After 35 years as a Marine, Frank Gunter
, associate professor of economics, has been immersed in both military and civilian culture. So, Gunter was a natural choice for a discussion on disparities between the armed forces and civilian organizations approaches to economic development in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“I have a foot in both cultures. I am a civilian, but I’ve been in the reserves, and since 9/11 I’ve done three-and-a-half years active duty. So, I speak both languages,” Gunter says.
On April 1-3, Gunter discussed these differences with other experts in an online forum hosted by the Web site microLINKS
, which was created to encourage knowledge sharing intended to enhance USAID-funded micro-enterprise programs.
Although face-to-face conversations allow for more fluid discussion, the online format allowed comments from academics in universities, military officials in Afghanistan, experts in microfinance living in the United States, military analysts in Kansas, and USAID officers.
“We could have never gotten those people around the same table,” he says.
Gunter monitored the April 1 discussion, posing questions and directing the flow of conversation. Ironically, that exact same date was also Gunter’s first official day as a civilian in three-and-a-half decades. A Marine reservist, he served in Iraq from 2005 to 2006. For the second half of his 13-month assignment, he worked as the Chief of the Economics Division, Multi-National Force.
“One of the things that I think frustrated us was the difficulty and challenges in coordinating activity between the military and civilian,” he says.
“Both groups are very smart people, very hard-working people, but they have different ways of thinking about problems.”
In two months, Gunter will return to Iraq as one of the Army’s advisors on economic development.
“The opportunity of going back to advise on economic policy for a country that is going through so many changes like Iraq has is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fortunately, my wife saw it the same way and she’s letting me go,” says Gunter, who plans to teach economics again in 2009.
“There is a culture gap”
While Gunter was last on duty, interactions between civilian and military groups were being formalized with the creation of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. These civilian-military groups are charged with establishing good governance and fostering economic growth. As of Dec. 2007, 28 PRTs were located in all 18 of Iraq’s provinces, according to the U.S. embassy in Iraq.
To open last week’s discussion forum on PRTs, Gunter listed stereotypes of both military and civilian organizations, such as the military’s mission-oriented focus and the civilian organizations emphasis on collaboration and research.
Often the armed forces approaches problems for a short-term perspective, Gunter says. “They are there to win a war, and the day after the president says, ‘Okay, time to leave,’ they’re gone,” he says.
Meanwhile, the Department of State, NGOs and international non-governmental organizations prefer to act slowly and cautiously. “They trying to build and maintain a fruitful relationship with this country for decades, for generations,” says Gunter.
These differing goals generate friction when the two groups seek to address the countries’ economic woes. The military uses monetary aid as a means of ending the unrest, but these quick fixes could injure the civilian organizations aims of creating a sustainable economic system.
Gunter explains, “I think there is a culture gap. I think the gap can be bridged, but it’s going to require effort on both sides.”
As the week progressed, participants suggested ways the two groups could learn each others’ cultures and work together.
First, Gunter says, the goals must be coordinated at the top-most levels in Washington D.C. and across the other troop-sending countries, such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia and Poland.
“It was interesting to hear the response from some of the Washington folks, where they said, “That’s a great idea, but nobody has the time for that,” says Gunter. “I’m wondering if the time saved in Washington isn’t being lost in Iraq or Afghanistan. Because the basic coordination about the goals isn’t being resolved at a very high level, people at my level are arguing over it out in the field.”
Others suggested training programs or an exchange of personnel to teach the two groups about the other.
Hank Nichols, a former USAID officer and professor at the U.S. Army War College, mentioned that military officers wounded on the field were placed in offices in the Department of State and USAID to learn about the civilian organizations while they heal.
Gunter believes that this officer-sharing will strengthen both organizations.
“I thought that (placing a wounded officer in a civilian organization) was fantastic. Here is a person who has been there and knows what’s happening on the ground and is quite possibly the best person to help them develop a better relationship,” says Gunter.
Similarly, when Marine-turned-professor returns to Iraq in June as a civilian, he says he half seriously expects to act as a translator between the armed forces and their civilian counterparts.
“Hopefully, I’ll show up dressed in my khaki trousers, long sleeve shirt and Brooks Brothers necktie and the civilians will think I’m civilian and then when they hear me talk, they’ll think I’m military,” he says.