I’m not a dedicated reader of astrological forecasts. The only times I do peruse the horoscope section is on crowded early morning trains into Boston, when it’s a toss-up between looking at what my future holds or staring into some guy’s adam’s apple.

Three days before the global peace & security event I organized in Bristol, RI on March 31st, I read my horoscope. It said, “watch out for difficulties ahead. Those in event management, public office and students must take special care.”

I’m a student. I was planning an awareness event on civil military balance and refugee crisis in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did I mention it was a rainy day I read that horoscope on?

D-Day

On March 31st, there was still a state of emergency declared in RI. Immense flooding, historical amounts of rainfall, water damage and traffic issues affected everyone in the state. One of my panelists found a river in his back yard! Other speakers found it hard to get to the event, what with road blocks and diversions.

Which made it all the more a miracle when the event turned out to be a success!

Audience gathering for the Panel Discussion.

Which would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the support of the Rhode Island Campus Compact (RICC), Project Nur together with support programs and the Political Science Dept. at Roger Williams University (RWU).

We had a good number turn up at RWU, including a group from the local Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club. This was fantastic as the goal of the event was to get local community members involved in dialogue regarding issues affecting national policy decisions. We focused more on civil-military balance because we lost our refugee crisis folk  to the bad weather.

Our panelists were:

Lorelei Kelly, Executive Director of the New Strategic Security Initiative.

Professors Eugene Augustine and George Oliver, of the Naval War College.

Qussay Al-Attabi, Iraqi rescued scholar (RWU) and Graduate Student, Brown University.

The event was moderated by Dr. Joseph Roberts of the Political Science department at RWU.

I live tweeted the event here, covering highlights from each of the panelists’ discussions.

After the panel (from left to right) Qussay Al-Attabi, Joseph Roberts, George Oliver, Lorelei Kelly, Priyanka Joseph, Bashir Martin and Eugene Augustine.

The Break-Down

Each panelist had a unique perspective on the subject of civil-military balance. Take Eugene Augustine for instance. He commanded a PRT team to Helmand Province in 2002 and is a vet of Desert Storm/Shield. During his tour as Rifle Company Commander in 1997, he led his Mechanized Infantry Company through a 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment to the Mediterranean that culminated with a Non-combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) in  Albania named Operation Silver Wake.  The man is a decorated soldier, and had incredible insights to share with the audience regarding  joint civilian and military rebuilding efforts.

Professor Augustine told us about the role he played in efforts to set up a local PWD in Afghanistan: how it’s a balance between allocating resources and tools and understanding the local culture of political trade-offs and embedded corruption. It was an amazing experience hearing him speak about this, as it made me think of the situation back home in India, another country where “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” resonates loudly.

Eugene Augustine

He also spoke about the role that USDA together with USAID in Afghanistan plays, about conversations that are had between locals and US development agents regarding the support of animal husbandry and farming. He discussed the problems associated with these conversations, about the fear non-profits and civilians experience when working in a conflict situation.

Lorelei Kelly was another high point: Lorelei spoke about the need for Americans everywhere to speak with their local representatives about the importance of civil-military balance & the need for a greater civilian role in rebuilding efforts everywhere because policy decisions are made not by the military, but by locally elected congressmen and women.

According to Lorelei, the common theme over the past decade in house & senate committee meetings has been that the United States “needs more non-military persons in the field”: local decision making, lack of mentoring in conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan can’t be met only by the military. Lorelei also spoke about the danger of contractors in military zones as well as the danger of  using the military only as a prop for popular issues.

Lorelei Kelly

Qussay Al-Attabi brought a special flavor to the event: he spoke about how he began to work as a translator for the U.S. troops: having grown up in Ba’athist Iraq, he didn’t naturally feel the need to support U.S. troops at all. However, in his neighborhood, his fellow Iraqis were having trouble communicating with U.S. troops. Qussay was one of the few in that community who could properly translate English to Iraqi and vice versa, so he soon became indispensable to both his community and U.S. military. He told the audience that at the start of the Iraqi invasion, the US went into Iraq with more than 150,000 troops, but less than 30 translators.

Q n A

These and other thought provoking stories and inputs had the audience wired for questions: Afghan students asked Professors Oliver and Augustine about what would be the best way to approach the issue of citizen security in Afghanistan. American students wanted to know how to start working on these issues as an undergraduate student.

All the panelists agreed that the best way to engage with civil-military issues right here in America as an undergraduate is to jump right in and start working or volunteering with a government or non-profit organization and learn on the job. Graduate programs in governance, policy, healthcare, economics and management are another good way to go.

Notes on the Refugee Crisis

Even though we didn’t get to focus on the Iraq and Afghan Refugee Crisis because we were missing panelists, it’s still an urgent and important issue faced by refugees, namely because of the difficult economics of settling in the U.S. and property issues back home.

According to this GAO report, positions at DOD’s Defense Language Institute and State’s Foreign Service Institute are open to qualified noncitizens–

However, State and DOD have not established the temporary program intended to offer employment to Iraqi SIV holders under authority granted the agencies in fiscal year 2009 legislation. Although both agencies have positions requiring Arabic language skills, neither identified any unfilled needs that could be met by employing Iraqi SIV holders through this joint program.

Call to Action!

Support and Sign your agreement onto the Refugee Protection Act of 2010! Here’s information from the National Immigrant Justice Center regarding this bill that was introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Carl Levin (D-MI). The full text of the Act is available at this link.

Additional readings

Refugee Resettlement & Assistance, from the International Institute of Rhode Island (IIRI).

The story of Kirk Johnson‘s List Project to resettle Iraqis, from Boston.com

Understanding Civil Military Relationships in a 3D world, by Lisa Schirch, Director of 3D Security Intiative

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