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Humanitarian Assistance Advances Partnerships With Host Nations

By Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Kimsey, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany, June 22, 2005 – Often overlooked and little-publicized, the people who work in the Defense Department's Humanitarian Assistance Program are accustomed to living in the shadows, content to go about the business of winning hearts and minds in the host nations the program serves.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Ralph Frank (right) and Croatian Assistant Minister for Development Ljudevit Herceg cut the ribbon June 13 to mark the opening of a sports hall built as a humanitarian assistance project in Croatia. The sports hall was constructed using humanitarian funding from U.S. European Command. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Kimsey, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"The goals for DoD's Humanitarian Assistance Program in the post 9-11 world are that we gain access and influence and we build friendships and common understanding with host-nation civilians through cooperation on a project," said Paula Battistoni, HA branch chief at U.S. European Command here.

"The program helps DoD bolster indigenous capacity to respond to disasters, demonstrates what a professional military can accomplish, and promotes regional stability and security while providing our troops with training in austere environments" Battistoni said.

Soldiers' boots on the ground -- in a non-threatening humanitarian posture -- support U.S. interests and build friendships and teamwork, Battistoni added.

EUCOM's HA program operates on a budget of between $15 million and $20 million annually. Project examples include building and repairing schools, medical clinics, disaster-response centers, orphanages, and HIV and AIDS testing and counseling centers, and digging water wells. EUCOM's area of responsibility is vast, covering more than 21 million square miles and 91 countries or territories. Typically, more than 60 nations receive EUCOM humanitarian assistance, mainly in Eastern Europe and Africa.

Battistoni said the EUCOM Humanitarian Assistance Program is a unique tool that helps boost security-cooperation efforts. Building familiarity through humanitarian-assistance projects helps host-nation local populations understand U.S. cultural values of peace, freedom and democracy. It paves the way for continuing partnership in security efforts.

"Terrorism has changed the way we go about our business," she said. "HA projects are important ways we can demonstrate to the host nations' civilians -- before they sign up for terrorist groups -- what we're really about."

Winning the support and good will of the people of host nations served by humanitarian assistance is one way to influence the reputation of the U.S. military in a positive manner, Battistoni said.

"HA projects naturally help open lines of communications with host nations' leaders, be they civilian, military or from other government agencies. By having access to the key people in the region, we're able to help shape the local security environment," Battistoni said. "We can demonstrate what a professional military can accomplish. In some cases, we can increase the host nations' capability to help themselves."

When U.S. military participate in HA efforts, there is always an emphasis on training, Battistoni said. "The goal is to train in austere environments. Engineers renovate and construct facilities while medics learn about diseases and train with other nations. Troops learn how to build a bridge in flood conditions, using locally acquired materials in a short amount of time."

A recent EUCOM humanitarian project provided a newly built sports hall at a school in Obrovac, Croatia. U.S. Ambassador Ralph Frank gathered June 13 with local and national Croatian officials to mark completion of the U.S.-financed project.

The $275,000 from DoD's HA program to build and equip the sports hall for primary and secondary school students brought the total value of the U.S. contribution to the construction project to $650,000. The project represents the continuing commitment of the United States and EUCOM to assist the Republic of Croatia, Frank noted.

Equipment and other furnishings for the sports hall came from the HA Excess Property Program, which supplies reutilized non-lethal, non-high tech goods, such as furniture and sports equipment.

"The U.S. military, through the EUCOM HA program, provided $250,000 to construct the new sports hall," Frank said. "They also provided $25,000 in sports equipment to furnish the gym."

"Since 1992, the U.S. has provided more than $407 million to Croatia to strengthen democratic institutions and to support political, economic and social reforms essential to creating and sustaining a better future for all Croatians regardless of ethnic heritage," a press release stated.

(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Kimsey is assigned to U.S. European Command.)

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Related Sites:
U.S. European Command
DoD Humanitarian Assistance Program

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