U.S., African Militaries Share Problems, Solutions

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2011 — Senior lead­ers rep­re­sent­ing 17 African nation­al mil­i­taries came togeth­er with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts here this week to bet­ter under­stand U.S. Africa Com­mand and to help in devel­op­ing the non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers corps in their nations.

U.S. Africa Command and the African Center for Strategic Studies
Senior mil­i­tary lead­ers from 17 African nations gath­ered at Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for a week-long War­rant Offi­cer and Sergeants Major Sym­po­sium, co-host­ed by U.S. Africa Com­mand and the African Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies, May 17, 2011.
U.S. Africa Com­mand pho­to by Army Lt. Col. Steven Lamb
Click to enlarge

Speak­ing through inter­preters and wear­ing the uni­forms of their home coun­tries — Liberia, Rawan­da, Botswana, Kenya, Gabon, and Sene­gal, to name a few — the offi­cers shared their mil­i­taries’ dis­tinct expe­ri­ences and offered sup­port and advice for oth­ers, said U.S. Air Force Com­mand Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Jack John­son, Africom’s senior enlist­ed leader, who led the group.

“I was absolute­ly tak­en back by their lev­el of wis­dom,” John­son told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice yes­ter­day. “These are not young sol­diers. These are peo­ple who have seen con­flict. They’ve seen a lot.”

The sec­ond annu­al, week-long War­rant Offi­cer and Sergeants Major Sym­po­sium, co-host­ed by Africom and the African Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies at Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty, employs sub­ject-mat­ter experts with expe­ri­ence in Africa to lead dis­cus­sions on top­ics such as ter­ror­ism and transna­tion­al threats, secu­ri­ty and health chal­lenges, civ­il-mil­i­tary part­ner­ships, and U.S. pol­i­cy in Africa. The sym­po­sium also includ­ed tours of the Pen­ta­gon, U.S. Marine Base Quan­ti­co, Va., and the U.S. Capi­tol.

While it may have been tempt­ing for U.S. mil­i­tary lead­ers to offer solu­tions through Amer­i­can expe­ri­ences, John­son said, that is exact­ly what the Amer­i­can spon­sors avoid­ed.

“We want the Africans to find African solu­tions,” he explained. “There are many things the Africans do as well as us. We don’t feel that we are supe­ri­or. We believe that we can all learn from each oth­er.”

The sym­po­sium also pro­vid­ed the par­tic­i­pants a forum for dis­cussing region­al issues such as malar­ia, and polit­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive top­ics such as allow­ing women to serve in the mil­i­tary and man­ag­ing HIV and AIDS among ser­vice mem­bers, John­son said.

“There was tremen­dous bond­ing in the amount of time that we spent togeth­er,” he said, adding that the par­tic­i­pants showed much courage in the frank­ness of their dis­cus­sions.

Sgt. Maj. Gilbert Seretse of the Botswana Defense Forces said he was not unusu­al among the group in that he had trained abroad – for him, at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Acad­e­my at Fort Bliss, Texas – but had nev­er met any­one from some of Botswana’s neigh­bor­ing coun­tries.

“Most of us didn’t even know what our African peers were doing,” Seretse said, not­ing vast region­al dif­fer­ences on the con­ti­nent.

“I nev­er thought that one day I would be sit­ting around a table with my broth­ers from Africa,” he said. “This has opened our minds and our eyes and our ears to each oth­er.”

Seretse said he left the sym­po­sium with a bet­ter under­stand­ing of Africom and he looks for­ward to shar­ing what he learned with his troops.

“Botswana is a major ben­e­fi­cia­ry in terms of what the Unit­ed States gives,” he said. “Every week, I have some [U.S.] mil­i­tary guys train­ing” Botswana’s forces.

The sym­po­sium is impor­tant not just for the ben­e­fit of the indi­vid­ual par­tic­i­pants and their mil­i­taries, John­son not­ed, but also to the Unit­ed States. “The world is con­nect­ed,” he said. “The suc­cess of our African part­ners leads to the suc­cess of our own nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests, and vice ver­sa.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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