From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Feature
Kelly Langdorf

Colonel Kelly Langdorf specializes in Sub-Saharan Africa and has spent decades serving as a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer. Photo courtesy of Kelly Langdorf.

Serving Abroad

By Kristen Munson

Service is labor that contributes to the welfare of others. It can take many forms. The following snapshots are two ways history alums strive to make a difference every day.

A Positive Impact

Kelly Langdorf was born in a U.S. Army hospital in Panama. His father’s deployments moved the family from Panama to Chile to France to Germany (twice). Home always seemed to be a moving target. Five decades later, it still kind of is.

From 1991 to 2003, Langdorf, ’81, spent only two years living in the United States. And he was okay with that. As an active duty Army Foreign Area Officer (FAO) he didn’t want to be stationed in an office far away from where policy and history were unfolding on the ground.

“When your commander comes in and says ‘do you want to go to’ fill in the blank, my answer was always going to be yes,” he said. “All I heard was go. I didn’t really care where.”

FAOs are commissioned officers in the Army with regional expertise who often serve as military attachés in U.S. embassies. They work to ensure State Department and Defense Department policies are aligned. FAOs provide military advice to ambassadors and oversee activities such as observing elections and cease fires. You can’t really do it over email.

Langdorf enlisted in the Army in 1975, but never expected to make a career of it. Early on he served with a Special Forces team in Germany responsible for “strategic missions in Europe,” he said. “That’s really all I can say.”

His commander encouraged him to pursue higher education. In 1979, Langdorf enrolled at Utah State, believing his future would be tied to the Soviet bloc. History professor Ed Glatfelter, a Russian scholar, was his advisor.

“This was still during the Cold War,” Langdorf said. “I figured the more I could learn about the Soviet Union the better.

One of the things I learned from Dr. Glatfelter is you have to have a grasp of the history in order to understand the present.”

That understanding helps Langdorf to this day. Upon graduation he commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry. He participated in the invasion of Grenada before being assigned to Nigeria as chief of a mobile training unit. The experience was his first introduction to Africa. It would not be his last. Langdorf served tours as a military attaché in Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa. One assignment took him to the U.S. embassy in Portugal, where he specialized in Lusophone African affairs. But Langdorf was eager to return to Africa where the process of democratizing nations is still happening. He wanted to assist countries rebuilding after civil war and working to establish independent governance after colonial rule.

“In many ways it’s still a frontier,” he said. “Every day I learned something new. Every day I had an opportunity to make a difference. In Portugal, did I make much of a difference? No. There’s no USAID mission there. It’s a formal relationship of over 200 years. Did I make much of a difference in Luanda? In Mozambique? In Zimbabwe? I think I did.”

Each experience involved learning new challenges and old histories. In South Africa, the United States is still viewed by some to have been slow to support anti-apartheid efforts. In Angola, the government still remembers the time Americans backed the other guy.

“And they’re not afraid to remind you of that,” Langdorf said. “The United States’ relationship with every country is different. Every country, every region has its own tempo. To really understand it you have to understand the history. How are you perceived when you walk in the door? Are you an enemy? Are you a friend? You can’t make a positive impact if you don’t know what they have gone through.”

While in Mozambique he helped observe a cease fire between the government and resistance forces. He was in Angola when Jonas Savimbi, leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) party was shot and killed, bringing an end to a 27-year civil war in the country. Langdorf was appointed to the Joint Military Commission that oversaw the demilitarization of the UNITA’s armed wing.

However, the disarmament happened too fast. Former UNITA fighters and their families flocked to the demobilization camps set up during the amnesty period. Measles and cholera epidemics spread throughout the camps. Malnutrition was rampant. Langdorf worked to find ways to bring medications and food to the camps without breaking the charters of foreign aid and nongovernmental organizations forbidden to assist combatants.

“That probably was the highlight of my career,” Langdorf said. “It’s hard to see starving kids; it’s hard to see people dying of measles. The military aspects of the peace process were finalized reasonably well, but the political process is still really ongoing.”

In 2011, after nearly 35 years of active duty it was time for Langdorf to call somewhere home. He retired from the Army and now works from Virginia as an independent consultant, advising NGOs with efforts in Southern Africa.

“I’ve slowed down, but I’ve kept my fingers in African affairs,” Langdorf said. “I am not ready for the rocking chair yet. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.”

Gina Andrews

Gina Andrews, ’96, and her husband Timothy Huizar are Foreign Service Officers for the U.S. State Department. Their children have proved adaptable to change.

A Long Term Mission

Working in the U.S. Foreign Service may sound romantic. Officers move every few years, learning a new culture as they go. But for Gina Andrews, ’96, the romance is balanced with the reality of the job: assisting stranded Americans and missing persons, dealing with passports, and working with foreign governments to represent the policies of the United States.

“For me, the challenges are part of the adventure,” she wrote in an email from Jordan. “Language barriers and policy hurdles—all opportunities for change. In truth, there are many frustrations, and at the center of it all you usually find miscommunication, judgment, and people who won’t listen to one another.”

Andrews’ posts have been scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East. Each new assignment requires adjustment and preparation, and her history degree has provided a solid foundation for work in foreign affairs.

“Understanding the history of our world is critical to ensuring we don’t make the same mistakes, to understanding the unique nature of cultures, and to be able to represent the United States in the midst of it all,” she said. “Understanding where we have come from is vital to chart a course for the future.”

At Utah State Andrews dabbled in studies of early childhood education and sign language to archaeology and writing before honing in on her passion for world history. With the aid of a history professor she studied Balkan issues in Bulgaria. However, her grandfather suggested she pursue work in the Foreign Service to blend her patriotism with her desire to explore new places and cultures. For a person who doesn’t like the “status quo,” it has been an ideal path. Andrews has served in Bosnia, Croatia, Iraq, Kosovo and Ireland. At each stop she witnesses how the United States is perceived by other countries—at times it is with a mix of caution, curiosity, disdain, and hope.

“I’ve been places where the 4th of July was a huge celebration among the locals, and conversely, I’ve been places where I’ve avoided advertising I was American for safety concerns,” she said.

It helps having a thick skin and patience to endure criticism of her home country—and perspective.

“Every day when I see the long line of visa applicants, I’m reminded of what we represent, and what America has to offer,” Andrews said. “There are many, many people I have met and won’t forget—often it is not the senior dignitaries that are most memorable, but rather the refugees, children of war, or the quiet dignity of those struggling to get by day to day.”

Andrews and her family have been in Jordan since the early days of the Arab Spring. In a sense, they are on the front lines of history. Jordan was created as a result of the Arab revolt nearly a century ago and has managed to include people of different backgrounds and faith in its borders. The country remains a critical player in the Arab world where many of its neighbors remain in conflict.

“The political climate is ever changing,” Andrews said. “But, Jordan is an oasis of peace in an otherwise tumultuous region, and the Jordanian people want it to stay this way. Of course there are struggles, economic hardships, and trouble in neighboring countries, but the government listens and is trying to respect the will of the people… This is an exciting page in history, and I do often feel that I am watching history unfold.”

After more than a decade in the Foreign Service, the experience has underscored for Andrews the importance of being flexible, humble, and understanding when working with foreign governments; that it’s more important to focus on commonalities rather than divisions. There may be times when short-term setbacks occur, but for Andrews, the mission is long-term.

“Diplomacy is the art of getting others to listen to you and listening to others. It is all about communication,” she said. “I have always done my best to represent the U.S., to carry forward U.S. policy, to help the countries where I am located; and I have always left feeling satisfaction in this. True success of earlier work will only be judged after many years.”