By Col. BJ Constantine January 17, 2013
WASHINGTON (Jan. 17, 2013) -- After his battalion worked in Iraq with the U.S. Institute of Peace, or USIP, a wounded warrior was able to visit USIP's new Global Peacebuilding Center last month to learn about his unit's accomplishments.
"This is the first place I've ever seen or heard of dedicated to peace,"said Sgt. 1st Class Sean Washington, as he visited the new center at the corner of 23rd and Constitution in the nation's capital, with his wife Sgt. 1st Class Ebonie Washington. "Although we have many war museums and memorials, a place like this is a pretty good stepping stone to the way to peace."
In 2007, Washington's battalion, part of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), assisted with a peace-building initiative aimed at stabilizing the Mahmoudiyah district of Baghdad province. USIP worked with the battalion and a range of other partners to help facilitate the reconciliation process in the district, part of an area known as the "Triangle of Death."
Washington's former battalion commander, Lt. Col. William Zemp, was recently highlighted in the USIP Global Peacebuilding Center "Witnesses to Peacebuilding" series. Zemp and his battalion were recognized for helping Mahmoudiyah chart a way forward out of the violence.
USIP is the nation's independent, nonpartisan conflict management center, created by Congress to prevent and mitigate international conflict without resorting to violence. USIP works to try to save lives, increase the government's ability to deal with conflicts before they escalate, reduce government costs, and enhance national security.
USIP began operating in Afghanistan in 2002, where it focused on strengthening the rule of law following the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001. In 2008, the institute based a full-time country director in Kabul to oversee what had become an expanded program. The following year, USIP formally opened an office in Kabul, which by 2012 was staffed by a country director along with a national and international program staff.
Currently in Aghanistan, USIP's Academy for International Conflict Management is conducting a series of "train-the-trainers" workshops in partnership with the Welfare Association for the Development of Afghanistan, known as WADAN, and is working with Kabul University on a variety of education issues.
The academy conducts training sessions and workshops for government and military personnel, civil society leaders, and NGO and Information Operations staff throughout conflict regions. In December 2012, USIP sent a team of trainers to Fort Campbell, Ky., to help a brigade preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Specifically, the training's goal was to assist Soldiers and leaders understand the impact of national-level security-sector reform at the local level during the transition period; understand national and regional security trends at the local level; understand reintegration practice and programs in the Afghanistan stabilization efforts; and to explore best practices for engagement with Afghan National Security Force units.
All three of Washington's deployments were with the 101st Airborne, however, he is currently assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, at Fort Belvoir, Va., where he is recovering from injuries sustained during his deployments.
"I wanted to go to war," Washington reflected, "do my job and demonstrate my talents. Then, the second deployment gets old." He said that he realizes that there are things we must go to war for, such as violence against women and children. "We just can't stand by and watch those things happen." But Washington says he hopes the nation will never go through anything like that again. He said he's seen war, and that "people don't know what war leads to unless they've been there. No one wins."
Washington says he has seen enough war to last a lifetime; he now just wants to be home, recover, enjoy his family, and "walk my daughter down the aisle some day." Ebonie Washington says she just wants her husband to get better.
Participating in the Washingtons' tour of the new USIP center was the institute's chief of staff, Paul Hughes (a retired U.S. Army colonel) and Ann-Louise Colgan, director of USIP's Global Peacebuilding Center.
Hughes said that while conflict is a part of the human condition, USIP hopes to find ways to resolve conflict peacefully, before it escalates to violence or war.
For more information about the US Institute of Peace, visit www.usip.org. The "Witness to Peacebuilding" video about Mahmoudiya, Iraq is available at www.buildingpeace.org/witnesses.
(Editor's note: Col BJ Constantine is an Army War College fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. His research focus at USIP includes the emerging democracy in Egypt, and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in South Sudan. )