The intersection of military and humanitarian aid: one Minerva team member’s perspective
by Johnny Merolla
It was summer of 2013. The USS George Washington was on a port visit in Hong Kong. The foam from clinking beers started to slick the streets of Lan Kwai Fong, where most sailors decided to post up and “decompress” from our time at sea. Our decompression was about to be cut short.
I remember the scene well, it was almost out of a movie. The phones of sailors started blinking and buzzing like some sort of attractive carnival game. This only meant one thing – recall. For those who do not know what recall is – to sum it up shortly – it means that the fun is unexpectedly over and all must trek back to the ship for some type of emergency event.
This event happened to be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Our ship and its squadrons were now tasked with steaming toward the southern Philippines to assist in aid and recovery efforts in the battered islands. During the trek south, many sailors griped and scratched their heads on how our giant, floating airport was going to aid thousands of Filipinos.
Floating up to Tacloban – the city that received our aid – I noticed plumes of thick black smoke and saw that the palm trees were flat, like greased-back hairs on a balding head. I too, pondered what we could possibly do to help.
Throughout the day, I discovered that we could do a lot. Different types of aircraft were landing on the flight deck and USAID packages were sprinkled throughout the ship, awaiting delivery to land. Aircraft carriers also have the ability to desalinize saltwater, making our ship a floating potable water marvel.
For the first time, I fully comprehended the strength of marrying the military and humanitarian aid.
Throughout the days our ship sat off the coast of Tacloban, the U.S. and our allies delivered potable water, food, and translators (who spoke Bisaya – the local language of Tacloban). America’s powerful warship was converted into a compassionate vehicle for delivering quick and successful foreign aid to a region far from the U.S.’s political borders.
Military paired with foreign aid is an immensely powerful tool for diplomacy. It revealed to the people of Tacloban and the Philippines that forward-deployed ships and military might can be forces for good when given the mission of international assistance by the U.S. and allied leaders.
The military can get a bad reputation for being all about war and lethal operations. But the skills and training can help in the nonprofit realm, specifically in chaotic situations like disaster relief and post-conflict reconstruction. One of the military’s greatest skills is to create order from chaos.
For example, consider Team Rubicon, a disaster response nonprofit focused on deploying veterans to use their training to help in humanitarian situations. The training received in the military – paired with firsthand experience abroad participating in international disaster relief – uniquely qualifies many veterans for this kind of work. Currently Team Rubicon has teams deployed to ravaged parts of Texas and Florida, drawing from the military’s training, calm under pressure, and a mission-focused mindset.
Then I thought, how has my military training helped me at Minerva?
Military experience has helped me understand the complex aid environment and the unique relationships between governments and private institutions. This has helped me more fully appreciate the importance of the work I do with Minerva.
At Minerva Strategies, we don’t convert warships to foreign aid machines, but we do spearhead global communications issues with a focused ferocity and an eye on using the power of communication for good. We help our clients communicate effectively and persuasively about their efforts to tackle the world’s most pressing issues in global health and international development.
And, much like a sailor, we can quickly switch from lighthearted revelry to single-minded focus whenever our phones or email inboxes light up.