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Retired SEAL stepping up fight against human trafficking

021419 Anti Human Trafficking

Glenn Pangelinan, a retired Navy SEAL, discusses his organization, Reliance Incorporated, and its work helping rehabilitate and educate child soldiers in places like South Sudan, during the Elizabeth City Rotary Club's meeting at Montero's, Wednesday.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Retired Navy SEAL Glenn Pangelinan continues his fight against human trafficking and slavery, and the first front is South Sudan, he told members of the Elizabeth City Rotary Club on Wednesday.

Pangelinan told Rotarians his organization, Reliance Incorporated, continues working to help rehabilitate and educate child soldiers from the young African nation, where he said some 18,000 of them need to be demobilized — allowed to live free, peaceful lives — after being forced to fight in the nation's ongoing ethnic strife.

It's taken two years to earn South Sudanese officials' trust and permission for the endeavor, Pangelinan said, and he said they want him to teach them farming.

That's been the plan, he noted. In his years serving in conflict zones, including Chad, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pangelinan said he’s seen how society breaks down and leaves people unable to feed themselves or find paying work.

He also plans to teach them self-taught skills. He learned how to cook while overseas — sometimes drawing locals' laughter at his approaches to local fare, he noted — and is now a farmer and restaurateur. He operates the 1775 American Bistro in Perquimans County, where he serves French cuisine.

A portion of the bistro's proceeds, coupled with support from the South Sudan Relief Fund, will help Pangelinan sponsor five South Sudanese children, whom he wants to put through high school and college. He wants to help them become entrepreneurs and farmers, and pass those skills on to others back home.

Pangelinan also noted a sad irony of South Sudan's conflict, commenting the nation is rich in arable land, and could be a “breadbasket” of Africa.

Pangelinan's goals go beyond helping human trafficking's victims. He told Rotarians he also wants to stop its perpetrators, and wants to train local authorities to find and dismantle trafficking rings.

Non-governmental organizations combat trafficking by facilitating brothel raids and promoting policies and legislation to crack down on trafficking as a human rights violation, he said.

“What NGOs are not doing is intelligently and physically fighting” traffickers, Pangelinan said.

His organization, Reliance, aims to offer his and other SEALs' guidance, including in intelligence gathering, so authorities can disrupt and dismantle traffickers. Such work is not easy, he said, adding that even local, American law enforcement agencies lack the ability to dismantle large-scale operations.

One way to hinder or shut down traffickers, Pangelinan said, would be to find and cut off their access to illegal drugs. Apart from being a revenue source, traffickers also often use drugs to keep victims sedated or dependent on them, he said.

Pangelinan also explained to Rotarians that human trafficking is a worldwide problem that may never go away, but it can be reduced. Wherever there's war, societal breakdown, or corruption, people will likely be forced into trafficking, whether by their captors or because of a lack of any way to survive, he explained. Trafficking and slavery occur in many countries, but some of the worst offenders include India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan, he said.

The United States is far from exempt from the problem, Pangelinan added. Apart from domestic trafficking and forced prostitution, he also noted Americans contribute to trafficking by directly or indirectly exploiting its victims. Americans are often caught traveling to Belize for child prostitution, and Americans buy chocolate made from cocoa from West Africa, where chocolate companies have done little about child labor, he said.

Apart from fighting trafficking for humanitarian reasons, Pangelinan also told the Rotarians that fighting trafficking often helps stabilize countries and earn their friendship, meaning it furthers national security objectives.

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