Shared from the 2017-04-16 The St. Augustine Record eEdition

GUEST COLUMN

Peace Corps spreads U.S. values in far off lands

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, and a Peace Corps Country Director in Uganda and Lesotho, I have seen firsthand how the work of Peace Corps volunteers extends the values and diplomacy of the United States in ways no other organization does.

And it provides extraordinary learning and perspective to the Americans who serve. I am now a small business owner, investor and nonprofit executive in St. Augustine, little of which would I have achieved had I not served in Peace Corps.

I urge you to support the base level funding of $410 million for the Peace Corps and $60 billion for the International Affairs Budget for fiscal year 2018. The Peace Corps budget comprises 0.01 percent of the federal budget. The total development and diplomacy budget is 0.9 percent of the federal budget. Moreover the value for these programs is astonishing when seen in context of establishing goodwill, promoting viable markets for U.S. goods and services, and contributing in a meaningful way to our national security.

Over 120 retired three and four-star generals agree. In a recent letter to Congressional leadership, these generals wrote:

“The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

Four of the 121 signatures include four former admirals who live in or near St. Augustine.

And, as Defense Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Yet the Peace Corps and International Affairs are under threat of deep cuts in the administration’s budget proposal. I submit that we take our military leaders at their word and assure that U.S. diplomacy supports our overall security through outreach, longterm relationship building, assistance and development of emerging allies and the assertion of our values as we learn and understand the values of others.

Peace Corps Volunteers are America’s grassroots ambassadors, implementing democratic ideals 24/7/365 in remote, often isolated communities in 63 countries around the world. Many beneficiaries of Peace Corps Volunteers have gone on to become leaders of their nations and champions of American principles. President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has said, “Peace Corps Volunteers taught at my school. I learned English, fair play, and the meaning of democracy.” President Ghani is not alone among world leaders influenced by Peace Corps volunteers. Count, as well, presidents, ministers and generals in over 30 emerging economy nations.

Yet for an extremely effective and cost-efficient form of national security and diplomacy, the Peace Corps is terribly underutilized. Each year approximately 24,000 Americans apply for roughly 3,800 positions — meaning thousands of qualified applicants are turned away from serving their country and the world.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal commented directly on this saying, “This gap represents democratic energy wasted and a generation of patriotism needlessly squandered.” And demand for the Peace Corps remains high: 20 countries consistently request more Peace Corps Volunteers.

There are currently 7,200 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in 63 countries, including Ukraine, Kosovo, Colombia, Guatemala and Myanmar. Are these not countries where we want more Peace Corps Volunteers?

Consider that should we not commit to these countries, both close to home and afar, there are others willing to invest there to fill any vacuum we leave, in ways that could work counter to U.S. national and international interests.

It is in our national interest that the United States remains a strong, committed presence in the world. Peace Corps, and our International diplomatic missions are key contributors to our wellbeing and growth.

See this article in the e-Edition Here