Kate McFarland (2010-11)
I could not have asked for a more rewarding or challenging experience after graduating from James Madison University! The Frasure, Kruzel, Drew Memorial HD Fellowship was an amazing opportunity to learn about international policy and domestic politics in a professional environment. As Fellow, I represented the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement as a speaker at universities, Embassies, conferences, and public-sector events. I was able to travel to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, and to share my stories on the Department of State blog. My most exciting accomplishment was organizing and managing a budget for a multi-million dollar program during a tight fiscal year. The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement fosters an environment for young professionals to learn and grow, and I am proud to say that I am a product of the Fellowship experience. Thank you JMU and DoS for allowing an eager student to become a contributing adult.
(Photo courtesy of Kate McFarland. Kate visiting an implementing partner, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD), in Sri Lanka. The women in the picture are taking a break from conducting Battle Area Clearance. Rachel Sorey, a colleague from USAID, is also in the picture)
Elise Becker (2006-07)
I am the 2006-2007 JMU Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Humanitarian Demining Fellow to the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the Political Military Bureau of the State Department. The past year has been an amazing post-undergrad experience that I cannot imagine I could get anywhere else.
I came upon an announcement for this Fellowship in a geography class during my last semester at JMU. I was set to graduate with a BA in International Affairs in December, and wasn't quite sure what line of work I wanted to pursue. I'd worked as an unpaid summer intern at the Foreign Service Institute of the State Department in 2004 and I decided to apply for the (paid) Fellowship position because I had had a positive experience working at FSI; and the landmine issue fit well with what I had studied at JMU.
When I arrived, I worked for most of summer in the Resource Management section. My duties there included processing grant documents and providing grantees with necessary registration information. I helped organize two workshops that aimed to familiarize grant recipient organizations with the grant award process. In the final push to obligate the Fiscal Year 2006 funding before the end of the fiscal year, I helped to award the remaining FY06 grants.
During that time I also made a trip to Murten, Switzerland for a conference sponsored by the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD). The GICHD is responsible for the Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA): a system that coordinates and manages information related to mine-action activities conducted by in-country operators. This information can be shared with other operators, governments and the public. The purpose of the conference in Murten was to share the latest updated version of IMSMA with donors. The conference was a great way for me to become more familiar with mine action, as well as to provide the opportunity for testing IMSMA Version 4.
During the summer, and more full-time during the fall, I moved into a programmatic role, which is where I have remained for the duration of my Fellowship. I assisted the WRA Program Manager in creating and implementing the WRA Humanitarian Mine Action Plan for Senegal, a new program in FY07. This entailed initially collecting research on Senegal's mine/UXO and small arms/light weapons (SA/LW) contamination. International NGO Handicap International had just completed an Emergency Landmine Impact Survey in the Casamance region of Senegal, which is where the contamination lies. Using this information, as well as previous reports from USG assessment visits to the country, I helped to decide where the FY07 Senegal funds would be best spent and incorporated that information into a country plan of assistance. In the process of implementing the country plan elements over the next nine months, I established contacts with NGOs and Embassy officials; which included eliciting a proposal from an international NGO for a mine-clearance project. My program management activities culminated in May, when I conducted a Management Assessment Visit with another WRA Program Manager to Senegal as well as Guinea-Bissau, another new-start country program.
The portion of the trip to Senegal ended up being more diplomatic than programmatic, as political considerations had thus far prevented the mine-clearance project from getting off the ground. The majority of our time in Senegal was spent informing the various stakeholders of the pending demining project to ensure that everyone who needed to be was in some way included in the project process. In Guinea-Bissau we visited several sites where WRA is funding a variety of projects. These projects include the training of national NGOs in clearance techniques and Emergency Ordnance Disposal, the continuation of a nationwide landmine impact survey, clearance efforts, and a project that harvests explosives to be used in bulk demolitions.
The trip was an amazing experience that drove home the importance of the work that is done at WRA. Senegal and Guinea-Bissau both have relatively manageable mine and ERW contamination, but they are not on the forefront of the worldwide donor radar screen, despite the fact that the contamination negatively impacts the daily lives of many people. Everyone we met in both countries was grateful that the USG was contributing funds to alleviate the problem.
Throughout the year I also helped organize several WRA-hosted conferences. Two separate grant workshops informed grantees of the grant award process and their roles within it. I also helped organize a Strategic Organizational Development Workshop for the Afghanistan Mine Action Program that took place in Dubai. In preparation for the conference, I assembled a list of participants and issued invitations. I also drafted letters for participants needing visas, drafted country clearance cables, and helped coordinate the hotel arrangements. My role during the conference was to take minutes and tend to last-minute logistics. I learned a lot about the Afghanistan program while in Dubai, and was able to meet a wide variety of actors in the mine-action world.
I had the opportunity to take several courses, which were very important in furthering my understanding of processes both within WRA and the mine-action community at large. I completed two courses on Grants and Cooperative Agreements. I also spent a week at the Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The courses I took at HDTC provided me with a clear picture of the technical, in-field practices and standards for mine and unexploded ordnance detection and clearance. I was extremely glad to have had the courses; particularly at the HDTC because it provided me with a visual of the operations that WRA funding supports.
Over the past year, the opportunities that WRA has provided me have created a solid baseline of knowledge and experience in the mine-action field. In particular, I feel that my duties as assistant Program Manager to Senegal furthered a set of job skills that I am especially interested in expanding. I will be continuing my employment at a nonprofit WRA partner in the mine-action field. I am extremely grateful to both JMU and WRA for offering the Fellowship program, and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work there. The Fellowship has served me very well and I would recommend it to everyone.
Photo caption: Elise Becker with a group of village chiefs in the Casamance, Senegal.
Jennifer Lachman (2005-06)
It was already halfway through my senior year at JMU, and I still didn't know what I wanted to do after graduation. As an International Affairs and French major in the College of Arts and Letters, my future career path didn't seem as fixed and clear-cut as those of my peers in the more professionally-oriented Colleges of Business, ISAT, and Education. I explored various options, including work in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, international travel, and further study. After several weeks of deliberation, I thought I would never reach a final decision, until I received an e-mail from the Political Science Department about MAIC's Frasure-Kruzel-Drew Humanitarian Demining Fellowship at the U.S. State Department.
As I read through the specifics of the position, I couldn't believe my eyes. This fellowship seemed a perfect combination of all the elements I desired for a postgraduate experience. I would be working in the public sector at State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), while also working closely with the PM/WRA's non-profit and private partners. Furthermore, I would have the possibility to travel abroad for a policy assessment visit, be it to South America, Africa, the Balkans, Central or Southeast Asia. I also saw the fellowship as a continuation of my education, as I would have the opportunity to learn new information about a complex and dynamic international issue, all while keeping close ties to and representing James Madison University.
And the position was paid? That was it, my decision was made.
After having served the fellowship for nearly seven months now, I can honestly say that this position has not only met, but has far exceeded, all of my expectations. When I first began in May, PM/WRA had recently received a number of proposals from international, non-governmental, and private organizations for humanitarian mine action activities in response to a formal Request for Applications (RFA). Throughout this process, I coordinated procedures for senior management to review these proposals, maintained records of the Proposal Review Board's deliberations, and assisted the financial team in processing all paperwork necessary for grant disbursement. These initial tasks provided a good introduction to the range of activities funded by PM/WRA and to the procedures involved in selecting and funding such programs.
For the next several months, and the majority of my time at PM/WRA, I worked closely with the Deputy Director and Program Managers of the office's humanitarian mine action (HMA) program. The U.S. HMA program develops, implements, and manages humanitarian mine action programs to help relieve human suffering and build an indigenous mine action capacity in selected countries. PM/WRA currently supports HMA programs in 17 countries worldwide. Prior to the start of each fiscal year, HMA Program Managers are responsible for crafting country plans for each of their designated countries. These plans detail the goals and objectives of the program and contain a prioritized funding request for mine action projects that the Program Manager has chosen to support. To assist in this procedure, I worked with the Program Manager for Sudan to craft the Fiscal Year 2006 Country Plan.
Developing the Sudan Country Plan began with thorough research of the history of Sudan's conflict, the resulting landmine problem, and the current mine action program. Together with the Program Manager, I next reviewed and analyzed a number of proposals that we had received as funding requests for mine action activities in Sudan. The culmination of this preparatory work, and the highlight of my fellowship term, came with a two-week mine assessment trip to Sudan.
During this trip I traveled throughout Sudan to visit and assess several mine action programs that we were currently supporting and to assess the extent of Sudan's landmine problem through first hand observation and meetings with national and international mine action authorities and organizations on the ground. I had the opportunity to attend a mine risk education (MRE) session in South Sudan, where local villagers were informed about the threat of landmines and the safe procedures to adopt in order to avoid these risks. I also attended a demolition demonstration, at which an international mine action organization destroyed explosive remnants of war (ERW) and unexploded ordnance (UXO) that they had collected throughout villages in the south. I walked through a real, live minefield to observe the steps involved in manual demining operations.
My trip to Sudan was an invaluable experience for a number of different reasons. It was of great professional worth, because it allowed me to conduct the field research necessary to write the Sudan Country Plan upon my return and further to witness the result on the ground of PM/WRA's hard work and dedication. It was an amazing cultural experience, because I had the opportunity to interact with many local Sudanese men and women and to earn a better understanding and appreciation for their history, society, and traditions. Lastly this trip was of immense personal value, because it challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I had never dreamed of. And as a result, it made me a stronger person.
I returned to the office several weeks before HMA Country Plans were scheduled to be presented and assessed by a review board consisting of the Office Director and Deputy Directors. During this time I finalized the FY06 HMA Country Plan for Sudan and presented it to the board for approval. I also served as the secretary of the review board, attending and recording the board's discussions and recommendations as the 17 country plans were presented by the Program Managers.
In several weeks my fellowship term will come to an end. However, I won't be moving far from PM/WRA, neither in distance nor in line of work. I will be working in Washington D.C. for Mines Advisory Group America (MAG America), one of PM/WRA's partner NGOs. This position, therefore, not only provided me with 7 months of the best postgraduate experience I could have hoped for but further with a future career in an industry that I have come to appreciate and respect.
Photo caption: Jennifer and several representatives from Embassy Khartoum all geared up to enter a minefield.