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1st Theater Sustainment Command

News Stories

1st TSC civil affairs officer empowers leaders internationally

By Barbara Gersna | 1st Theater Sustainment Command | March 08, 2024


She is the voice for those in need. She connects people to resources and training, empowering them to lead on their own, their way. She is sanctioned to make decisions and wears the rank of lieutenant colonel as a member of Special Operations Forces. 

Lt. Col. Sarah Stockton, civil affairs and security operations chief, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California in 2004, with a B.S. in Biology. When it came time to begin her career, she chose to continue a family tradition to serve in the military. Her father, both grandfathers, and two brothers all served.

“I wanted to build my resume with something that made a difference,” she said. “I also wanted to attend medical school and knew that the Army could provide some great opportunities to help me prepare.” 

She completed Basic Combat Training as an enlisted Soldier and immediately attended Officer Candidate School where she commissioned as a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear officer.

Stockton’s first assignment was with the 2-159 Attack, Reconnaissance Battalion, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, in Germany in 2006. Soldiers in the unit were preparing to deploy to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During one of her first shifts as a battle captain, a helicopter crashed during training, and the young lieutenant quickly learned her role in a casualty crisis. This tragic event left an impact on Stockton. “How I watched the command respond really set the tone for how I look at leaders,” she said. 

“After a few years, and a deployment in Iraq, I knew I wanted to do something different, and I liked what I saw in civil affairs,” she said.

The humanitarian aspect of the job appealed to the San Andreas, California native, who brought a unique perspective after growing up in a small community and seeing what it meant to have outsiders come in with new ideas. “I saw what worked and what didn’t,” she shared.

Once she completed the selective civil affairs officer program, where she received additional training in government, diplomacy, and survival; she joined the specialized career field and worked with other government agencies and military allies to accomplish goals.

Her small team applied knowledge of civil populations and governance to affect human behavior and counter threats. This often involved working with the most vulnerable populations – women, children, and elderly people. 

As the team leader, Stockton was their face and voice in action. She was responsible for planning, coordinating, and leading missions. She offered the diplomatic and strategic skills essential for their success.

Her standard, four-person civil affairs team’s most senior enlisted Soldier was responsible for security and protection. A reconnaissance sergeant led the team in safely conducting civil engagements. They evaluated infrastructure and analyzed daily life where they operated. The medical sergeant was the fourth member of the civil affairs team; he was responsible for their overall health and provided medical analysis of their operational area. Each member brought specialized skills. Their experience in lessons learned and their medical knowledge provided the expertise to coordinate multinational and multiorganizational training to those in need. “Medical training was requested the most,” she said. 

The civil affairs officer recalled her work as team lead for a Civil-Military Support Element in Bosnia and Herzegovina where she deployed after the country experienced catastrophic flooding in 2014. 

During this deployment she connected existing government agencies to aide in their response to the floods. Flash flooding with rain that hadn’t been seen in 120 years sparked evacuations and caused significant property damage in the country. She applied her knowledge working with the layers of elected officials to ensure aide and resources were distributed amongst the many ethnic groups all living in flooded areas. She visited people who lost their homes in the flood, took photos of flooded communities, and took that information back to their government. “I hope what I did helped them,” she said. “I helped get their voices heard; and that’s what they wanted.”

For a woman who loves making connections with communities, she’s had the opportunity to do this throughout the world. “Each combatant command is different and presents their own challenges,” she explained. “What resonates is how much people want to connect throughout their communities. They want to know their voices are being heard.”

Working at V Corps was also a memorable assignment for Stockton, who served as the liaison officer to the Polish Operational Command in Warsaw, Poland after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. This role allowed her to meet Vice President Kamala Harris when she traveled to Poland. “We shook hands; she gave me a coin; and we talked,” Stockton shared.

Additionally, when Sweden first expressed their interest in joining NATO, “I was entrusted to go to Sweden to observe and bring back ideas about how V Corps could assist, and what training we could provide them,” she said.

“I’ve had the privilege to work side by side with the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, European Union, and to see what the State Department does on a daily basis – and it’s so impressive,” Stockton said. 

This advocate for the people has served in many countries; to include Germany, Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, South Korea, Poland, helping the world’s most vulnerable populations. “I empower our partners to lead by themselves,” Stockton said. 

“I’ve had the honor to work in some amazing places with some even more amazing people,” she claimed. While she’s done this throughout her 19-year career serving in the Army, she’s had unparalleled support from her husband, parents, in-laws, and entire family. “I couldn’t have done it without them!” 

Stockton met her husband while serving in Iraq, and for much of their careers, they were a dual-serving family. Her husband, Nathan, recently retired as a major from the Field Artillery Corps, and now provides all the support she needs, including caring for their young children. This allows her to perform her work at the 1st TSC with precision focus. 

Her team at the 1st TSC plans humanitarian assistance response options to crisis and conflict as well as overseeing all engagements. “From General Officer to Soldiers at the tactical level, we coordinate with U.S. Army Central and our partner countries for exchange opportunities,” she said. “Every time we send someone out, it is an opportunity for them to engage and meet people and build trust and partnerships.” 

“My team ensures that we’re assisting our partner countries with the training they want as well as preparing our people when they go out across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.” This consists of 21 countries spanning over 4 million square miles, containing three internationally strategic chokepoints in the most volatile and contested territory in the world. 

“We have other partners in the region, and they are watching,” Stockton said. “They need to know that they also matter.” It’s important for us to understand how other events going on in the world can influence the regions we support.

“We work toward seeing interoperability in their communities,” she said. The goal for civil affairs Soldiers is to highlight what our nation partners can do on their own. They empower our partners to lead - whether it’s showing that their military can respond in crisis or how they support their population. 

“Sometimes we might think our systems are broken, but when you travel to these other countries, things that we often take for granted in the United States, might not be in place there,” she said. 

She explained how in some countries teachers aren’t taught first aid and have no connection with emergency responders. “We would bring in partner military medics to teach first aid alongside the local fire and police departments,” the civil affairs officer said. “Making these connections within communities is key for their success and ability to support their people.”

After being a voice for those who weren’t being heard, responding to disasters and crisis, connecting community resources and partners throughout the world, Stockton’s innate desire to help others allowed her to be involved in some of the world’s most significant times in history.