From the Liberal Arts to International Diplomacy: A Dartmouth Student Veteran’s Journey to the U.S. State Department

Imagine collaborating with government leaders in a developing country, supporting foreign military forces in fighting criminal organizations, confronting the challenges of corruption and poverty, while also adapting to a new culture, language, and country. I had all these responsibilities and more working in the Economic and Political Affairs Division of the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala in the Spring of 2018.

These responsibilities may seem daunting; however, with the discipline and perseverance I acquired through U.S. military service and my education at Dartmouth College’s Master of Liberal Studies (MALS) program, I felt confident in my ability to make a positive impact on the diplomatic mission in the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala.

My journey towards the U.S. State Department began in the South China Sea. In 2014 tensions surrounding territorial and maritime disputes rose to new heights and in a series of U.S. Naval deployments, my ship supported strategic security patrols with partnering nations in the region. This frontline perspective on the national security dynamics of the issue piqued my interest in understanding the historical and diplomatic undercurrents that created the need for the military strategy. It was this curiosity that fueled my motivation to transition from the U.S. Navy to Dartmouth to research diplomacy and international relations strategy.

My desire to serve in Guatemala was threefold: I wanted to understand America’s foreign policy and economic development strategy in Guatemala, and how it reduces the drivers of illicit human trafficking. This position would also give me the opportunity to understand the American diplomatic efforts and strategy to resolve a territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize. Finally, I wanted to gain the ability to organize and oversee classified and private discussions between senior political and military figures on both sides of the territorial dispute -- an experience that provided valuable insight into my thesis research at Dartmouth, which focuses on diplomatic resolutions in the territorial and maritime dispute in the South China Sea.

At the Embassy, I worked with a senior diplomat and various Guatemalan government development agencies in directing and executing the U.S. strategy for Central America, which is known as the Alliance for Prosperity Initiative (A4P). The ability to collaborate with both U.S. and Guatemalan government contacts gave me the chance to understand how to take broad policy initiatives and achieve those objectives through short term goals which I was responsible for. There are three pillars in the A4P strategy: promoting economic prosperity, enhancing security, and improving governance.

One of the most significant achievements that took place during my time in Guatemala pertained to the pillar of enhancing security. In an effort to de-escalate tensions and prevent future military clashes in the territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, in partnership with Guatemalan government leaders, launched a national referendum. Guatemalans voted to approve their nation’s objective to take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice to seek a legal resolution.

A topic of great debate in academia is the question of how the United States can strengthen democracies in developing countries. My role in the national referendum provided me with a front line understanding of the management difficulties in ensuring the successful completion of a national voting process. With the help of various US government agencies and NGOs, I was able to communicate specific expectations while providing resources to Guatemalan government agencies carrying out the national referendum. Our team was involved in organizing various inspections of the voting process in locations across Guatemala, and then compiled a report to the United Nations confirming the legitimacy of the vote. Fortunately, the successful partnership between US government agencies, NGO’s, and the Guatemalan government helped create a national referendum that met standards. The successful completion of the national referendum was a milestone achievement in pushing the peace process forward in the Guatemalan and Belizean territorial dispute.

A highlight of my experience was the supportive role the political affairs division played in organizing efforts in the humanitarian operation, known as Operation Continuing Promise, which is spearheaded by the U.S. military. The mission of Operation Continuing Promise is to help strengthen Guatemalan relations while improving the lives of Guatemalans. In the span of 16 days, U.S. military forces exceeded their goal of treating 5,000 Guatemalans by successfully providing life-saving medical surgeries, dental care, and preventative medicine to 8,000 Guatemalans. The experience provided a great lesson in overcoming the challenges of inter-institutional collaboration with various U.S. government institutions like the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense, while integrating those plans with a foreign government.

A significant amount of my success in Guatemala is due to the remarkable mentorship and words of wisdom in and outside the classroom that were provided to me by the faculty at Dartmouth. Professor Peter DeShazo ‘69, a former U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the U.S. State Department. His ability to share his professional experiences in Latin America in and outside the classroom allowed me to the ability to acquire a foundational political knowledge before arriving in Guatemala. In addition, the advice from former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Professor Rand Beers ’64, proved to be valuable insights he shared with me that prepared me for the complications I faced during my time in Guatemala on the challenges of implementing foreign policy.

I am incredibly grateful for the support, guidance, and encouragement that I have received at Dartmouth. My thanks to the MALS program, the Frank J. Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, and the Dartmouth veterans in the Great Class of 1956. I am also thankful to have worked with incredibly dedicated and intelligent diplomats in the US Foreign Service. Their example of service is truly an inspiration. Most of all, I am especially thankful to former President of the Dartmouth Uniformed Service Alumni (DUSA) Winnie Huang ‘92.

With great sadness, the Dartmouth veteran community is mourning the recent passing of Winnie Huang. Her valuable work has assisted numerous student veterans at Dartmouth in their pursuit of prestigious professional opportunities around the world. Without her friendship and mentorship, my success at Dartmouth would not be possible. In her honor, the Winnie W. Huang 1992 Memorial Fund has been established to continue her work in supporting Dartmouth veterans and celebrate Winnie’s passion. Winnie originally established an undergraduate and graduate fund to aid student veterans pursue professional development opportunities. The fund has now been renamed in her memory, with the ultimate goal of raising $100,000 to fully endow the fund so that Dartmouth veterans can benefit in perpetuity, ultimately fulfilling Winnie’s ongoing dream of supporting student veterans in pursuit of service.

As an immigrant, this country has given me so much, and as a grateful American, I want to give back. It has been a privilege to represent the U.S. government abroad and carrying forth Dartmouth’s long legacy of service and leadership. Dartmouth’s 12th President John Sloan Dickey championed for a Dartmouth keenly aware of the challenges facing the world. He stated, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” These words have continued to inspire me in pursuing a career in public service. I look forward to the additional challenges I will face, the insights I will gain, and the future this will provide. I am committed to doing my part in making our country and our world a better and safer place.