USAID 50th anniversary banner

I was 15 when I watched on CNN as Somali clansmen dragged U.S. servicemembers through the mangled streets of Mogadishu.  Throughout my adult life, I’ve watched, studied, and participated in subsequent U.S. interventions in failed and fragile states. Yesterday, I spoke at the USGLC Annual Conference-Investing in the Future: A Smart Power Approach to Global Leadership, explaining just that.

In 2003, I deployed with a battalion task force of nearly one-thousand soldiers to eastern Afghanistan.  I had the fortune of leading a platoon of infantrymen and witnessed first-hand the enormity of the development deficit faced by Afghans in the wake of more than two decades of violence.   It was also this point in my life I began to ask myself whether there was a way to pre-emptively address development challenges around the world so that there would be fewer instances in the future where we had to risk the use of military force.  Ultimately that question led me to USAID.

The two clasped hands in USAID’s logo exemplify the motto “From the American People,” but I’ve learned that our assistance also derives benefits for the American people.  Development assistance helps keep our country safe, helps to develop the markets of tomorrow, and demonstrates America’s moral leadership around the world.

For example, in 2010, six years after the devastating civil war, southern Sudan was preparing to vote for its independence.  No one could guarantee the referendum would proceed peacefully, if it proceeded at all.  In August 2010, five months before the referendum was slated to begin, many were still convinced it would not take place, but our development assistance made a crucial difference.  USAID helped establish facilities for the referendum’s operations; secured voter registration cards; and helped to train Sudanese poll workers to register voters.  USAID also provided lanterns so poll workers could count ballots into the night.  The results of the referendum have since been officially counted and this week’s historic celebration of independence is a success-story USAID can take pride in helping to make happen.

USAID is in places like southern Sudan today to strengthen democracies, rebuild livelihoods, and improve health and educational systems so that we do not have to risk our troops tomorrow.   I’m honored to be a veteran who served my country in Afghanistan and I’m thankful for the opportunity serve the American people today at USAID.   I can say from experience that targeted development assistance is an investment today that can reduce the probability of a military intervention tomorrow, risking our economic prosperity, and the lives of troops I once led.

USAID’s clasped hands are not only symbolic of our assistance throughout the world, but also a symbol of America’s commitment to the American people.  Development is a smart investment for our economic and national security and puts American values into action—the very values that drew me to serve the Army and USAID.

Craig Mullaney served as an Army infantry officer in Afghanistan from 2003-2004 and currently serves as a Special Advisor in USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures,