Team Member – Dan Wagner

Director of U.S. Veterans’ Community Renewal Corps

Elements of Personal Testimony

Graduate School Studies
My first day of graduate studies at the Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government, was September 11, 2001.   The slate was wiped clean. The idea of security required an entire re-evaluation of what true security required, from the standpoint of physical security, economic security, cultural and spiritual unity. Our entire country had been shaken at the foundation.  Over 50 years of post Cold War security had ended.

I studied the emergence of Taliban rule and extremism in the Muslim world, particularly in Afghanistan.   My research led me to the conclusion that there had been a gap in stability, in community, as a result of decades of war with the Soviet Union.  The US was unable to sustain the security.  Community that was so vital to Afghan culture had been destroyed by the Soviets, enabling the exploitation of the Taliban and – subsequently – by Al Quaeda.  Loss of community led directly to the attacks on 9/11.

My core belief was that the security of human beings and communities came from within the community.  External impositions of security and dependence on external governments – whether the Soviet Union, or the US – were insufficient to foster sustainable community resilience and security.

Human  Security was the true model of community security, in which the community took ownership, healed itself through close relationships that led to internal economic, social, political stability.   My research was under the tutelage of Professor Antonia Chayes, whose daughter Sarah Chayes had been an NPR reporter in Afghanistan and whose husband served in the Kennedy Administration.   
Upon graduation, I went into the Marine Reserves intent on applying my research in the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq.   

Counterinsurgency doctrine written by Generals Mattis and Petraeus aligned with much of my thinking on human security.

Afghanistan (2003)
My first assignment was to implement the Regional Development Zone strategy, which established compounds in the midst of the most unstable cities of Afghanistan. This strategy was applied by the British and modified by Lieutenant General David Barno. He asked me to work to assess the impact of the Regional Development Zone in various cities in the country.

Human security principles applied from my previous research, where security was to be achieved from within. The Regional Development Zones were similar in concept to the CRI version of the Friendship Houses. The RDZs were islands of stability that served as hubs of renewal, where multiple capabilities such as health, employment, education, and social services were consolidated and offered to the community.

We stablished measures of effect aligned with police reform/justice, economic development, education reform, and health reform. These measures were important to focus limited resources on addressing roots of instability in the Afghan communities.

Ramadi, Iraq

Served as a Civil Affairs Officer in the heart of the Sunni triangle, where al Quaeda was intent on destroying community.   

December 2005 – there were two elections that strengthened community and prospects of peace, as the citizens of Ramadi sought a voice in their own destiny.   I experienced how preparing the community for the election depended on how the citizens took ownership of their own election security.  Elections occurred peacefully and successfully in Ramadi in mid-December 2005.
On December 27, 2005, we were planning to support the community by restoring supplies and needed construction at a Women’s Pregnancy Center.   The local elders had requested that we assist in this effort.   During the early stages of the mission, there was a mortar attack on our position.   I was badly wounded in the neck, when shrapnel pierced my neck about 1/4” inch from my carotid artery.   My Marines carried me to the helicopter for surgery in Balad, Iraq and Ram Stein, Germany.


Served as a Detachment Commander for a civil affairs detachment of 50 Marines, assigned in Helmand Province, a very unstable and volatile region of Southern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan.  This deployment was in response to the “surge” in 2011, a controversial deployment of more forces into a region that was heavily infiltrated by Taliban.   

Community stability was focused on economic development and education.

My most profound experience was escorting a district governor to his new district.  There was an attack on Taliban forces in this area the evening prior to our arrival.   The Governor and I met in this open courtyard, where we discussed plans to have a reconciliation ceremony for a young man who had been fighting for the Taliban but was captured.   While waiting for the reconciliation ceremony, the elders of the village gathered with the governor.  

 I had a rosary with me, with the Christian crucifix.   I was praying for peace for this man and for healing of the community. The District Governor had never seen an American pray.  I explained my rosary and he shared with me the Muslim prayer beads he kept with him to pray to Allah the 99 prayers.  We sought and found common ground and learned from one another that faith is a binding force, even between Christians and  Muslims.

When the reconciliation ceremony began, the Governor indicated that he and I had a common bond in faith in God.  The elders were able to see a foreigner in a different light, the light of faith.   We ended the ceremony offering the young man work and a chance to heal his community.  This event had a great impact on me because I realize that the elders of a community, the vital connections within that community, were key to healing and reconciling that man to his core community and family.  Once again, it proved to me that security can only be achieved within the community and not imposed from outside, whether by government programs or foreign actors.

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