American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany, May 17, 2012 – A robust humanitarian assistance program in Europe is helping to provide essential services while bolstering bilateral relationships and setting conditions for future cooperation in a crisis, U.S. European Command officials reported.
Eucom’s program, conducted in close coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development, is providing health, education, water and sanitation and transportation assistance in 17 countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Navy Rear Adm. Andy Brown, the command’s logistics director, told American Forces Press Service.
The assistance runs the gamut, from donating excess equipment to providing disaster preparedness to schools, medical facilities and roads. All contribute to the command’s mission of improving living conditions for partner nations, Brown said, but also serve a larger role in enhancing U.S. national security.
“It’s building trust. As you help people, they learn to trust you,” Brown said. “And you never know when you will need to have that trust in a security situation.”
Providing essential services and disaster response capabilities, particularly for Eastern European nations still recovering from military conflicts and rebellions, sets them on a trajectory toward long-term, self-sustaining capability, he said. And in the meantime, Brown said, it builds goodwill toward the United States as it prepares host nations to respond to a disaster or crisis.
“We have to do good things, but we also have to do them for strategic reasons,” said Ame Stormer, who manages Eucom’s humanitarian assistance program.
Brown cited the need in Eastern Europe, where some towns still have no running water and children walk along dirt roads to attend schools without electricity or even bathrooms. “The need is definitely there, and it’s a lot more than we have the money to provide,” he said.
So projects are chosen selectively, he explained, with strategic considerations that promote Eucom’s mission and the respective ambassador’s goals. Ambassadors have “lots of tools to get things done, but we are one of the tools in his toolbox to help his country.”
Some of the aid comes in the form of excess school desks and other equipment from U.S. military facilities being closed. One unique donation last year provided 11 pianos to a Polish music school for the blind that had been flooded, Brown said.
The command also donated more than $1 million in excess humanitarian and disaster-response supplies and firefighting equipment to Georgia’s Red Cross to replace items depleted following recent forest fires and the 2008 conflict there.
Sometimes, U.S. forces deliver the emergency aid personally. Earlier this year, for example, U.S. Army Europe soldiers distributed supplies when record snowfalls hit Montenegro and helped many snowbound people get the medical care they needed.
Other longer-term Eucom projects focus on renovating substandard medical facilities, schools and other infrastructure, or building new ones.
One current project, being conducted in Macedonia with USAID, begins by training teachers and school administrators how to incorporate lessons on ethnic tolerance into school curricula, Stormer explained. USAID recommends schools for renovation when they reach specific performance levels in their training program. Eucom then funds the projects through local contractors, creating local jobs while providing a tangible reward for reinforcing values that Brown said will help ensure long-term stability.
The command expects to renovate about 10 schools per year in Macedonia through the program.
Another new project, strategically located near Azerbaijan’s border with Iran, involves establishing a vocational school for several hundred Muslim girls. That project, Stormer explained, is being conducted in partnership with the local government and a foundation run by Azerbaijan’s first lady to provide job skills to young women.
With more than a half-million dollars in funding just awarded, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of identifying property in Astara, Azerbaijan, and drawing up a design for the school, the fifth that Eucom will have built from the ground up. The Corps of Engineers then will subcontract the project to local contractors, shooting for a fall 2013 opening.
Yet another project, in Gagouzia, Moldova, is completing a highway project that will connect the strongly pro-Russian region with neighboring Romania. As Eucom and the Millennium Challenge Corp. partner in that effort, the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Moldova is identifying humanitarian assistance projects in communities along that road, including water and sanitation facilities in schools.
“In some cases, we are providing schools with flush toilets for the first time in 20 years,” as facilities have declined since the Soviet Union fell and its financial support dried up, Stormer said.
A series of school projects in Sevastopol, Ukraine, also aims to help turn around anti-American sentiment at the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s homeport. Five school renovations are under way there, all at the request of the embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation. One, now complete, has become the most-photographed building in town, Stormer said, with bridal couples frequently seen posing at its entry.
Emphasizing the program’s value in projecting a positive U.S. image and promoting closer partnerships in the region, Brown said he recognizes that funding constraints could cause Eucom to scale back or reassess how it conducts it. “I think the program will continue, but we have to be pretty selective and creative to make our dollars go further,” he said.
He’s exploring ways to stimulate more public-private partnerships in the region and to piggyback on more military exercises -- particularly those involving engineers -- to conduct humanitarian civic assistance projects.
Last year, for example, the Marine Corps’ Black Sea Rotational Force in Europe built a medical evacuation landing pad at a Romanian hospital about 12 miles from their forward operating base. This year, Stormer is hoping the Marines will complete nine projects, from school renovations to lavatories and health clinics, in Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
Stormer emphasized that these types of projects involving uniformed U.S. troops must be directly linked to their training.
“The fact that it is humanitarian is nice to have, but it really has to be about what skill sets the troops are getting,” she said. “Sometimes it’s working in an austere environment, sometimes it’s that interoperability piece, working with another military, and sometimes it’s the actual skills they are learning.”
Particularly during medical support missions, Stormer said, U.S. troops get exposure to health problems or medical equipment they simply don’t see in the United States.
Brown said he’s seen firsthand the dynamic that comes from having U.S. military members work side by side with their host-national counterparts on a project to benefit the local community.
“You see a wonderful sense of cooperation,” he said. “As they work together, they know that what they are doing will be very impactful for that community.”