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Ambassador Holbrooke's legacy tied to Wright-Patt, Dayton

  • Published
  • By Derek Kaufman
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The unexpected death of Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke, the American diplomat credited with helping to forge a lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, was deeply felt by many in Dayton and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Mr. Holbrooke was serving most recently as U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan when he died Dec. 13, 2010, at age 69 after doctors performed surgery to repair a tear in his aorta.

In an opinion piece titled "My diplomatic wingman" published in the Washington Post this week, U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, called Mr. Holbrooke "a diplomatic titan -- arguably the diplomatic titan of his generation."

Many will remember Mr. Holbrooke for the power of his personality, and tenacity, confidence, courage and skill as a diplomat. But he was also a true friend of Dayton, and perhaps his greatest achievement was accomplished here.

Mr. Holbrooke was instrumental in the decision to bring the warring parties together at Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Nov. 1995.

When the announcement was made, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Airmen and civilian employees from the 88th Air Base Wing and across the installation quickly went to work creating a secure diplomatic compound for representatives of the warring parties to live and work, to include conversion of lodging facilities adjacent to the Hope Hotel into suites for the respective presidents which were identical in every detail. Communications infrastructure was installed and more than 500 news media from 20 countries were accommodated. Several thousand base members, from protocol specialists to air traffic controllers, played a role to set the scene as the eyes of the world fixed on Dayton.

State Department officials at the time called Wright-Patt "the perfect negotiating environment."

Matt Joseph, Dayton Peace Accords Committee co-chair, recently noted the Dayton Proximity Peace Talks were ground breaking in the first use of digital mapping as a diplomatic tool by Mr. Holbrooke and Gen. Wesley Clark. Simulators were used to enable negotiators to fly virtually through the areas where international boundary lines were being drawn.

"In 1995 this was revolutionary," Mr. Joseph said of the integration of satellite mapping into negotiations, "and the capability was unique to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base."

After the peace accords were initialed in Dayton and later signed in Paris, Mr. Holbrooke returned to Dayton on numerous occasions for commemorative events and policy discussions, to receive honorary degrees, and at other times which were out of the public eye, Mr. Joseph said.

Ambassador Holbrooke's legacy as the broker of a lasting peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina is now forever tied to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and the gem city, Dayton.