS) 01-11,” 9 November 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter CST Pilot Info Paper.

8 November 36 CST-1 selectees begin the first CSTC.12

12 CST Pilot Info Paper.

10 November USCENTCOM RFF 1210 requests 8 CSTs (24 personnel) to support SOF.13

13 95th Civil Affairs Brigade S-3, “95th CA BDE (A), S3/Training Meeting,” 12 October 2010, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

10 December 31 soldiers of CST-1 graduate from the first CSTC.14

14 Commander, 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, CST-1 Graduation Invitation, no date, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

15 Cultural Support Teams: Training for a Critical Role in Village Stability Operations, CFSOCC-A, digital video, 2011, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

2011

17 Cultural Support Teams: Training for a Critical Role in Village Stability Operations.

January After Pre-Mission Training (PMT) with SOF units, 28 personnel of CST-1 deploy to Afghanistan (11 support DA mission; 17 support VSO mission).16

16 Deployment dates drawn from Enlisted Record Briefs from CST-1 personnel. See also USAJFKSWCS, “USAJFKSWCS – Cultural Support Team In-Brief,” 7 May 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “CST In-Brief.”

1 March Department of the Army approves Personnel Development Skill Identifier (PDSI) D5K (Cultural Support Team).19

19 HQDA, “ALARACT 080/2011, SUBJECT: ESTABLISHMENT OF PERSONNEL DEVELOPMENT SKILL IDENTIFIER (PDSI) CODE D5K (CULTURAL SUPPORT TEAM),” 2 March 2011, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

17 March A&S begins at Camp Mackall for Reserve Component and National Guard candidates of CST-2. 34 soldiers are soon selected. 20 (Due to USASOC’s inability to meet demand for CSTs from its own units, applications were invited from across the total Army for CST-2.)

20 USASOC, “Cultural Support Team (CST) Program Reassignment to SWCS,” 5 April 2011, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “Reassignment to SWCS.”

29 April USAJFKSWCS assigned responsibility for the entire U.S. Army CST program.21

21 “Reassignment to SWCS.”

5 May A&S held at Camp Mackall for Active Component candidates of CST-2. Selection ends on 13 May.22

22 “Reassignment to SWCS.”

Candidates for CST-2
During their A&S, candidates for CST-2 road march for an unknown distance.

6 June Assessed and selected CST-2 soldiers begin the CSTC.23

23 TDD, “SITREP, 31 May-3 June 2011,” 3 June 2011, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

19 July 56 soldiers of CST-2 graduate from the CSTC. A&S for CST-3 is scheduled for 12-16 September.24

24 Directorate of Special Operations Proponency (DSOP), “DSOP SITREP, 25-31 July 2011,” 31 July 2011, 3, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; “CST In-Brief.”

27 July USAJFKSWCS finalizes the Cultural Support Concept Plan to help transition the program “from only meeting RFF immediate needs to a capacity embedded [in Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF)].”25

25 “CST Concept Plan,” 10.

August After PMT, 54 personnel from CST-2 deploy to Afghanistan (19 support DA mission; 35 support VSO mission).

August-September CST-1 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.28

28 Re-deployment dates drawn from Enlisted Record Briefs from CST-1 personnel.

1LT Ashley I. White
1LT Ashley I. White, CST-2

22 October CST-2 First Lieutenant (1LT) Ashley I. White, Medical Service Corps, 230th Brigade Support Battalion, 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, North Carolina Army National Guard, is killed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, while supporting 2/75th Ranger Regiment. She is the first CST killed in action.29

29 USASOC History Office, The Last Full Measure of Devotion: ARSOF Fallen from the War on Terrorism, 2001-2014 (Fort Bragg, NC: USASOC, 2015), 170.

31 October Assessed and selected CST-3 soldiers begin the CSTC.31

31 USAJFKSWCS, “SWC Off-site (14 March 2012): CST Training,” 14 March 2012, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “SWC Off-site.”

16 December 46 soldiers of CST-3 graduate from the CSTC.32

32 “SWC Off-site.”

26 Cultural Support Teams: Training for a Critical Role in Village Stability Operations.

A CST-1 soldier hands out cooking supplies during a women's shura in the village of Oshay, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, 4 May 2011.
A CST-1 soldier hands out cooking supplies during a women's shura in the village of Oshay, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, 4 May 2011.

27 Cultural Support Teams: Training for a Critical Role in Village Stability Operations.

Village Stability Operations (VSO)
Cultural Support Team (CST) Task Organization

Afghanistan, July 2011

2012

February After PMT, 44 personnel from CST-3 deploy to Afghanistan (17 support DA mission; 27 support VSO mission).33

33 “CST In-Brief.”

March CST-2 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.

25 July Assessed and selected CST-4 candidates begin the CTSC.35

35 “SWC Off-site”; 1st SWTG, USAJFKSWCS, Memorandum, “SUBJECT: 1st SWTG(A) Weekly SITREP 25 – 31 July 12,” 1 August 2012, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “1st SWTG(A) Weekly SITREP 25 – 31 July 12.”

12 September 30 soldiers of CST-4 graduate from the CSTC.36

36 “SWC Off-site”; “1st SWTG(A) Weekly SITREP 25 – 31 July 12”; 3rd SFG, “Cultural Support Team #4 IPR,” 24 September 2012, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; C Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd SFG, “Cultural Support Team Training Brief,” no date, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “Historical Summary-Fiscal Year 2012,” no date, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

15 October 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG schedules CSTC dates for CST-5 and CST-6 as 13 March-26 April 2013 and 17 July-29 August 2013, respectively.37

37 “CST In-Brief.”

November After PMT, 30 personnel from CST-4 deploy to Afghanistan (14 support DA mission; 16 support VSO mission).38CST-3 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.39

38 3rd SFG, “CST #3 R3 IPR,” 29 November 2012, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; “CST In-Brief.”

39 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “2013 Command Brief,” 25 October 2012, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

A CST-3 member meets Afghan youth
A CST-3 member meets Afghan youth while supporting a Provincial Reconstruction Team mission in Dehwaniwar Village, Afghanistan, 23 May 2012.
CST-3 members demonstrate how to brush teeth
CST-3 members demonstrate how to brush teeth during a basic hygiene class with children from a village in Shah Wali Kot District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, on 29 July 2012.

30 Senate Panel on Women in Combat, 28 April 2015.

The sixteen CST-4 members supporting VSO pose for a group photo at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan
The sixteen CST-4 members supporting VSO pose for a group photo at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan, during marksmanship refresher, 10 November 2012.

2013

34 Posture Statement of ADM William H. McRaven, Commander, USSOCOM, Before the 112th Congress, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6 March 2012.

21 March Assessed and selected CST-5 candidates begin the CSTC.40

40 D Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE, CULTURAL SUPPORT TEAM,” 4 March 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 4 March 2013.

24 April 45 members of CST-5 graduate from the CSTC. (CST-6 is scheduled to start A&S on 10 July and graduate from the CSTC on 23 August 2013.)41

41 “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 4 March 2013; 1st SWTG, Memorandum, “SUBJECT: 1st SWTG(A) Weekly SITREP 25 April – 01 May 2013,” 2 May 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

June After PMT, 33 personnel from CST-5 deploy to Afghanistan (19 support DA mission; 14 support VSO mission).42 CST-4 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.

42 “CST In-Brief.”

22 July Assessed and selected CST-6 candidates begin the CSTC.44

44 D Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE, CULTURAL SUPPORT TEAM 03-13,” 13 May 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 13 May 2013.

23 August 25 soldiers of CST-6 graduate the CSTC.45

45 “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 13 May 2013; 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “SUBJECT: 3rd BN SITREP – 17 AUG 2013 – 23 AUG 2013,” 23 August 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; Group Support Battalion, 3rd SFG, “3D GSB CST#6 OPORD # 13-03,” 25 September 2013.

CPT Jennifer M. Moreno
CPT Jennifer M. Moreno, CST-5

6 October CST-5 member CPT Jennifer M. Moreno, Army Nurse Corps, Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is killed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, while supporting 3/75th Ranger Regiment. She is the second CST killed in action. She was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for valor.46

46 USASOC History Office, The Last Full Measure of Devotion, 188; Award of Bronze Star with “V” Device to Captain Jennifer M. Moreno, 16 October 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

November-December* After PMT, 25 personnel from CST-6 deploy to Afghanistan (10 support DA mission; 15 support VSO mission). CST-5 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.

*Dates are approximate.

12 November Assessed and selected CST-7 candidates begin the CSTC.47

47 D Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st SWTG, “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE, CULTURAL SUPPORT TEAM 01-14,” 2 December 2013, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, hereafter “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 2 December 2013.

19 December 22 members of CST-7 graduate the CTSC.48

48 “D/3/1 SWTG (A) TRAINING SCHEDULE,” 2 December 2013; A Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd SFG, “Cultural Support Team 7 (CST7) Training Brief,” no date, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

Members of the 4th Special Operations Kandak (SOK), Afghan National Army, and CST-6 distribute supplies to support a local school
Members of the 4th Special Operations Kandak (SOK), Afghan National Army, and CST-6 distribute supplies to support a local school in Shindand District, Herat Province, Afghanistan, 28 December 2013.

43 Quotation from Terri Moon Cronk, “Cultural Support Team Women Serve with Distinction,” 30 April 2015, http://www.army.mil/article/147493/cultural_support_team_serve... (accessed 30 July 2015).

2014

May After PMT, 17 personnel from CST-7 deploy to Afghanistan (6 support DA mission; 11 support VSO mission).49

49 3rd SFG, “IPR #5 CST 7 PMT, 31 March 2014 - 16 May 2014,” no date, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files; GSB, 3rd SFG, “3D GSB CST#7 OPORD # 14-001,” 2 April 2014, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

June CST-6 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.

9 June Due to the phased drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the winding-down of VSO, and the shift away from unilateral U.S. military operations, USASOC suspends the CST program.50

50 USASOC, “SUBJECT: USASOC CULTURAL SUPPORT TEAM (CST) PROGRAM SUSPENDED,” 9 June 2014, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files.

October-November CST-7 soldiers re-deploy from Afghanistan.

CST-7 members meet with an official in the Afghan Department of Women’s Affairs in Balkh Province, Afghanistan, summer 2014.
CST-7 members meet with an official in the Afghan Department of Women’s Affairs in Balkh Province, Afghanistan, summer 2014.
ARSOF HISTORY

Conclusion

  1. The USASOC CST program was created as a temporary, mission-driven enabler program directed at engaging Afghan women and children. It was not intended as a model for women in combat.
  2. USAJFKSWCS created a viable CST training program ‘out of hide’ to meet overseas mission requirements while sustaining existing training. A&S and the CSTC were critical to selecting and training the best candidates to serve on CSTs. However, the quick out-processing of CST females after re-deployment did not include a formal After Action Review or debriefing. This delayed course improvements.
  3. From PMT to deployment, CSTs had to continually ‘sell’ their capabilities to their supported SOF units because they were frequently attached to new teams unfamiliar with the program.
  4. CSTs provided valuable support to the DA and VSO missions in Afghanistan. They demonstrated ‘value-added’ by building rapport with the Afghan women and children; gathering useful information about high value targets and weapons caches; and promoting Afghan government legitimacy to the population.
  5. CST was an ad hoc concept, temporarily fielded with volunteers from the Total Army. Therefore, continuous, centralized administrative support for and accountability of CST soldiers from training through post-deployment was poor. If implemented again, a CST Program Manager or staff directorate should have authority to manage all CST personnel at the component level, regardless of their status—training or deployed.
  6. The concept of Cultural Support Teams as SOF enablers remains viable, provided that a mission requirement exists.