Adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, Stephen D. Biddle, highlighted a memorable night in support of our Minnesota service members on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. Dr. Biddle joined nearly 450 guests to show support for Minnesota’s service members and their families at the Airport Hilton in Bloomington. Efforts from the evening raised more than $400,000.
The evening began with a question and answer session with Dr. Biddle moderated by MMAF Board Member General (Ret.) Denny Schulstad. This intimate session allowed some of MMAF’s largest supporters to be enlightened by Dr. Biddle’s vast knowledge of operations and strategy in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and the amount of troops that would be needed to eradicate terrorist groups from the respective countries.
The evening’s main program was emceed by Tom Hauser of KSTP 5-Eyewitness News. Tom welcomed guests and provided a wonderful introduction to MMAF for those not already familiar with the organization. The MWSS – 471 Color Guard posted colors as choir members from VocalEssence, conducted by Philip Brunelle, sang the Star Spangled Banner and Armed Forces Medley. Chaplain (Major) Buddy Winn gave the invocation and Tom Hauser introduced MMAF Chair, Roger Sit, who updated guests on the progress the organization has made since inception in 2005 and reiterated that the mission of MMAF will continue until all Minnesotans have returned from hostile soil.
Next, MMAF board member, Barry Winslow, shared his experiences as a Lieutenant in Vietnam from 1970-1971. Barry’s experiences were similar to many of those who served in Vietnam, with comrades lost in battle and hellish conditions in-country. He spoke of returning home from deployment to out-processing at Oakland Army Base, where he and his unit experienced the anti-war protests that were synonymous with the era. Barry took a moment to recognize the other Vietnam veterans in the room and thanked them for their service. In conclusion, Barry stated that organizations like MMAF continue to be important so that current veterans don’t have to deal with the hardships that were so prevalent after Vietnam.
MMAF grant recipient Army Specialist Nathan Landaas, who was injured and received a Purple Heart while serving in Afghanistan in 2013 addressed the audience. He detailed the afternoon in which he sustained his injuries, including his thoughts as the vehicle he was traveling in hit an IED and the rescue team hitting a second IED while attempting to bring him back to base. He spoke of being medically discharged from the Army after suffering a traumatic brain injury and the support he was shown from his family and friends, the VA and other veterans organizations, including MMAF. Nathan reiterated the importance of supporting veterans and their families and thanked those in attendance for their support. When he was finished speaking, Barry Winslow joined Nathan on stage and awarded him a $2,000 check from MMAF for receiving Purple Heart.
The evening’s keynote speaker, Dr. Stephen Biddle, addressed the crowd on the U.S. strategy in Iraq and Syria involving the Islamic State. While addressing the crowd, Dr. Biddle explained how the U.S. has to deal with real, but limited, threats from the Islamic State. He believes that are three options for realizing the stakes in the region, overinvesting, staying out completely, or finding a real but limited military means to minimize the threat. Dr. Biddle spent time detailing each of these options and how they would directly affect not only those in the U.S. but the Middle East and surrounding regions. He touched on how taking large action or even taking no action at all could affect both the U.S. and the world economy. Dr. Biddle also detailed how the civil unrest in Syria and Iraq has led to the largest humanitarian issue on the planet and why it has led to a mass migration from the region. His insights showed that there are many lenses in which the problem must be viewed and how the different aspects of each problem lead to more problems with complex solutions. Dr. Biddle concluded that the strategy the U.S. has taken and continues to take is a containment strategy of sending limited resources to fight in the region and relying on local forces to take the lead in the fight. While this strategy doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, it allows the U.S. to have real means in the fight with limited resources spent.
As the main fundraising event for MMAF, we appreciate the individuals and corporate sponsors who gave so generously. One hundred percent of funds raised at the dinner went directly to MMAF, as event expenses were underwritten by the main sponsor, Sit Investment Associates.