By: David J. Smith, March 15, 2016
The annual Atlantic Promise field training exercise recently concluded in Fellsmere, Florida. Sponsored by the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc., the event brought together 30 masters and PhD students studying conflict resolution and disaster assistance from George Mason University, Tulane University, Kennesaw State University, and Nova Southeastern University. Some 20 civilian and 15 military role players supported the exercise. It was held over March 10-13, 2016.
The overall objective of the exercise was to provide graduate students with the opportunity to build skills and awareness needed for working in complex and fragile environments where violent conflict and natural disasters are in play. Working in teams, students responded to a myriad of challenges, including a cholera outbreak, an earthquake, and a civil war.
Training in negotiation, international humanitarian law, setting up an internal displacement camp, responding to cholera, working in stressful environments, safety and security, and community assessment at the beginning of the exercise, prepared students for what was to follow. During 3-½ days students acting as members of an NGO negotiated and met with imposing government and military leaders, clandestine opposition forces, civil society groups, and the local population.
The simulation scenario was not static, but one that rapidly changed, often as a result of the decisions made by the NGO. Students needed to act as a team, build trust and open communication channels within and across their groups, plan their next moves amid uncertain conditions, and attempt to build confidence with the local population. More over, the students tested their abilities to work under stress, with little rest, no cell phones, and sleeping in sleeping bags in a hot metal building that was ventilate by noisy fans.
Atlantic Promise not only tested the students, but also those who role-played as military and civilians. Partnering with Atlantic Promise was the U.S. Army, Company A/ 436th Civil Affairs Battalion. Many of the members of this group had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and as such, brought to the exercise their own experiences and knowledge. However, they also benefited from operating in the intense environment that the simulation allowed. The need to improve “civ-mil” relations is essential to advancing best practices for humanitarian and peacebuilding outcomes. The military’s presence provided the necessary authenticity for the students to learn about working in conflict prone environments.
As a community based activity, Atlantic Promise worked with local partners including local government and businesses to support the exercise. Fellsmere residents played the roles of civilians, while Fellsmere businesses provided the venues and meals for the exercise. In that way, the presence of the exercise, helped advance in the
Fellsmere community the goals that the simulation was designed to promote with students.
The Forage Center is thankful for support for the exercise from the City of Fellsmere, Operation Hope of Greater Florida, American Red Cross- South Florida Chapter, Marsh Landing Restaurant, U.S. Army – 436th Civil Affairs Battalion, United Service Foundation, Karl Forage, Winny Smith, Jess-Bonnan White, and the tireless hours devoted by volunteers, returning graduate students, and content experts.
For those wanting more information about Atlantic Promise or the work of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education, Inc. contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Planning will start soon for the March 2017 exercise.