USAID is proud that today over 750 veterans have continued to serve the American people by joining our Agency. On this Veteran’s day, we value their resiliency and selflessness and we pay tribute to their stories.

Author Mirko Crnkovich  is Deputy Chief, in Plans and Liaison Division of the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation.

I served in the military as an Army officer for 10½ years. My first exposure to USAID didn’t occur until my ninth year of service when I was in Afghanistan along the Pakistan border in Paktika province. I was one of the first special operations team leaders with a USAID officer assigned directly to my team, which was conducting civil affairs in an effort to help stabilize the greater Bermel Valley area.

Mirko Crnkovich during his tour in Afghanistan. Photo Credit: USAID

I honestly had no idea what this USAID civilian was doing in my area of operations, what he was supposed to accomplish, or how he hoped to achieve his objectives – and quite frankly I had no desire to babysit him. Looking back, my ignorance was embarrassing, but was no fault of my own – I simply hadn’t been properly trained or educated on what my civilian counterparts brought to the effort. I had no awareness about what USAID was or did, nor did I have an understanding of what it was doing in Afghanistan.

What I learned from that great USAID officer—a core development principle; that it wasn’t the “what” that we did that was important, it was the HOW; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring the local population was directly involved in all of our efforts—directly led me to leave the military, and ultimately, to join USAID in 2008 as a civil servant, allowing me to continue my service to the United States in USAID’s Office of Civilian-Military Cooperation. What I realized is that our military is not properly trained or resourced to effectively conduct stability operations – and neither are our civilian agencies.

Yet both sides bring incredible dedication and capabilities. My greatest epiphany was that my USAID counterpart and I were exponentially more successful when we worked together, hand-in-hand, to achieve our objectives, than when working unilaterally. I wanted to take that experience and find a place where I could leverage my experiences, serving as a Rosetta Stone between my military and civilian colleagues in an effort to better synchronize USAID and Department of Defense efforts – both in D.C., and in the field – and to make each better and more effective.

Increasing the respect and understanding between our civilian and military partners is what I strive to do every day, and the successes are rewarding. I miss the military daily, but not a day has gone by that I have regretted my choice. I am incredibly proud to be a member of the USAID family, and even prouder still of the work we do around the world on a daily basis.