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A Word from the President

June 23, 2008

Three Minutes

Dennis W. Felty
Dennis W. Felty
President, KHS

In three minutes, you can watch a video streaming live from across the country, order a book from across the ocean, and have a conversation with someone on the other side of the world. With every passing minute, it seems, the technological capabilities of the internet grow by leaps and bounds – rendering the moniker "world wide web" even more accurate, as resources and people and places across the globe become even more interconnected and immediately accessible. Technology has undoubtedly changed the landscape of human services provision, and to accommodate our continued growth in the international arena, we have invigorated the web presence for Keystone Human Services International and our constantly-developing Global Vision.

Though we are learning about more corners of the world and making new connections every day, Keystone's current principle outlets for international work in human services are in Russia and Eastern Europe. I am often asked not only why international initiatives are an important facet of the Keystone vision – but also why Keystone has chosen this region as a primary arena for our framework of comprehensive, community-based support for children and families. To me, the answer to the first question is simple: I believe passionately that if we are to be truly authentic in our mission to promote the inherent value and rights of all people, it is our duty to recognize the challenges facing humanity across the globe. And while a great number of factors and instrumental individuals have paved the way for the work of Keystone Human Services International in Eastern Europe, my personal experience in the region as a pilot with the United States Air Force and Pennsylvania Air National Guard fuels my passion for the reconstruction and restoration of community and family, as well as my understanding that these powerful values can transcend social and political boundaries.

In 1968, as the international tension surrounding the Vietnam War and the Cold War was continuing to rise, I graduated from college and became a pilot with the U.S. Air Force and the 193rd Tactical Electronic Warfare group of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. This was an incredibly dangerous time in the life of our nation and the entire world; the nuclear weapons of the United States and the Soviet Union made Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) a strategic reality for citizens of both countries. As I was assuming my role as founding president of Keystone, I continued to actively participate as a pilot in electronic warfare missions and as a plans officer, studying the war plans and tactical objectives that would involve our unit in the emerging nuclear age.

As a military officer during the Cold War, I experienced firsthand the incredible fragility of our state of relative stability under the precepts of MAD. The reality of the Cold War was that the United States and the Soviet Union never engaged in direct conflict – but through the strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction, we each had the capability to completely destroy the other: collectively, both countries had over 50,000 active nuclear warheads. For MAD to be an effective strategy, both countries had to be 100% willing and able to destroy the other if the time came. In the event of a Soviet nuclear missile launch from an offshore submarine, there existed a three minute window in which the decision to launch our intercontinental ballistic missiles (or lose them) would have to be made. Three minutes! Nuclear annihilation, and the certain end to civilization, could be decided in less time than it would take to brush my teeth in the morning, or tuck my children into bed at night. I felt certain that this was a probable end to these international conflicts, and I feared the possibility that I would never see my children grow to adulthood. To this day, I continue to meet Russian colleagues who talk of their experience as children, hiding under their school desks during air raid drills, living in fear of the American strategic bombers.

At the same time, I was fulfilling a parallel role as a community leader in a fledgling human services revolution, promoting the value of all people and the right of all to lead full, active and contributing lives. While president of Keystone, I logged over 200 combat hours in Southeast Asia, and dividing my time between my work at Keystone and top secret global missions was certainly a strange and eye-opening experience. I had great hope for the future, and I could see the voice of our cause, the voice of those we support, having a profound impact on both our communities and the world as a whole. My changed perspective on human life, dangling so precariously in the wake of chance political events, misunderstanding and miscommunication, brought me to the understanding that in this nuclear age, no one is safe until every one is safe. If we were going to survive the nuclear age, we were going to have to change the way we resolve conflict, the way we care for each other and the way we see the individuals who had been traditionally ignored by, or even vilified by, our society – and we would have to be consistent in our mission worldwide.

Recognizing just how close we came to engaging in nuclear warfare, the dissolution of the Soviet Union struck me with complete amazement: it was never considered as one of the possible strategic scenarios, and it brought to the fore the humanity of the people I had been trained to see as the enemy.

I first had the opportunity to visit Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. While there I met extraordinary people, including beautiful Russian children who reminded me so much of my own. The people of Russia and the surrounding regions have paid a high price for their transition to a new society. As in the United States, these individuals and families are in need of services due to disabling conditions, institutionalization and other challenging societal conditions. What is more, they face the daunting task of rebuilding all of their social and economic systems, as well as the institutions necessitated by their new way of life. Spanning eleven time zones, Russia is still the largest country in the world, and both its natural resources and its bright, energetic and highly educated people are immense sources of wealth and potential – and it is my hope that Russia and United States will be allies and partners facing some of greatest global challenges of our time.

Though besought with war and internal conflict, failed states, decreasing access to food and water, exploding population, climate change, natural disasters and disease, families struggling to make ends meet and individuals challenging adversity just to survive, our world continues to endure. All too often, decisions between life and death are made in that three minute window. To truly contribute to this great mission of Advancing the Human Spirit, making our immediate community and the world a safer place for all of us, we must look beyond our own neighborhood and our own comfort zone. We must recognize that we all shared the same three minutes of ultimate vulnerability, and then we must decide to make a lasting commitment to our world and everyone with whom we share it.

Dennis


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