Good evening, all. Thank you, Perry for inviting me to speak this evening and Tom for the kind introduction. It is an honor to address this distinguished crowd both in this room and those attending virtually at home. It feels as if we are at a crossroads of new beginnings and change. I am happy to speak to you today in person at what is my first public event since I began as the Office Director for the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the Department of State just a few weeks ago.
As Office Director, I am responsible for policy and programs to mitigate the impact of explosive hazards and reducing the threats that at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and irresponsibly used conventional weapons pose to international security and stability.
The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction. Since 1993, we have invested more than $4 billion to support mitigation efforts in over 100 countries. In 2021 alone, funding reached more than $235 million, despite the significant and constantly evolving logistical challenges due to the pandemic.
The American people can be proud that the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program will continue to make a difference. This is possible through the sustained bipartisan support of Congress, including the Congressional UXO and Demining Caucus. I would like to thank Congressman Issa and all his colleagues for their continued support.
As we honor the accomplishments of this evening’s award recipients it is evident that the past 18 months of this pandemic have presented challenges but also opportunities for our honorees. Their incredible stories share common threads of perseverance, survival, and new beginnings – the survivors of injuries caused by landmines and explosive remnants of war; the brave humanitarian deminers whose steadfast work returns land to local communities; and their trusted partners – the Mine Detection Dogs – all are heroes. The United States is proud to be supporting all these facets of Humanitarian Demining around the world.
I salute this year’s Mine Detection Dog Team of the Year, Mine Sergeant Houssam Mahmoud and Mine Detection Dog Iron-Cowgirl from Lebanon. I also want to honor one of our military’s own – the recipient of the 2021 Survivors’ Award, SGT John Peck, USMC, Ret., who has taken his painful experience in Afghanistan and used it to motivate others through his incredible perseverance. SGT Peck, your story is truly moving! In reading your book, I was particularly struck at your tenacity overcoming both the “invisible injury” of your TBI in addition to your extensive physical injuries, and your desire to give other survivors hope. With two young children at home, I am always in awe at how young students are becoming great leaders. Divya, you will serve as an inspiration to them as this years’ Student Leader Award winner. I would also like to acknowledge Alex Gorsky, CEO of Johnson & Johnson for being the recipient of the Humanitarian Service Award.
The above honorees are a testament to much of the amazing work MLI does. While times change and challenges remain, MLI has been a valued collaborator since 1998 with programs in 13 countries.
Let me now pivot to a region of the world that finds itself at the crossroads of a new beginning. The United States is proud to have funded the $1.6 million Mine Free Sarajevo project. This effort has rid the city of Sarajevo and surrounding municipalities of landmines and other explosive remnants of war more than 25 years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement. As our Deputy Assistant Secretary for PM, Stanley Brown said in attendance at the recent completion ceremony “this project would not be possible without the Marshall Legacy Institute, which conceptualized and designed this project alongside the Mine Detection Dog Center and ITF. It is because of Marshall Legacy Institute’s forethought, energy, and Perry and Elise’s many years of close cooperation with the State Department, that we can declare the city of Sarajevo mine-impact free.” Stan is happy to also join us this evening, and we both congratulate you, Mayor of Sarajevo Benjamina Karic, and all the representatives of the City of Sarajevo for this accomplishment.
Many that suffered loss and injury have devoted their lives to helping others that suffered similar fates. The intrinsic motivation that leads these individuals to help improve the lives for the suffering should be acknowledged and celebrated. It is in this light that I am honored to present this year’s Survivors’ Assistance Award to a very special honoree this evening. Mr. Dejan Zvizdalo of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Like too many children in mine-contaminated countries across the world, Dejan was only 8 years old when he encountered a piece of unexploded ordnance in East Sarajevo that resulted in the amputation of both his legs. Through his admirable strength and determination, Dejan committed to learning to walk with his prostheses and return to the childhood he knew before the accident. Now at 36 years of age, Dejan is passionate about bike riding, hiking, hunting, mountain climbing, and most importantly, advocating for fellow landmine survivors. Dejan often makes public speaking appearances, provides support to persons with disabilities, and motivates them to continue pursuing their dreams. Dejan currently works at a prosthetic company and is training to become a prosthetic technician to help other amputees like himself. Congratulations, Dejan, on receiving MLI’s 2021 Survivors’ Assistance Award!