Excellencies, Ministers, Admiral Burke, General Masovic, General Officers, Distinguished guests, and all our friends and followers watching on line, Dobro Dan and Good Morning! Thank you for honouring me with your time today as I turn over the NATO Headquarters Sarajevo mission to Brigadier General Eric Folkestad.
As a commander you learn so much about your organization, your mission and yourself. So leaving command is something one does reluctantly. I am finding it even more difficult to depart a position such as this - the command of an organization and a mission as unique as NATO Headquarters Sarajevo. But the time has come to say farewell.
But before I do I want to share some of what I've learned - about Bosnia and Herzegovina, its people and the mission here.
It's been said that if you think you understand Bosnia and Herzegovina, then you probably haven't been fully briefed. So I will make no claim that I fully understand BiH. But I have learned much. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that possesses beautiful landscapes, a rich history, fascinating culture and resilient people. The potential of this country is truly great.
Of those treasures found here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the resilience of this country and its people is the most valuable, I think. Over decades and indeed centuries, this country and its people have endured so much. And that resilience echoes through everything else I've learned in this position. I believe the rest of the world can learn from the resilience of Bosnian and Herzegovinian
Photo: NATO Headquarters Sarajevo
I've learned how to be a friend to Soldiers – current and former Soldiers – who demonstrate their resiliency and despite the scarcity of resources, find a way to accomplish their mission, often with little recognition from the political elites. This September's NATO evaluation level 1 event of the Light Infantry Battalion Group is a great example of what the AFBiH can achieve. Despite the COVID environment, the Armed Forces put on an exercise to further their long term goal of declaring that unit for future peace support operations – to increase the BiH contribution to the global security environment. The exercise was a major success to demonstrate the interoperability of the battalion with NATO forces and it was the largest battalion to have gone through the NATO Operational Capabilities Concept program. Truly a significant milestone. I want to thank those Soldiers and all the Soldiers of the AFBiH for their commitment to their units and to this country. Together they make up an institution in BiH where the political and ethnic divisions are unseen.
For myself, I've learned how to be a colleague amongst a diplomatic community that works every day to realize positive change here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I want to thank that community of diplomats who have helped me during my tenure, but more importantly for all they do for BiH. Their persistence despite frequent setbacks and impasses show they too have found how to harvest the resiliency of this place.
I've also learned how important partnership and cooperation is. A year ago I said in my speech at this same podium that if you want to go far you need to go together. And this year has borne that out as truth. The challenges facing this country are many. And it's only been through cooperation and partnership that we have had successes.
Think about this: a little over a week ago we marked the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. That agreement itself is the result of cooperation - the cooperation of former warring parties - and brought 25 years of peace and a path for a hopeful future. And this is not a false hope.
Since Dayton, several Defense Reforms have been achieved that would not have been possible without the cooperation and collective effort of all actors in BiH. The Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina is one product of those reforms and is a model institution in the country.
But many challenges remain. The AF BiH remains significantly under resourced – a result of the lack of cooperation in recent years.
Photo: NATO Headquarters Sarajevo
The infrastructure in the barracks here is one example. It is not what a modern Armed Forces needs to succeed in its mission. When officers sit shivering in their offices without heat, and Soldiers live in barracks – also shivering - without acceptable plumbing, one must ask how can defense reforms be made in this environment and how can we modernize this force on such limited resources. I think the only way we can advance these reforms is to continue to press for improved cooperation and support for the institution of the AF of BiH. And I ask for your continued help in that effort.
And that brings me to what I've learned about our mission here and the role of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo. Contemporary security challenges such as natural disasters, crime, illegal migration, and terrorist activities cross boundaries and require a coordinated approach to tackle. So our mission and NATO's capabilities as an alliance, reinforces the importance of partnership and cooperation.
No better example this past year exists than the COVID-19 response. The worldwide pandemic was without a doubt the signature event of this past year. Its impact is almost incalculable with loss of life and economic disruption across the globe. But I'm proud that NATO and its member states and partners, through its Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center were able to support not only themselves, but also support BiH as a partner country. Through dozens of donations either bi-laterally or in conjunction with the EADRCC we were able to make an impact. We modeled partnership and cooperation in the face of the signature cross border security threat of this year. That partnership between NATO Headquarters Sarajevo and BiH will continue on that front and on others.
Admiral Burke, I again want to thank you for your trust these past several months. Eric, good luck to you as you take this organization into its next chapter. Excellencies, Ministers, General Officers, Soldiers and friends, thank you for your support during my tenure as Commander NATO Headquarters Sarajevo. I may not fully understand Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I have learned so much from you all. I only hope I contributed as much as I have learned.