Spirit of America's Blog

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Countering Extremism through Opportunity in Niger

Greetings,

I recently returned from ten days in Niger, the culmination of a project Spirit of America has been working on since the beginning of the year. Niger, just to the north of Nigeria, with Mali to its west, Chad to its east, and northern borders with Libya and Algeria, is by many measures one of the poorest countries in the world. Desertification, astronomic births, mortality rates and a lack of economic opportunity create a highly unstable environment. When combined with extremist influence – the country's borders are threatened by groups like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram, and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa – this could be a potential recipe for disaster.

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A U.S. Army Civil Affairs team is working to prevent those causes of instability from leading to conflict, something which has occurred several times throughout Niger's history. I first traveled with the team in Feb. 2014 to see if there was a way Spirit of America could assist in these efforts. Following initial discussions, we determined that the northern region of Agadez would be the best place to focus our support.

During an initial assessment in rural parts of Agadez in April, it was apparent why this was an important region. The local population is comprised primarily of Tuareg and Fulani tribes, semi-nomadic herders, whose traditional way of life is under threat from desertification, eroding economic opportunity, and modernity in general. Coupled with feelings of marginalization from the rest of the country, these factors have contributed to multiple rebellions against the government over the last few decades. With extremist influence on the rise from neighboring Mali and Algeria, the region has the potential to erupt into conflict yet again.

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Providing for Students in a War Zone

It was a cool December day when I visited my first Afghan school last year. There, I had the opportunity to meet some students to whom Spirit of America had previously given school supplies. When I met them, the students were gathered on large carpets and had chalkboards propped up against a mud wall and a tree. To these students, "school" wasn't a tangible place or a building; it was an event...an opportunity to learn.

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Schools look different in different places. Even without a hard structure, youth are able to attend classes in Afghanistan.

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Improving Food Security and Government Capacity in Mali

Greetings,

Spirit of America recently funded a livestock health initiative in Mali that enhanced the ability of the Malian government and military to take care of its people. Responding to a local need identified by the US military team working in the country, we provided funding for vaccines and vitamins so that Malian officials could treat goats and sheep in a key area. Here's what the US team leader told us about the project:

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world's most food-insecure regions. Local sheep and goat production is vitally important for both food production and the income they generate within many regions. Two very common issues facing animal production within some sub-Saharan regions are poor nutrition and parasitism. These two problems compound each other due to the parasites hindering the efficient utilization of scarcely available food resources. The funding from Spirit of America provided anti-parasite treatment and multi-vitamin supplementation for 2,023 sheep and goats. The medication also provided the opportunity for 10 veterinary technicians to gain more experience in administering treatment. Also, US military officials joined the conversation by discussing proper anti-parasite medication use in order to most efficiently treat animals and avoid side effects. In the short term these animals will be able to utilize the available resources during this rainy period more efficiently and thus be able to provide greater high quality protein through increased meat and milk production for the local region. The increase in available meat and milk will be used directly for food and as a source of monetary income for many families. The training the veterinary technicians received will help to increase the local animal production beyond this single rainy season. Through local capacity building Spirit of America helped further US Government objectives in Mali by increasing stability in the region.

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Humanitarian Assessments in Iraqi Kurdistan

Greetings,

I've just returned from the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil – a bustling metropolis only an hour's drive away from the front lines of the fight against ISIS. Seven years after my last Army deployment to Iraq during the height of the Surge, it was a strange feeling to be back, but I'm glad to have the opportunity to see what we can do to help. Over the past week, I've been meeting with US and Kurdish officials as well as local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), all in an effort to determine how Spirit of America can add value to international efforts to address the ongoing conflict spread throughout this part of the Middle East.

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SoA Field Ops Manager Isaac Eagan just returned from initial assessments in Iraqi Kurdistan

The humanitarian crisis here has taken on alarming proportions over the past few months. In addition to the Syrian refugees already fleeing events on the other side of the border, the recent ISIS offensives in Anbar Province and Mosul drove an estimated 800,000 Iraqis – what are known as Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs – to the relative safe haven of Kurdistan. Here with little more than the clothing on their backs, they've sought refuge in formal camps, with extended family members, in ad hoc shelters in schools and places of worship, and even in half-built buildings and jury rigged tent cities. With winter coming, their plight will grow more desperate.

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Different Location, Same Mission

It is a normal day in Afghanistan... the mountains are just visible through a dusty haze, a pair of A-10s are taxiing for take-off, and the sun is baking the tarmac as I walk toward the plane with my carry-on. The only thing different about today is that this flight is possibly the last flight I will ever take out of Afghanistan. I will continue to work closely with Soldiers, Marines, and Diplomats in Afghanistan, but I will be doing it remotely since my time has come to return to the States.

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Chris Clary, Spirit of America Project Manager, preparing to return to the US after completing 9 months in Afghanistan for Spirit of America

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Not Political and Not Neutral, SoA at DC Event Tomorrow, Watch Online

Greetings,

Spirit of America is not political. We don't take any position on US policy or politics and we never will.

Our position is simple: whenever our country sends our men and women to serve abroad, we will provide assistance that makes them safer and more successful and we will help them be the best possible representatives of the American people. We have stayed true to that position.

As I mentioned last week, Spirit of America's approach has broken ground in the humanitarian assistance world. Many organizations that provide assistance overseas have a policy of being "neutral" – meaning they don't take sides in any conflict or controversy.

Spirit of America is "not neutral" because we do take a side. We take the side of US troops and diplomats and the local people and partners they seek to help. That is the only kind of assistance and support we provide.

SoA at event in Washington tomorrow, Sept 18, noon Eastern time
Neutral or not neutral is an important issue and I am speaking on the topic at an event tomorrow, September 18, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. The event goes from noon to 1pm Eastern.

I hope you can come or watch online. Click here for more details.

Being not neutral and taking a side is serious, especially in the places Spirit of America provides assistance, but a member of our team had some fun with the idea and came up this poster that hangs on a wall in our Los Angeles office.

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9/11, Spirit of America, thirteen years

Greetings,

Thirteen years ago, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, I committed myself to doing something to help. That motivation led me to start Spirit of America.

I had always appreciated America's freedoms but, I had also taken them for granted. 9/11 was a wake up call. Ignorance was no longer bliss.

My dear, old dad – who served as a SeaBee in World War II - and many, many others had done their part. With two young boys, I knew I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't do my part.

In retrospect, it was a fairly naïve idea that regular citizens like me – with no government or military background – could help our troops and diplomats advance America's freedoms and ideals.

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Empowering Women Through Economic Development

At a critical time, when the government and citizens of Afghanistan are determining the future of the country, the questions have to be asked: Why do Afghan women still face the barriers they do? Why is it that women are still part of the worldwide struggle for economic empowerment? And, how can their economic situation be altered to allow them to help shape the future of their country? Instead of just asking the questions, Spirit of America is actively working to empower women at the village level through economic development.

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Women gather in the village's District Center to receive seamstress training and sew garments that they can sell in the nearby market.

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No endorsement of Spirit of America by the US Department of Defense or its personnel is intended or implied.