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Support America's veterans every day by investing in development and diplomacy

Tim Farrell | The Hill

For me, Nov. 11 is a day of reflection, honoring those who have served our country as we continue to strive toward the aspirations of global peace that spurred the proclamation of Veterans Day. As someone whose post-service professional life affords him the privilege of working with my fellow veterans and the groups that serve them, this aspiration is a constant drumbeat.

When I talk with other vets, discussion often turns to American foreign policy and how it affects our troops abroad and those coming home. As Americans, it is important we honor the sacrifices of servicemembers not just on Veterans Day, but every day, by continuing to invest in the diplomatic and development efforts bringing stability, security—and ideally peace—to more corners of our world.

Most veterans I meet agree: American’s investment in diplomacy and development pays significant dividends for our troops and our nation. It’s why I am proud to serve in the Veterans for Smart Power (VSP) initiative, meeting with federal lawmakers to urge they maintain the bipartisan tradition of funding a full foreign policy toolbox.

Each time, I find myself reflecting on compelling observation one of my VSP colleagues made on a Capitol Hill visit, which perfectly articulated America’s longstanding, bipartisan commitment to balancing development, diplomacy, and defense to achieve our foreign policy goals:

“I’ve never deployed with a gun anywhere the Peace Corps went to first.”

Based on my more than two decades of service as an American Airman, this rings true. My experience on three deployments to the Middle East reinforced how combining these efforts, alongside our defense capabilities, creates the conditions for lasting gains in regional security, national security, and economic security.

While America’s military force gets most of the attention—and deservedly so—the dedicated civilians serving our State Department and managing American aid programs truly serve as a largely unsung first line of defense: keeping deadly diseases from reaching our shores, tackling the drivers of migration, and supporting efforts to resolve conflict and instability without military intervention.

These efforts, which include renowned successes like our PEPFAR program in Africa and the Marshall plan that rebuilt Europe, represent a tremendous cost savings over military deployment. For every dollar America spends in conflict prevention, we save 16 in deployment costs. Even more surprising fully-funded foreign affairs programming is sustained by just a single penny out of every dollar of federal spending—not 20 percent as some wrongly contend.

In short, the three-pronged approach of development, diplomacy, and defense is more than just effective–it creates tremendous value for American taxpayers, while keeping our troops out of harm’s way more often.

For me, the second part is what’s most important. As a leader in the military, you are responsible for the mission and for the safety of those under your command. In my experience, at a micro-level, there was a direct connection between taking off our helmets and sunglasses, building relationships with people often simply trying to feed their families—and not getting shot at.

At the macro-level, the same is true. America should maintain its longstanding, bipartisan commitment to collaboration on diplomacy and development before turning to military force. Otherwise, we risk antagonizing our friends and emboldening enemies.

When we go in with smart power, bringing all of these tools together, not only are we likely to be more successful, but we also are setting the conditions for stability and security that foster closer friendships, better alliances, and a more prosperous global economy.

In my new role as the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Veteran Service Organizations, this issue is particularly close to me. The best way for America to take care of its veterans, especially our combat veterans, is by creating fewer of them and ensuring that there are ample opportunities for them in civilian life.

That’s why fostering stability and security around the globe must remain a bipartisan priority, if only to create the continued environment for improved national and economic security here at home. As America continues to entwine itself more and more with the global economy, investing in our foreign affairs capabilities to foster stability and security is imperative.

The only way to do that is to keep funding the diplomatic and development capabilities that rely on our international affairs budget; and I commend our congressional leaders, on both sides of the aisle, for continuing to make that a priority—for our communities, for our businesses, and most importantly, our veterans.

Tim Farrell is the Chief Executive Officer of NAVSO – the National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations. He served 23 years in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of Colonel and commanding four organizations, including his final tour of duty in Iraq as the Commander, 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Group. He proudly serves with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition as one of the nation’s Veterans For Smart Power.

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