News: American ambassadors: Diplomats in blue
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION – Upon arrival at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, deployed U.S. service members are immediately informed, “We are guests in this country,” and as such, responsible for respecting and operating in accordance with the host nation’s rules.
The Host Nation Coordination Cell serves a crucial role generating and fostering positive relations with the locals ensuring U.S. service members here have a clear understanding of expectations while in country.
“Our role at HNCC is to foster and strengthen relationships with our hosts and build mutual trust and respect,” said Col. David Lowe, the 379 AEW HNCC director here on a one-year controlled tour. “We are here to assist with compliance of host nation rules and regulations while educating our U.S. forces on these rules and on the [local] culture.”
Their primary mission is to interface with the local embassy and appropriate in-country agencies while serving as the liaison between the U.S. armed forces and the local government in specified matters.
In total, the HNCC is responsible for all U.S. armed forces at this undisclosed Southwest Asia location. On a monthly basis, HNCC processes nearly 400 customs requests, approximately 11,500 tons of cargo, ensure accountability off all military personnel, processing an average of 19,000 aircrew and 9,000 passengers through the aerial port of debarkation here.
HNCC responsibilities are divided into five major sections: customs, immigrations, current operations and security, diplomatic clearances and infrastructure, said Maj. Joel Cepeda, the 379th AEW HNCC current operations and security chief also here on a one-year controlled tour. Each of the sections chiefs are paired with a local military counterpart.
“Nearly every day, we visit their offices to check-in and discuss processes, how to make them more effective and build a relationship with them,” Cepeda said. “Those interactions are important when a situation arises because they are familiar with who we are and are more willing to work with us to resolve it.”
He explained having a personal relationship with their counterparts and sharing tea, a local customary practice, goes a long way.
“In their eyes, we represent all U.S. service members here,” Cepeda said.
At the center of the HNCC, there are a team of five cultural advisors who support the mission translating conversations and documents from English to the local dialect and vice versa; establish and maintain their own relationships with host nation counterparts; and are continuity as they sit in a more permanent role at the 379th AEW. All of the advisers are U.S. citizens contracted to work with the U.S. armed forces.
“We are the tongue of the wing,” said Hussam Al Aydi, a 379th AEW HNCC cultural adviser.
“Any issues or miscommunications we may have with the locals, the advisers are at the forefront translating and helping to resolve any concerns,” added Raji Daboul, also 379th AEW HNCC cultural advisor and translator. “We are the team’s continuity because we’ve been here for several years, and over time have established relationships with the host nation.”
Though building positive relations with the host nation is at the core of HNCC’s priorities, service members are briefed upon arrival that they too are responsible for maintaining those relationships in support of the mission.
“We never lose sight of our U.S. mission and objectives here,” Lowe said. “This sometimes requires our young Airmen to be diplomats in blue.”