During the unveiling ceremony to dedicate renovations at a school in Tetovo, Macedonia, Michael Ryan watched teens in traditional dress perform folk dances.
Ryan, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who serves as a senior civil servant with U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), represented the U.S. military during the event, the culmination of a joint project between USAID and USEUCOM to increase stability in Macedonia through interethnic integration in schools.
“Their dances tell a story in the pride of their culture and their desire to make sure their culture continues to survive,” Ryan said. “They are so warm and welcoming and so dedicated to improving themselves, in this case though education, that you immediately become captured by their charm and their enthusiasm.”
That wasn’t always the case. A decade ago, Macedonian armed forces and Albanian insurgents fought each other in a conflict borne largely from ethnic differences.
Today, the sides are no longer fighting, and the military and USAID are collaborating on targeted projects that promote peace between the former rival groups through school integration.
“In the case of Macedonia, it’s a very small investment, about $300,000 per year [from USEUCOM],” said Brig. Gen. Blaine D. Holt, director of logistics at USEUCOM.
“For that, we are supporting an interethnic education program that one day will be the stability of the future and help prevent conflict.”
Each U.S. military combatant command, or “COCOM,” is a geographically oriented, strategic-level organization led by a four-star commander, and has a directorate for humanitarian assistance and civic engagement. Each COCOM also has a USAID senior development adviser on staff. Humanitarian assistance and civic engagement is a large part of EUCOM’s strategic efforts and is coordinated with USAID.
USAID often has more experience in a country, with a focus on the local areas and established partners to implement programs. Military officials say that partnering with USAID allows USEUCOM access to communities and to offer assistance where it can benefit people on a personal level.
Strategically, USEUCOM and USAID may engage in certain projects for different reasons, said Ame Stormer, who runs the program at USEUCOM.
“But there’s often an overlap in achieving both institutions’ goals by working together,” Stormer said. “It makes sense.”
Cohesion Is Key
Interethnic cohesion is key to stability in Macedonia—part of USEUCOM’s strategic goals for the region. That’s why USEUCOM provides $300,000 annually to fund 10 school renovations per year in the country, which is coupled with USAID’s $1 million annual investment to support interethnic integration in education.
USAID works with local educators to develop interethnic tolerance in schools. To qualify for a renovation project, schools must show proven progress toward that goal to a USAID committee that includes a USEUCOM officer at the U.S. Embassy.
“When those schools have progressed to USAID’s satisfaction, they are able to qualify for a renovation project,” said Lt. Col. Michael Evans, USEUCOM humanitarian assistance program manager. “The projects are small scale, about $30,000 each, but USAID works directly with local contractors, so we get a lot done with that amount. This is a great example of a long-term, sustainable, interagency activity that is in alignment with, and prioritized within, our country strategy and the theater campaign plan.”
Coordination, in some cases, serves to avoid duplicate efforts. But the relationship goes beyond that. In an era of constrained resources, U.S. Government agencies working toward common goals overseas should look for ways to collaborate, said Stormer.
USEUCOM’s area of responsibility covers 51 countries in Europe and Eurasia—some of which have no USAID presence or activities to match USEUCOM’s humanitarian assistance efforts.
“When the opportunity exists, we want to ensure that USEUCOM and USAID's programs in the region are mutually reinforcing,” Stormer said.
In Macedonia, the parallel efforts led to partnership on education. In Albania, USAID and USEUCOM support telemedicine projects, which provide health-care services via information technology. The organizations also work together in Ukraine.
At the ceremony in Tetovo, Ryan was first struck by how different things are in Macedonia, compared with where he lives in Germany. But as he spoke, with interpreters translating his comments, he glanced around. His eyes caught people smiling. He saw children playing and laughing. He saw folks talking on the street corner.
“What strikes you is that we have the same desires. They want a home, a nice place to live with their families,” Ryan said, reflecting on his stay in Macedonia.
“Everything that makes a wonderful life is there.”
Rick Scavetta is with U.S. European Command.
Last updated: March 17, 2016