For more than two decades, the United States has provided more than $2.6 billion in conventional weapons destruction programs in more than 90 countries to safely clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war, such as unexploded ammunition that includes artillery shells and air-delivered bombs. However, these hidden hazards can linger for decades, making it essential to build local expertise in partner nations that can take control of addressing this serious humanitarian challenge over the long term.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to spend time with a group of 21 men and women from 13 countries who visited the U.S. Department of State as they completed the 2016 Global Senior Managers' Course in Explosive Remnants of War and Mine Action (SMC). The training, sponsored by the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), gave the participants guidance on new and improved ways to lead their countries' efforts to make local communities safer. The training also allowed people from different parts of the world to come together on their unified mission to overcome the legacies of war.

Staff from the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs pose for a photo with 21 SMC training participants from 13 countries at the outset of their visit to Washington, DC. [State Department photo]

The three-week course began in May and was facilitated by the Center for International Stabilization and Recovery at James Madison University (JMU) in close collaboration with JMU College of Business faculty. Participants from Afghanistan, Palau, Colombia, Yemen, Somalia, and eight other countries gathered at the JMU campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia. There they spent an estimated 120 hours of class time together honing their technical and managerial skills to improve their countries' capacity to clear contaminated land more effectively and efficiently.

As a part of the course, participants traveled to Washington, DC to meet PM/WRA program managers and attend two panel discussions held at the Henry L. Stimson Center. Representatives of the Japan International Cooperation Agency and the U.S. Department of State, the Swiss Ambassador to the United States, and the Italian Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations formed a donor panel which allowed for a frank conversation about key donor strategy and funding requirements. During a panel on partnership, non-governmental organizations (NGO) Mines Advisory Group, Marshall Legacy Institute, the HALO Trust, and Handicap International discussed building effective relationships with national and local government authorities and collaboration among NGOs.

Panel moderator Jim Lawrence, Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden, PM/WRA Deputy Director Jerry Guilbert, Japan International Cooperation Agency Chief Representative Hajime Takeuchi and Italian Deputy Permanent Representative Ambassador Inigo Lambertini speak about donor priorities. [State Department photo]

With the conclusion of this year's course, which was the 12th SMC held by JMU and the seventh funded by the State Department, more than 300 managers from over 40 countries have been trained. In addition to the sessions held on JMU's campus, the university has facilitated SMCs in Jordan, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. The managers take their new knowledge back to their countries and work to implement best practices in their own mine action centers, establish relationships with partner countries for broader collaboration, and utilize practical business management skills within their own operations in the field.

In his remarks at the closing ceremony, PM/WRA Director Stanley Brown told the managers: "Although your programs vary in many respects, from the complexities of clearing underwater ordnance in Palau to ensuring that mine action survey efforts are coordinated in Iraq to having mine action play a key role in the peace process in Colombia -- all 21 of you have one thing in common: the incredible drive and dedication that brought you thousands of miles from home to help your countries address the landmine problem impacting your people every day."

About the Author: Katie Coffey is the Assistant Program Manager for Near Eastern Affairs in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Source: U.S Department Of State

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