You may be aware that I am about to embark upon my first embed...aboard the USNS COMFORT. The COMFORT is one of the Navy's two hospital ships. This week I was asked about this deployment and upon learning that the ship was on a humanitarian mission the interviewer rolled their eyes and said, "Oh, so it is a vacation."
As we talked it was clear that the role of the COMFORT in the big picture of National Security was not apparent. I was saddened at the opinion, and lack of interest, of this interviewer. Ok, granted, the COMFORT is not on the front lines of battle in Afghanistan (um, a land-locked country) or anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Africa or supporting the air/sea assualt of other Navy vessels. But the humanitarian mission of the COMFORT is strategic and a key part of National Security. Scoffing?
What is National Security and what does it take to assure national security in the 21st century? In the old, cold war model national security was almost synonymous with a strong military. Today national security encompasses more than just 'shock and awe.'
Consider the piracy challenge filling the front page of today's news. We know the pirates are from Somali. We also know Somali is a country with a failed government. The government has not provided for the future of their people in four distinct areas; education, economy, safety and security. As a result, desparate times give way to desperate measures: lawlessnes and, in this case, piracy.
National Security necessitates not only a strong military but education and economic opportunities for a stable society. A nation's citizenry cannot advance without basic health and safety. If its citizenry is marked by poor nutrition and a lack of basic medical care and hygiene it cannot rise above the daily struggle of survival. If its citizenry lies in fear of in their homes from local thugs, again, how can a nation advance?
Our national security is affected by the more than the military strength and prowess of our enemies. It is also determined by the health, safety, security and economy of our neighbors.
The work of the USNS COMFORT and the non-governmental organizations(NGO) partnering with the Navy in "Continuing Promise 2009" is a vital part of national security. Contributing to the overal health and safety of a community strengthens that community, and contributes to the overall health and strength of that nation.
Ok, ok, I know the perspective still remains that a strong military equals national security. And I'll grant you that a humanitarian mission is not wrought with the same dangers as a boots-on-the-ground mission in Afghanistan. But in terms of the contribution to the health and welfare of not only these communities, but their nations and our nation - well, national security is far, far more than guns and the COMFORT is at the tip of these efforts.