Ambassador: "Peace is only as strong as what stands behind it"

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- Unless you're familiar with a map of Europe, you may be forgiven if you can't point out the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

The tiny European country, with its nearly 500,000 citizens, is not even a thousand square miles in area. To put that in perspective, Rhode Island is both bigger in size AND population.

But any perceived geographic and demographic disparities are belied by the fact that the country is a founding member of the European Union, a partner within NATO and a current member of the United Nations Security Council.

Those geopolitical realms in which Luxembourg operates require diplomats both within and without its borders to ensure international cooperation and tranquility occurs around the globe.

And representing for the United States to the Grand Duchy, Robert A. Mandell serves with the full authorization on behalf of the President of the United States since the ambassador's appointment in November 2011.

The ambassador got his diplomatic passport metaphorically stamped in Saber Nation as he visited Spangdahlem to attend the Senior NCO Induction Ceremony at Club Eifel July 18.

"I feel like I'm going back to America when I come here," said Mandell, a Winter Park, Florida, native. "It's a nice taste of what I left."

Before the event, Mandell addressed a group of more than 100 Spangdahlem officers at the Viper Conference Room to discuss current topics in international relations. But instead of the machinations of the state, the ambassador began with a quote from President Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address that the United States would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

"Peace is only as strong as what stands behind it," the ambassador said. "Liberty is the most important thing that we have to protect. The military, the Air Force and all the services do a wonderful job of protecting our liberty and our freedoms, and we very much appreciate them."

When asked about what makes their bilateral ties so strong, the ambassador cited Luxembourg's gratitude to America, particularly during World War II. Before the U.S.'s involvement, occupying powers forcibly drafted the Luxembourgers into their cause and declared them fellow citizens against their will. Allied forces later liberated Luxembourg from Axis control in September 1944.

To this day, many villages in the Grand Duchy will display a memorial plaque or obelisk commemorating the sacrifices made during the world war as a testament to that partnership.

"The grandparents tell stories to their children who tell stories to their children," he said. "I talked to someone the other day whose grandfather told him he got his first piece of chocolate from a G.I. Another one talked about chewing gum that he got from a G.I. We spread goodwill when we won the war in 1945, and it's still remembered by the Luxembourgers, who are an appreciative group."

While most may think he only rubs elbows with high-ranking officials, the ambassador regularly meets with all types of people, both young and old, from a variety of countries who all have ties to Luxembourg. Yet he said that visiting wounded American service members treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany made him most proud.

"It's giving back to the folks who have risked their lives or given a part of their lives who will never be the same perhaps," he said. "To thank them on behalf of the United States, its people and the president, most especially, is a tremendous honor for me."

The ambassador said those who work in military fatigues with the Department of Defense or professional suits at the State Department all serve the people of the United States.

"We have the same goal, which is maintaining a peaceful and stable democracy all over the world, and, particularly during peacetime," Mandell said. "The State Department uses soft power during peace time, as well as the military does. And we like to think that our brand of diplomacy can stop problems before military intervention and hard power is needed. It's not always the case, but that's the objective."

Regarding the countryside and its must-see places for American tourists, the ambassador selected two locations. But rather than where to shop for the finest clothes or the best value for shopping, he concentrated his answer on continuing to honor the sacrifice made by others.

"The American Military Cemetery at Hamm, which is where General Patton is buried, is probably one of the most moving experiences you could ever have," he said. "That's followed up by the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, which is fantastic. They have thousands and thousands of pieces of military hardware; they've got tanks, jeeps, everything you could imagine in four stories in an old brewery - I would absolutely, highly recommend that."

As he continues to serve in the position, Mandell said that, when he eventually hands the role over to a successor, he hopes to be remembered as leaving the post in a stronger position than when he inherited it by bridging the relationship between the two countries by giving Americans a good and solid name.

"I'd like to be remembered as someone who cared, who was involved in the community of Luxembourg, and, in many respects, gets to put into practice what Americans do, which is give back to their community, do public service and be involved in the everyday life of their friends and their people," Mandell said. "That's what I try to do."

As the ambassador ended his day at Spangdahlem, he highlighted the military's focus as necessary to ensuring the United States and Luxembourg continue to remain free.

"The Airmen I've met from the commander down to the sergeants I've spent time with, have all been focused on their jobs, making sure they do their job better than anybody else," Mandell said. "That's the kind of focus I admire, and it's required to keep our country strong and safe. I think that the people I've met here at Spangdahlem have absolutely done that."