Ever wonder what a bunch of 18-24 year olds and a guy from NATO have in common?

We all care about Afghanistan…Shocking, I know.

It took awhile for Jamie Shea to register in my memory, but a google search quickly brought me back… In grade five, I remember watching NATO’s daily briefings on the situation in Kosovo, and remember the calm and cool figure who addressed the press: Jamie Shea.  While much has changed since then, I’m happy to say that Jamie has not. He still speaks honestly, still has the familiar cockney accent he was known for as NATO’s spokesperson, and he’s still got a sense of humour.

Currently the Director of Policy Planning (Private Office, Secretary General, NATO), Jamie visited the Wilton Park Atlantic Youth Forum as one of the guest speakers on Afghanistan. Here’s where I (and many others) were a little skeptical. How exactly was Jamie (a paid employee of NATO) going to speak to us (a bunch of skeptical, anti-ISAF students) about the war in Afghanistan? Quite easily, it turns out. Throughout the morning Jamie and the students openly discussed the issues of the ISAF mission; what had gone wrong, what had almost gone right, and what could be done in the short amount of time left. Not only did he share his professional opinion but his personal opinion, something greatly appreciated by the students in attendance. We were lucky enough to have Jamie also participate in our breakout sessions where we further discussed the conflict in Afghanistan and speculated on the country’s future. Jamie sat quietly at our table listening, until one of us turned to him for a clarification on NATO’s perspective or questions about the mission. To be able to turn to my right and casually ask Jamie Shea a question about ISAF or his opinion on the mission felt a bit surreal, and only added to the incredible experience at Wilton Park.

Following the Afghanistan breakout session, myself and Solveig (Zeppelin University) provided the Forum with a debrief on our discussions. Despite the initial skepticism, negativity, and even anger at how the mission in Afghanistan had played out there seemed to be overall hope for ISAF and the potential the mission had to learn from its previous mistakes. More importantly, there was a united appreciation for the civil servants, troops, and others who continue to selflessly participate in this mission.

Given the recent withdrawal of the Dutch troops, and the looming pull-out date for Canada in 2011, I decided to ask Jamie what he thought about the Canadian troops and the phenomenal contributions they have made.

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