Whether they served four years or 40 years, most military members have had an up-close look at American foreign policy during their years of service, providing them with a unique perspective on America’s global engagement in action—especially when it comes to combating global challenges that affect our country’s security and threaten stability around the world.
This perspective is so critical to America’s global leadership that we highlighted it in the second session of USGLC’s Next Gen Global Leaders program, a bipartisan group of nearly 100 diverse and talented young professionals from across the country who are building their skills and know-how to lead and engage their communities on America’s global development and diplomacy.
These young leaders come from all walks of life and professional backgrounds—including a sizable number of military veterans. As part of last week’s session, we were able to hear some of their invaluable stories and perspectives from their military service and further explore how U.S. development and diplomacy contribute to our country’s national security.
Before becoming the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of government affairs, Joshua Lunger served as a sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne division and was deployed to Iraq in 2006. His time there left a lasting impression on his views about American development and diplomacy as critical tools of soft power for U.S. national security.
“I still remember clearly seeing a difference in the areas of Iraq that had access to opportunity… like jobs, education and healthcare,” said Lunger. “Those with higher access were noticeably less hostile and had a higher quality of life. Those without these foundational systems were often some of the most hostile environments we conducted operations in. In this way, you see a consistent truth that meeting human needs and creating employment opportunities can create a system more resilient to extremism and violence.”
Adam Taylor, a former captain in the U.S. Marines who now works on Capitol Hill, also weighed in: “Ultimately, it is a team effort. Defense, diplomacy, and development all advance U.S. interests, but each play a different role. Uniformed members are trained and conditioned to view the world in a specific way that isn’t necessarily best suited to address all of America’s problems. Diplomacy provides opportunities to enhance relationships, mitigate conflict, and multiply the reach and breadth of the military. “
Blake Locklar, an Air Force Captain currently serving outside Pensacola, Florida, echoed Taylor’s thoughts. “The full leveraging of soft power application should be the first hedge against conflict and destabilization within a region. Even in times where hard power is being applied, it is necessary to continue as much soft power application as feasibly possible.”
Lt. General William E. “Kip” Ward, a retired U.S. Army four-star general and the first commander of the U.S. Africa Command, joined the class to share why protecting American’s national security is more than just the role of the military—it takes an all-of-government approach to keep our country safe.
He was joined by Nancy Lindborg, President and CEO for The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, whose prior roles at U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), USAID, and other humanitarian agencies gave her direct experience working in conflict-ridden areas around the world.
Ward shared his evolution from a young infantry officer focused on hard power tactics and strategies, to a general officer in tune with soft power tools like development and diplomacy to help deliver sustainable peace and stability. His comments dovetailed into Lindborg’s remarks on how fragile states—due to economic or political insecurities—have the potential to breed violent extremism. As a result, both underscored the need for the U.S. military and development agencies to work hand-in-hand in order to create a safer, more stable world.
By bringing in lessons learned from outside the classroom, our distinguished guests and Next Gen veterans brought attention to the complex global threats that face our nation and the important takeaway that they cannot be solved by the military alone—but rather by leveraging all our tools of national security: development and diplomacy, alongside defense.