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Diplomacy in Action

Diplomatic Approach is Norfolk Man's Way to Help

December 27, 2007


Bureau of Public Affairs
Office of Public Liaison

Glenn Nye
Norfolk, Virginia

By Matthew Jones, The Virginian-Pilot, Staff Writer

[Reprinted with permission of The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Virginia granted permission August 19, 2009]

Glenn Nye returned home to Norfolk in November after a nine-month stay in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development. He helped run a program to find jobs for Iraqis. (Rich-Joseph Facun | The Virginian-Pilot)

During the past year, Glenn Nye had a ritual when the incoming mortar alarms sounded in Baghdad's Green Zone:

Get up. Get out of bed. Put on body armor. Wait until the coast was clear.

Nye, 33, returned home to Norfolk in November from a nine-month stint in Iraq with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

He helped run a program that sought to reduce violence by finding jobs for roughly 70,000 Iraqis countrywide. The recruits - mostly young men - refurbished schools and parks, collected trash and started small businesses.

Nye's position is the latest in a long line of jobs abroad.

After graduating from Norfolk Academy and Georgetown University, he worked for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the State Department, most recently in Singapore.

While his trade job there was interesting, he said, "I felt my skills could be used better elsewhere."

So in 2003, Nye headed to Afghanistan with USAID to help with the country's constitutional convention.

By 2005, he was in the West Bank, working on community development projects. Through this work, Nye learned diplomatic and organization skills he felt he could use elsewhere. When that job ended last year, he considered his options.

Iraq loomed large. The country itself was dangerous.

The politics, both home and abroad, were charged. The question most people asked him as he considered going was some variant of: "Why would you want to get involved in that mess?"

"Deciding to work there was the most difficult choice I've made," he said. "I almost felt I'd be shirking my duty not to go."

After training, he headed to Iraq in February. He arrived at the Baghdad airport, where he was herded onto an armored bus and given a quick lesson on what to do if it came under fire.

"That's the moment it starts to settle in," he said.

Nye's work regularly took him out of the Green Zone to military bases around the country. He said his worst fear was not being killed by a roadside bomb - which would be final but quick - but being kidnapped and putting his family through what could be a prolonged nightmare. All the while, he tried his best to pacify them.

"You tell them that it's not as bad as it looks on TV," he said. Still, there were real mortars landing daily in the Green Zone, which meant Nye would be on the phone with his parents as a warning siren sounded.

"I'd say, 'Well, I gotta get down right now and put on my helmet, but I'll call you back.' "

Their fears doubled when Nye's younger brother, Kent, finished up an Army tour and began working for Nye's USAID program. He will be there until next summer.

"I think, overall, they were proud of us," Nye said. "We had a great deal of support."

While in Iraq, Nye served alongside military civil affairs officers. The key to this relationship, he said, has been learning to work together.

While the military controls security in the country, governmental groups oversee policy and development work. Without security, there can be no development, Nye said. But without development, the turmoil will never end.

"The work the military does is tougher than what we do as civilians," he said. He equally praised the Iraqis who risked their lives working with the Americans.

USAID had its American workers keep a low profile in an effort to lessen the danger to their Iraqi colleagues.

The local staff suffered violence weekly, some of it deadly. Several were killed while Nye was in Iraq, probably because of their U.S. involvement.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence has shown Nye's program to be a success, he said. Demand for the jobs has outstripped supply, and captured fighters have said they would have worked for less money in a peaceful job if one had been available.

The overall goal, Nye said, is for Iraq to support itself.

"We're trying to do our best to stabilize," he said. "At some point, we need to decide where it ends."

It might have ended for Nye. Now that his USAID contract is over, he's speaking at local schools about foreign affairs careers and mulling his options.

"At some point, you say it's time to come back home."

Having worked in diplomacy for a decade, Nye has seen the impact one can have by executing policy. But he's also seen the need to influence the debate from within, which is why he's considering political office.

"I've become more realistic about the way the foreign policy process works," he said. "I'm not cynical - it's just that the decisions in D.C. have so much impact in the world."

The Virginian-Pilot
© December 27, 2007

Released on December 27, 2007

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