SPECOPS Warriors Aren’t the Only Troops Who Wear Civilian Clothing

Paul Hair

When people think of on-duty servicemen wearing civilian clothing, they probably think of bearded special operations troops covertly operating in enemy territory. And while that may be true in many cases, they aren’t the only warfighters who wear this unique uniform. In fact, there are a surprising number of general purpose military missions that require troops to be in civilian clothing. A late June press release from the California National Guard about military intelligence soldiers provides one such example.

Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area hosted “the second annual Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Bowl” on June 23 according to the California National Guard press release. As its name states, the training event was for human intelligence collectors and counterintelligence agents.

The uniform of the day for the event was civilian clothing (see photo at the top of the page), and an anonymous company commander explained why.

“Civilian clothes provide Soldiers a tactical advantage while conducting their missions overseas,” said 1st Lt. W, company commander. “Soldiers go to great lengths to conceal personal information about themselves, making them less likely to be identified as U.S. military personnel.”

He’d later add: “‘People are just more likely to talk to us if we aren’t dressed as Soldiers. Intelligence assets won’t be easily spotted around town giving us information.’”

And there are other occasions when the mission requires general purpose forces to wear civilian clothing for duty.

On April 16, 2012, the U.S. Army recognized “Master Sgt. Keith Ford, a CID special agent with the Protective Services Battalion, 701st Military Police Group (CID)” for “his contributions to both the Army and the NCO corps.”

Master Sgt. Keith Ford (Left), a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent assigned to the Protective Service Battalion, 701st Military Police Group (CID), provides security for Gen. Raymond Odierno (Center), the chief of staff of the U.S. Army, as he is interviewed by a reporter following an event in New York City, NY. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army)

Gen. Robert W. Cone, who was the commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command at the time, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, who was the chief of staff of the Army at the time, were on hand for the ceremony. The Army stated that both generals “handpicked” Master Sgt. Ford to serve as their protective service officer. It also explained what PSOs do.

Much like the Secret Service, CID special agents assigned to [Protective Services Battalion] are tasked with providing personal protection for key Department of Defense and Department of the Army officials worldwide. This unique mission is mandated by Congress and includes protecting the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When requested, PSB Special Agents also provide protection for foreign military dignitaries, general officers and VIPs visiting Army installations at home and overseas.

And as you can see from the above photo, Master Sgt. Ford’s duty uniform was a suit and tie.

Troops who aren’t in the Army PSB sometimes conduct similar security missions. For instance, in 2017 the Army highlighted soldiers from the 1186th Military Police Company (part of the Oregon National Guard) as they trained for a deployment to Afghanistan. Their mission required them to function as “a Personal Security Detail (PSD) for the International Security Assistance Force in support of the theater operational commander and other high profile personnel.” As the associated photo shows, they conducted pre-deployment training in civilian clothing, indicating that operational requirements overseas would have them in civvies as well.

Oregon Army National Guard Sgt. Ken Clark, team leader with the 1186th Military Police Company, guards the hallway during Personal Security Detail (PSD) training, May 18, 2017, at Camp Rilea near Warrenton, Oregon. The unit conducted training in preparation for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. (Photo by Spc. Michael Germundson, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)

So while special operations troops may be who most people think of when they hear of U.S. forces wearing civilian clothing for operations, they aren’t the only ones. It doesn’t happen on a regular basis with the majority of general purpose forces. But it also isn’t as uncommon as many people might think.

(Photo at Top: Human intelligence collection Soldiers with the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion practice interviewing an asset during the HUMINT Bowl at Camp Parks Reserve Forces Training Area, June 23, 2018. Photo by Capt. Kara Siepmann, California National Guard.)

Note: The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.