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With an estimated 69,000 dead, 18,000 missing, and 5 million homeless, the earthquake that hit China’s Sichuan Province in May 2008 was, by all measures, devastating. Leading the U.S. government’s relief effort on the ground in China was Brigadier General Charles Hooper, the senior U.S. Department of Defense representative in China and a 1989 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s two-year Master in Public Administration (MPA2) program.
In coordination with his Chinese military counterparts, General Hooper determined what relief supplies were needed, where and how they would be delivered, and then directed the transfer to government representatives in the province.
The relief effort posed a host of logistical, technical and political challenges. The lack of a history of cooperation between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, combined with cultural, historical, and linguistic differences, could have complicated the ability of the two groups to work together. But, according to Hooper, “[O]ur shared desire to bring relief to those affected by this terrible tragedy helped us to rapidly surmount these challenges.”
Hooper, who is also a 1979 alumnus of West Point, reflected on how his education prepared him for the many challenges he has faced in his career.
“I have always felt that the Army taught me how to solve complex problems, but the Kennedy School taught me how to consider all the factors bearing on a problem – political, cultural, economic and environmental – so that the solution not only solves the problem, but perhaps creates conditions that would prevent future problems from developing,” he said.
As a Harvard Kennedy School student, Hooper served as co-chair of the student government, was selected to give the graduate oration at the 1989 Harvard Commencement, and received the Don K. Price Award for Academic Excellence and Public Service. Today, in his role as Defense Attaché in Beijing, he leads the largest attaché office in the world, with representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
“I think the Harvard Kennedy School is the best public service educational institution in the world,” says Hooper. “It literally changed the way I view the world and my place in it. It made me a better scholar, a better soldier, a better citizen and a better person. West Point was my Sparta. The Kennedy School was my Athens.”
Brig. General Charles Hooper MPA2 1989 (right) arrives in Chengdu, China, May 2008
“I have always felt that the Army taught me how to solve complex problems, but the Kennedy School taught me how to consider all the factors bearing on a problem – political, cultural, economic and environmental – so that the solution not only solves the problem, but perhaps creates conditions that would prevent future problems from developing,” Hooper said.
Brig. General Charles Hooper MPA2 1989 (center) leads the U.S. relief efforts in China’s Sichuan Province.