A Heart for Kids
Qatari general upholds his country’s tradition of helping people in distressUnipath Staff
Qatari Brig. Gen. Rashid Fetais has a soft spot in his heart for kids. Small wonder: Qatar’s senior representative to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, United States, has 11 children of his own, ages 6 to 29.
In July 2012, Fetais hosted a party near the base for 30 American children awaiting adoption. He talked with the kids, posed for photos and gave each one an iPod. As a Muslim, Fetais said, he is called to care for children without parents.
“These are kids that had nothing to do with their situation,” he said. “They really break the heart. It makes me sad.”
A couple years ago, Fetais and one of his daughters spoke to a class of fifth-graders at a MacDill base school. Many of their parents were preparing for assignments in Qatar, and the children were concerned. “One kid asked me, ‘Is it safe? Do they shoot people in the street?’” recalled Fetais. He assured them Qatar is perfectly safe. Another child asked if the country had a McDonald’s restaurant.
Fetais’ career choice was a family affair. In his teens, he was selected for training to become a commercial pilot for Gulf Air, owned by Qatar and three other states in the region at the time.
But in his last year of high school, Fetais decided instead to follow his two oldest brothers — one a fighter pilot — into Qatar’s armed forces. He graduated from the Royal Military Academy of Jordan in 1979 and was commissioned in Qatar’s Signal Corps. He commanded at multiple levels in the Army and currently oversees its telecommunications systems.
Fetais, 54, has served as Qatar’s top military officer assigned to CENTCOM since 2010. He represents Qatar at meetings, social events and ceremonies at MacDill and other U.S. military installations. He represented his country at a NATO change of command in Norfolk, Virginia, in September 2012.
Sources: BBC News Middle East, The Boeing Company, Globalpost.com, Jane’s Intelligence Review, The National (Abu Dhabi), Somalilandpress.com, The Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida)
Fetais works at CENTCOM’s Coalition Coordination Center, better known as Coalition Village, where officers from 57 countries work closely with their U.S. counterparts. Fetais supervises a staff of five Qatari officers and handles a steady stream of emails and faxes from home, as well as inquiries from partner nations represented at Coalition Village.
Qatar’s military has become more active in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions both around the region and internationally in recent years.
In 2010, Qatar dispatched 700 peacekeeping troops to observe a disputed border area between Djibouti and Eritrea. A Somaliland news organization called the deployment “unprecedented” for a Gulf country. Qatari government officials quickly and successfully convinced the African rivals to mediate their differences.
Fetais takes pride in Qatar’s growing participation in such missions, often in cooperation with like-minded partner nations. Qatar was the first Arab country to send aircraft to participate in Operation Odyssey Dawn, the international operation to enforce the no-fly zone against forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. Diplomats from Qatar played an important role convincing the Arab League to support the United Nations resolution authorizing military force against the regime — the first time the league endorsed military action against a member state.
Qatar’s military also responded rapidly to one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises when a catastrophic magnitude-7.0 earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in 2010.
Hours after the earthquake hit, a Qatar Emiri Air Force transport jet carrying 50 tons of relief supplies and an emergency response team of 30 left Doha. The doctors and rescue workers were among the first international crews to find and treat earthquake victims in and around Port-au-Prince.
Qataris were proud their country could help with human resources instead of merely writing a check. A headline in The National newspaper reflected their feelings: “Haiti shows that Gulf States are not mere ‘funders.’”
“We are part of the whole world,” says Fetais. “We should all help. I don’t think we should just sit in the corner.” He adds: “The natural gas gives us power to do a lot of things.”
Qatar is the world’s richest country, with a 2010 gross domestic product per capita of $88,000, compared to $81,000 for Luxembourg and $47,000 for the United States. Qatar also has the world’s third-largest deposits of natural gas —15 percent of all proven reserves — and is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Qatar is also attracting top U.S. universities. The capital city of Doha hosts a Cornell Medical College, a Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and an international branch of Northwestern University. Fetais says this is just one small example of how serious Qatar is about top-notch education. “We’re doing a great job on education,” he explains. “We aim very high.”
When his time at CENTCOM is over, Fetais will tell his replacement to “love the American people,” he says. “They will understand you from the first day. They’ll buy you a cup of coffee. Learn from the American system and help them learn from you. They want to get to know you and work with you.”
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