Humanitarian Assistance within the United States European Command More Than a Single Success Story

Article excerpt

October 2000, Africa

Our drive out of the capital city of Manzini in the Kingdom of Swaziland began routinely. Our destination, the Good Shepherd Hospital located in the Lubombo region of the country, is a non-governmental and non-denominational facility providing secondary care for a population of about 225,000 people, and also the site of an ongoing United States European Command (EUCOM) sponsored humanitarian assistance (HA) project. Once out of Manzini, it did not take long for us to sense the general tension and uncertainty creeping into the country. Every few kilometers young soldiers at barricaded checkpoints manned by armed police eyed every vehicle with quiet uneasiness. The soldiers carried loaded weapons in an assortment of ready positions. Even though it was a weekday morning, large crowds of uniformed students, intermingled with masses of other citizens, nervously milled about on many city streets. Our escort, an American expatriate employed by the American Embassy, told us that the country was in political turmoil due to recent government policies. The authorities in Swaziland had ordered a large presence of military and police to discourage civil disobedience and unrest. We were relieved to see the gates of the Good Shepherd Hospital, and also immensely thankful that the diplomatic license plates on our U.S. embassy vehicle had eased our travel. Driving past the gate guard, we immediately understood the urgency of the hospital's work. Woefully overcrowded and understaffed, the staff of the hospital was inundated with malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis, burn and HIV/AIDS patients. Bed occupancy was over 200 percent with overflow patients using available floor space in the administration offices. The ongoing EUCOM HA project will add a 50-bed pediatric ward to help relieve the overcrowding. The current arrangements forced the staff to house children with the adults suffering from malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

Our guides through the hospital, the hospital administrator and the head doctor, showed us how their neat, yet inadequate, facilities were strained beyond capacity. Most of the equipment was vintage 1950s, yet hospital personnel worked diligently and professionally, trying to accomplish the impossible. As we walked outside to examine the HA project, I stopped to chat with the construction crew. One of the crew members, a gaunt, thin man drenched in sweat, extended a leathery hand and thanked me for the work he was doing. In the midst of the usual clatter and debris of a construction site, we spoke different languages, yet had no problems understanding each other. This carpenter did not understand the world of military headquarters, and the interagency coordination, diplomacy, and politics that had brought me to his side, but he understood that my group was responsible for the funding of this much-needed addition to the only hospital in his community. He was deeply grateful, as were the rest of the constructi on crew. More important, however, than my personal encounter, was the clear fact that every hospital worker, construction crewman and patient knew that we were Americans and that the United States had made the pediatric ward possible.

I returned to Stuttgart with a new and strong personal commitment to the EUCOM humanitarian assistance program. It is a superb engagement tool and, it is doing great things for people who need help throughout the EUCOM area.

December 2000, The Balkans

Driving through Sarajevo's infamous Sniper Alley, I was reminded of the horrific scenes of wanton death and destruction which flashed across the world's television screens in the mid-1990s. As if frozen in time, countless pockmarked buildings dotted our path in dismal testimony to yet another conflict in the Balkan's troubled history. Leaving the American Embassy in Sarajevo, our destination was the village of Ivanica, a once prosperous community not far from the border with Croatia. …