By Mary O’KEEFE
Anyone in California understands the importance of being proactive in preparing for a disaster. It is commonly known that it is not if but when an earthquake will strike and to always keep an eye open for wildfires in the mountains. Fortunately, one thing Californians don’t really have to worry about is an invading military force; however, in many countries that is a real concern.
Invasion can happen without warning, just like a natural disaster, and it is the mission of one organization to help prepare those in vulnerable areas to get ready for the worst.
The American Armenian National Security Institute (AANSI) is working to get people prepared to not only care for themselves but for others when the unthinkable happens.
“[We are] training folks to become a member of our brigade right now,” said Mark MacCarley, retired U.S. Army Major General and the president and CEO of the AANSI.
He, with others including local resident and Montrose Search and Rescue team member Mike Leum, are in Armenia training volunteers emergency responder skills.
“We are giving people the skills to get involved in the next conflict to whatever degree they can,” Leum said.
Participants from all over the world, many of them from Glendale, have traveled to Armenia to learn these skills including first aid, tactical wound care and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). After the volunteers are trained they will go back to their home country and then when they are needed will go to that location to help. MacCarley is focusing on Armenia because of the unrest that continues in Artsakh.
For over 200 days Azerbaijan forces have isolated the citizens of Artsakh, reportedly not allowing food or even medical response into the region.
“[June 28] marked the 200th day that the people of Artsakh have been living under Azerbaijan’s unlawful blockade of the Lachin Corridor, a clear violation of international law, and the 2020 trilateral ceasefire agreement,” stated Congressman Adam Schiff.
There is a long history of conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. It is the hope of AANSI to make sure people are prepared for whatever happens. In times of war, as has been reported recently in Ukraine, the need for medical support exceeds the number of those trained to help. That leaves a lot of people who are not trained to respond to medical situations. AANSI is hoping to create their brigade of emergency responders to fill those gaps.
MacCarley said they will most likely continue their centralized training in Armenia. He volunteered with Montrose Search and Rescue (MSAR) for 10 years before becoming an active duty soldier. He understands the importance of training as an emergency responder.
He is not Armenian but has had ties to the community throughout his life. He saw the need and founded AANSI. As a Glendale resident he saw the community become diversified as immigrants from Armenia made the city their home. While in the U.S. Army he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as conflicts around the world. He is also a lawyer and assisted in Armenian Genocide lawsuits.
“During the War of 2016 I was invited to do some research and analysis,” he said.
The 2016 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, also known as the Four-Day War, began on April 2 when fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan began in the Karabakh zone. All indications show that the first aggression came from Azerbaijan.
“I have been to Artsakh before the blockade. I was there twice and then it was shut down,” he said. “People are truly suffering from a lack of medicine.”
He added there have been citizens imprisoned by the Azerbaijan forces.
“The Russians have forsaken their responsibility,” he added.
Russians had been the “peace keepers” in the area but in recent years that has not been the case.
It is because of this that AANSI will continue to be centered in Armenia and will continue to train as many volunteers as possible.
Leum pointed out that this training would not just help in armed conflicts but for all emergencies including earthquake and fire. In addition, this training will help those in the volunteers’ neighborhoods when the need arises.
“To me [when disaster occurs] the citizenry are just trying to survive,” Leum said.
He has traveled to several disaster areas including the aftermath of hurricanes and earthquakes, and went to Ukraine with search and rescue members.
The reception in Armenia has been very positive. Leum said during a recent trip to their interpreter’s home the family welcomed them with open arms and “the food just kept coming.”
“At the end of this week these [volunteers] will have skills to take home with them not just for the next aggression but … for the rest of their lives,” Leum said.