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Area man works to mend military and civilian ties

January 08, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ


There's a simple way to explain Stephen Henthorne's work: Making sure the military gets along with civilians.

There also is a more complicated way, courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Army: "Subject Matter Expert in the areas of Civil-Military Operations, Post Conflict Stability, Resilience, Disaster & Humanitarian Support Operations," etc., etc.

Henthorne, a native of the Hancock area, said he could be thought of as a civilian acting as a negotiator for the military - with high stakes.

"NGOs (nongovernment organizations) don't like working with the military," Henthorne said during a phone interview last week from Alexandria, La., where he is based now, "and the military is not too warm and fuzzy about the NGOs. But they need each other."


If the two sides clash, war and its aftermath could drag on and change in scope, a phenomenon known as "mission creep," Henthorne explained.

"It's a little more critical because people get killed," he said.

Henthorne, who most recently lived locally in the Williamsport area, does similar civil-military work after natural disasters.

He has been called up for temporary work for the military - "mobility assignments" - about 25 times since he started in 1985, usually when a disaster hits, according to a list he provided.

Henthorne, 60, said the military brings in outside civilians to fill specialized positions, the same way a lawyer hires expert witnesses. They get GS, or government service, ratings and are considered employees for the length of their assignments, which usually are one to five years.

His first assignment was flood relief in Nepal for three months in 1985.

The next year, Henthorne worked on flood relief in California and western Nevada. He went to Cameroon after a mysterious, deadly wave of carbon dioxide. He traveled to El Salvador after an earthquake, then to Saipan in the Pacific Ocean after a typhoon.

Other disaster management and humanitarian assistance deployments were to Kuwait, Panama, Ecuador, India, Pakistan and at least four countries in Africa, as well as regions of the United States.

He has seen the aftermath of floods, earthquakes, typhoons and hurricanes, including Katrina and Rita last year.

Even on domestic assignments, without a war climate, the military and civilian contractors and agencies need conciliation, Henthorne said.

When Katrina and Rita hit, many National Guard members, trained in disaster relief, were fighting the war in Iraq, so the military filled in with combat-trained soldiers, such as the 82nd Airborne, Henthorne said.

The Independent, a British newspaper, published a story in October about a confidential report Henthorne compiled on America's failings in being ready for war and disaster.

Written after Katrina and Rita, the report - as quoted by The Independent - concludes, "The one thing this disaster has demonstrated [is] the lack of coordinated, in-depth planning and training on all levels of Government, for any/all types of emergency contingencies.

"9/11 was an exception because the geographical area was small and contained, but these two hurricanes have clearly demonstrated a national response weakness ... Failure to plan, and train properly, has plagued U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and now that failure has come home to roost in the United States."

The story says the Office of the Secretary of Defense commissioned the report as an "'independent and critical review' of what went so wrong" after Katrina.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Henthorne said, his military work "took on more of a teaching flavor," rather than just disaster management.

For almost two years, he was a visiting professor in civil-military relations at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., and supporting the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Henthorne said he was asked to study the war effort in Afghanistan after one year, requiring two six-week trips there and numerous interviews.

In early 2004, he moved to the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., a place where brigades stop for true-life lessons about Iraq and Afghanistan before they're deployed to those places. Hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans live in small villages, where soldiers learn and practice interpreting, negotiating and other skills, Henthorne said.

Henthorne, who now is an independent contractor in his field in Louisiana, has been an executive director of an organ and tissue procurement program in Louisiana and a hospital administrator. At Washington County Health System in Hagerstown, he was a manager of planned giving.

While living in Washington County, he was involved in war re-enactment and the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society.

Henthorne said his civilian military work is about to end and he is eager to return to Williamsport, where he lived while teaching at the U.S. Army War College. He said his wife, Peggy, a lawyer, will be glad to be in Maryland, too.

So, what will happen when he retires and moves back to his home county?

"I have no earthly idea," Henthorne said.

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