March 2015: The prognosis was grim. Jihadists in Africa and the Middle East were causing chaos, terrorizing the civilian population. Reports of mass human rights violations were flooding in from all sides, as were refugees who preferred even a watery grave to remaining in places they could no longer call home. Vital oil supplies were either bloodily captured or sacrificed as massive fire bombs.
Meanwhile, the eyes of the world turned anxiously, pleadingly, to the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Sequestered away in the Allied Command Transformation headquarters, representatives of each of NATO’s 26 member nations discussed immediate action in the North Atlantic Council. Pens flew, notes were passed, military advisors urged caution or decisiveness in urgent whispers as the American representative held the floor, professing concern for the economic repercussions of the oil crisis. Diplomatic phrasing did little to mask the sense of urgency as more and more news updates described the dire situation an ocean away from the ACT Headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia.
As the larger, more Southern countries professed concern for the unmanageable influx of illegal refugees who somehow survived the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean, the Council learned of a new threat: pirates, not the usual Somalian culprits, but Islamic extremists targeting the north-western coast of Africa. Suggestions of immediate, direct, and costly military actions were heard, though the smaller Eastern European nations were quick to point out the more geographically immediate threat of an aggressively approaching Russian Federation. The Belgian representative argued eloquently about the need to uphold the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was just as eloquently rebutted by the representative from Slovakia pointing out that NATO’s purpose was to protect its member states – ‘not,’ she added pointedly, ‘to attempt to play savior of the world.’ Surreptitious glances were shot towards the corner of the U-shaped table, where the U.S. representative suddenly sat up a bit straighter. During a brief break, the most vocal of each viewpoint huddled together to establish that all condemned both situations and wished to take at least some action, before hurriedly returning to the alphabetized seating as the Secretary General returned to hers.
While Ukraine fell in the east and several large terrorist groups merged to form a self-proclaimed caliphate in the south, the North Atlantic Council spent hours discussing the minutiae of the allocation of finite resources and military force, with both sides eventually making concessions as both situations escalated – alas, it was too little, too late. Just as a vote to expand Operation Ocean Shield was about to pass with the consensus of all present, a new update was presented to the council. All 26 representatives watched the news report in despair as poor-quality video clips showed terrorists beheading world leaders, movie stars, activists, civilians in the streets of Europe before suddenly showing only static. 26 heads shook, shoulders slumped, and faces were buried in palms; 26 military advisors watched stoically over the shoulders of their diplomats as footage showed sites of nearly simultaneous terrorist attacks: Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, Prague, the Vatican – even the Scandinavian countries did not escape unharmed as sleeper cells comprised partially of illegal immigrants were called into action by the now-dominant caliphate to the south. Historic, religious, and iconic sites were destroyed and the loss of human life was devastating, increasing exponentially the number of casualties already incurred, first in Africa and the Middle East, now within NATO member nations themselves.
The diplomats filed quietly out of the council room, looking more than a little subdued. However, downtrodden expressions quickly turned to burst of laughter and rapid chatter as the tension of the day’s events was released. The formal, diplomatic, diverse representatives disappeared, replaced by 26 excited American high school students, all participants in the 2015 Model NATO Challenge hosted by the Norfolk NATO Festival. (The 26 military advisors, however, remained military advisors stationed in Norfolk on behalf of their respective home countries.) Talk quickly turned from global security to the predicted winners of the coveted scholarships awarded to the top 6 participants each year.
A few weeks later, I held my breath and checked the Norfolk NATOFest website. To my great and continued surprise, I found that I was the 1st Place Finalist, meaning I won not only the Challenge, but a $1500 scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip to Operation Smile’s International Student Leadership Conference! (Still a bit in shock about that one, to be honest.)
The conference starts tomorrow, which is why I’m hopping on a plane to LA at an ungodly hour tomorrow morning. Woohoo! I have no clue what to expect from this conference, seeing as I have had regrettably little involvement with Op Smile up until now, but hopefully I’ll learn a lot out in sunny Cali.
P.S. A huge thank-you to Mr. Martin, Trish, Sarah, Andrew, and of course Peter and Peter for helping make this a reality!