Cadet takes her leadership know how to mountains of Macedonia
The country of “Atlantica” has collapsed into civil war with two groups fiercely competing for control of the country. Refugees are fleeing the conflict and face hunger, disease and despair. To settle the conflict and help restore order, an international organization arranged a very fragile ceasefire and established a neutral zone between the opposing forces. But violations of the neutral zone occur daily and peacekeepers mandated to serve as international observers are still days, if not weeks, from arriving on the scene.
A non-governmental humanitarian organization agreed to send personnel into the neutral zone to establish a field hospital and refugee camp. The warring parties have offered only fleeting acceptance of the humanitarian teams. One warring group raids the humanitarian camp and kidnaps several of the aid workers – what do you do Cadet Jessica Maas?
For two weeks in May, Maas faced this challenge in the Republic of Macedonia, a country in the central Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe that declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. She and others were involved in the two-week international program designed to provide students with hands-on experience working with a humanitarian team in the midst of civil conflict.
Each year one student from the Multinational Peacekeeping course in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice is selected to participate in an international program related to the course. Classroom knowledge is applied to an internship or a challenging field exercise that is partially funded by The Citadel Foundation.
Maas is a political science major with a concentration in international politics and military affairs. A member of the Class of 2011, she is a Gold Star student from Richmond, Texas, who also is a member of Lima Company and The Citadel volleyball team.
Under the direction of the Consortium for Humanitarian Service and Education, Maas and students from several American and Macedonian universities formed a humanitarian team dispatched to the mythical country of “Atlantica” as it tears itself apart in a civil war. The mission was to establish humanitarian aid for the refugees fleeing the crisis. The program is hosted at a Macedonian army base and Macedonian soldiers play the roles of the opposing groups in the civil war.
“To accomplish our mission, we went through hours of training and classes to understand how to carry out our job effectively,” Maas said. “Some of the things we learned were first aid, negotiation, stress management, mine probing, convoy operations, logistics, land navigation, and public relations.”
All of it was applied in seemingly real life situations.
“In one situation during the first week, several of our team members were kidnapped. I went out on a negotiation team to try to get permission from the opposition forces to enter the Mucansi village, which was under their control,” Maas said. “We hiked up a mountain in the middle of the night to get to the meeting point and everything was going well. Then suddenly we heard gunfire and had to run down the mountain! The opposition leaders were not happy that we had compromised them and blamed it all on us. They threatened to shoot us and we had to stay calm and try to talk our way out of it.”
Maas said everyone learned a lot the first week, but that was just the first step in preparing to work an earthquake rescue, a river rescue, and establishment of an in-country camp for “Atlantica” refugees.
The stress grew her second week when Maas was given leadership responsibility as an incident commander, who was in charge of the entire humanitarian organization.
“One night I had to organize and delegate teams to man the camp, go on a prison visit to begin coordination for a prisoner exchange, and conduct a press conference. It was very stressful!” she said. “On a typical night I'd get about 4 to 5 hours of sleep but when you are the incident commander you are lucky to get a couple of hours.”
Maas said the program was an excellent opportunity to apply her leadership skills with her classroom knowledge of peacekeeping and humanitarian crisis response.
“This was a great experience,” she said. “I can't wait to get back to school to share what I have learned in Macedonia with my classmates and apply those things to my work in the classroom and on the volleyball court.”