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    U.S. SOF Civil Affairs: Bringing Worlds Together (Story by U.S. Army CPT Benjamin Ordiway, U.S. Army Civil Affairs)

    U.S. SOF Civil Affairs: Bringing Worlds Together

    Photo By 1st Lt. Rodney Walker | A U.S. Civil Affairs team assigned to Special Operations Command Europe and mobilized...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    U.S. Special Operations Command Europe   

    STUTTGART, Germany – Forming meaningful relationships with civil society to achieve strategic effects requires persistent engagement—and perseverance. In 2019, a U.S. Civil Affairs team assigned to Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) and mobilized in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) moved heaven and earth to do just that—playing an outsized role in connecting a small town in BiH to NASA’s Perseverance Rover mission on Mars. What eventually progressed into an international headline, carried by news organizations from N1 media in the Balkans to National Public Radio in the U.S., all started over a cup of tea during a meeting in the Jezero, BiH mayor’s office.

    A Plan Comes Together

    During a U.S. Embassy Country Team meeting, the Civil Affairs team was alerted to a flood event along the Pliva River. The river runs through both entities—the majority Croat and Bosniak Federation of BiH, and the majority Serb Republic of Srpska. These ethnically bounded entities were products of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. While effectively putting an end to the Bosnian War, the agreement separated the country into two parts using former military frontlines as a boundary. Though hardened borders no longer exist, the inter-entity boundary line often serves as a de facto dividing line of political ideology and grievance.

    With historical context in mind, the Pliva River flooding presented an opportunity— albeit a small one—to bring communities together to solve common problems. The team planned to conduct a site survey of the damage and identify ways to optimize existing community resources to improve emergency response. As the January 2019 meeting in the Jezero mayor’s office came to a close, Mayor Snežana Ružičić mentioned offhand that a crater on Mars shared her town’s name. To many, celestial small talk might be considered the chaff of communication. Yet, to a Civil Affairs officer, this was an opportunity to form a meaningful relationship with resounding effects.

    Calling All Partners

    Following the meeting, the Civil Affairs team immediately got to work—warming up their embassy office phone with cold calls across the European continent and the Atlantic. The plan: confirm and promote official recognition of Jezero, BiH as the namesake for Jezero Crater, Mars.

    To pull it off required an expansion of the traditional “whole of government” approach. First, the team had to ensure that Jezero Crater on Mars was named after this specific Jezero, BiH, as there are numerous villages named Jezero throughout the Balkans. A phone call to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. led the team to contact the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris, France. As the authority on assigning designations to celestial bodies and their surface features, everything hinged on which Jezero in the Balkans the IAU referenced when naming the rover’s landing site.

    After weeks of going back and forth with the IAU, a representative sent a surprising confirmation: a photo of a printed encyclopedia with Jezero, BiH circled. The IAU made this seemingly inconsequential naming decision back in 2007 to little fanfare. It would soon prove increasingly consequential for the citizens of Jezero.

    The encyclopedia photo was all the team needed to begin developing an ambitious engagement. The list of partners would grow to include Special Operations Command Europe, NASA’s Headquarters and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Embassy in BiH. Together, this motley interagency team would help propel the little-known intersection of the rover’s landing site and the town of Jezero, BiH to the international stage.

    Earth Day in Jezero

    With official recognition as one line of effort, the team expanded engagement in the region to include Jajce, a neighboring town situated along the Pliva River just across the inter-entity boundary line. In April 2019, the Civil Affairs team developed an “Earth Day” themed community engagement with support from the Environmental Protection Agency to connect environmental stewardship with flood prevention. Children from both Jezero and Jajce attended an event filled with music, dancing, and an intercommunity river cleanup. Local and regional media covered the day’s activities, setting the stage for a much larger event.

    Additionally, the Earth Day event in Jezero, BiH helped set the conditions for possible future BiH participation in NASA’s Global Learning and Observations Program (NASA GLOBE). The program encourages student-led scientific inquiry to improve eco-awareness at the community level and supports global information sharing through educational resources and connection to the broader scientific community.

    A Letter from Mars…

    Seven months and a new Civil Affairs team later, the U.S. Ambassador to BiH, Eric Nelson, delivered a letter signed by the Director of Mars Exploration Program to Mayor Ružičić in November 2019. The letter formally recognized the most unusual of sister cities: Jezero Crater, Mars and Jezero, BiH. With support from the Non-Governmental Organization Spirit of America, more than 300 school-age children were bussed from the neighboring towns of Jajce and Mrkonjić Grad to attend the event. NASA provided educational material, and Ambassador Nelson shared a message of unity and inspiration set against the backdrop of the heavens and children outfitted in iconic NASA t-shirts.

    Operational Continuity Across Space and Time

    Nearly 15 months and two Civil Affairs teams later, as a testament to operational continuity, the current team assigned to BiH promoted and attended the rover landing celebration in the town of Jezero late into the February 18th night. Within hours, footage of the students and parents celebrating the event was shared across the world by major media outlets.

    Two years ago, few outside of BiH could likely find Jezero on a map. Thanks to the big vision of a small-town mayor, the dedication from U.S. Army Civil Affairs teams, and NASA and U.S. Embassy Sarajevo leadership, Jezero is now internationally linked with the historic Mars mission.

    With five successive Civil Affairs teams at the helm, the interagency effort did more than increase geographic awareness; it widened the aperture of scientific possibilities for generations of students of all ethnicities in the region.

    Though focused on the upcoming Ingenuity Helicopter technology demonstration, Dr. Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA headquarters, took a moment to recognize those who dared a mighty thing when first proposing the seemingly unusual interagency approach in January 2019.

    “The U.S. Army Civil Affairs team made it possible for us to connect our Mars 2020 mission and the Perseverance rover to the town of Jezero, Bosnia and Herzegovina in a meaningful and exciting way,” said Dr. Glaze. “Inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers from around the world is part of our mission, and we are thankful for the unique opportunity enabled by this interagency collaboration to engage with the people of Southeastern Europe.”

    Signs of Progress

    On the main road leading into the town of Jezero stands a prominent billboard with the Perseverance Rover front and center. It is a reminder to travelers of all backgrounds that BiH has an inspiring connection with an ancient crater nearly 150 million miles away. Just as the rover will sample Martian soil for signs of past life, the billboard outside of Jezero, BiH is a just a sample of the value of Civil Affairs in the arena of information and influence right here on Earth.

    Ben Ordiway is a Civil Affairs Officer currently pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Michigan. He enlisted as a Cavalry Scout in the Army in 2004 and received his commission as an Armor Officer from the United States Military Academy in 2012.



    Date Taken: 04.19.2021
    Date Posted: 04.19.2021 13:02
    Story ID: 394176
    Location: JEZERO, BA

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    Downloads: 1