Tag Archives: Africa

Camp Lemonnier offers NCOs joint, coalition development opportunities

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

With its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is an important part of the U.S. military’s efforts to combat terrorism in the Mideast and East Africa. In fact, Camp Lemonnier became the first and only U.S. installation on the continent of Africa shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The camp’s unique place on the African continent provides NCOs deployed there opportunities found at few other places.

Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. He had simple advice for NCOs wondering why they might be sent to Djibouti and why it’s an important mission.

“I would tell them to take a look at the map and figure it out,” Hilton said. “Typically, if they have been in the military for some time, they have some smarts and they’ll see that Somalia is right under them; Yemen is right next to them. The strait right off the coast is the second-busiest shipping lane on the planet. So you have that strategic location that is in the nation’s best interest to be here.”

Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal
Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal

Hilton said Camp Lemonnier is a great place for U.S. Army NCOs to get joint experience with the other services, as well as with coalition forces.

“What they can expect is not what they experienced in Iraq or Afghanistan,” he said. “This is unlike any of their previous deployments. Expect that you are going to get joint experience. Whether you come over here to work on a joint staff or you’re an infantry squad leader in a battalion over here, you are going to be working with the other services by default.

“Expect that you are going to engage with at least the coalition forces and the Djiboutian forces,” Hilton said. “And chances are you’ll engage with the forces of one of the countries in our area of responsibility. So come over here with a mindset that you are going to be a trainer, to some degree, in addition to what you were sent here for.”

Those training missions end up giving NCOs an important opportunity to influence countries in the area, Hilton said.
“You are going to be the face of the United States,” he said. “If you are a medic, for instance, and there is a mission to train the medics in Burundi, you may be the only U.S. person a Burundian medic ever sees in his life. You literally are the face of the United States to some of these people. So you have to expect that what you do here will have a strategic influence.”

An assignment to Camp Lemonnier is also different because it is a combat deployment — to a garrison environment.

“This is a hybrid environment,” Hilton said. “Yes, it is a combat deployment. Yes, there is a threat, whether it’s kinetic or not, outside the gate. But inside the walls of Camp Lemonnier, this is a garrison environment. You have to be able to ‘flip the switch.’ If you’ve never operated in a garrison environment before — I mean the lifelong National Guardsman or Reservist who has never been in charge of Soldiers in a garrison environment — you are going to have a steep learning curve when you get here.”

Joint opportunities

With the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all sharing space on Camp Lemonnier, creative NCOs can find lots of joint professional development opportunities that would be hard to find elsewhere. One of those opportunities for junior enlisted is the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course.

The course is designed for junior enlisted Marines preparing to be small unit leaders. But in Djibouti, members of all four services volunteer to take part in the course. The content and difficulty of the course doesn’t change, despite the participants from the other services being volunteers who won’t get official credit for the course.

Army Spc. Jerileigh Bouchard, civil information management analyst with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, was one of those who volunteered for the course recently. She said she found the course useful despite a focus on the Marines.

U.S. Army Spc. Jerileigh Bouchard, a student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course, lifts a weighted ammunition can during a combat fitness test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)
U.S. Army Spc. Jeileigh Bouchard, a student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course, lifts a weighted ammunition can during a combat fitness test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)

“We learned a lot about basic warrior tasks,” Bouchard said. “We learned a lot about the history of the Marine Corps and how the Marine Corps works. It was really nice to see how another branch sees things and how they do things. Some of their tactical movements are a little different than what we do, so it was good to see that other perspective and just add it to my tool box.

“Even though I’m not in the Marines, it was helpful because we discussed leadership skills,” she said. “We had a public speaking thing. We had a land navigation course. We did physical training every morning, so there was a lot to take from it — not just Marine stuff.”

Bouchard said she enjoyed meeting members of the other military services during the course. It was her first experience working jointly.

“I had never really interacted with anybody who was in the other services prior to this class, except for my personal friends,” she said. “On an operational level, I hadn’t seen how the Navy or the Air Force or the Marines do their thing. I’d always been ‘Army, Army, Army,’ so it’s definitely different to see all these people working together.”

Army Spc. Nathan Sullivan, civil affairs specialist with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, also successfully made it through the course. Both Sullivan and Bouchard said the physical training test they had to take at the beginning of the course wasn’t as bad as they expected — but the combat fitness test administered later was a different matter.

“The PT test was easier than I thought it would be,” Sullivan said. “Just different: I’m not used to doing pull-ups. The combat fitness test, however, was a lot harder than I expected it to be. That was a smoker. After we were done doing that, I was ready to go to bed.”

Sullivan said one of the main things he got from the course was inspiration.

“There is a lot of passion there in the Marines, and the leadership was giving us that passion during the course, even though we weren’t Marines,” he said. “Taking that passion and using it in the Army is something I hope to take with me.”

A student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course takes the opening physical training test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)
A student in the Joint Corporals Leadership Development Course takes the opening physical training test in March on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. (Photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel DeCook)

Bouchard said the course gave her a greater understanding of what is required of a leader. That preparation should help her eventually become an NCO.

“It helps you understand why leaders do what they do,” she said. “As a junior Soldier, I’m sure I’ve questioned something that an NCO told me, or wondered why they did it the way they did it. It helps you see where they are coming from and why they do it the way they do it. It definitely helped me think like a leader rather than as a junior Soldier.”

Senior enlisted opportunities

Camp Lemonnier offers plenty of professional development opportunities for senior enlisted Soldiers, as well. One recent effort is the Joint Forces Senior Enlisted Leader Professional Development Course, which is a coalition-focused mentoring and profession development session. Participants, in addition to members of the U.S. military, have been enlisted soldiers from Djibouti, Japan, Italy and Germany.

“It’s typically a half a day every other month,” Hilton said. “We learn the history and culture of each other’s armed forces. We learn what their noncommissioned officer rank structure is like, their NCO education system, what military life is like for them. We learn their capabilities, what their mission is here in Djibouti, and we start building those relationships.

“It’s led to mutual support between us,” Hilton said. “For instance, recently the U.S. Navy Seabees here on base assisted the Italians with some maintenance issues on one of their bigger trucks that they didn’t have the equipment for. It has increased that interoperability, coordination and cooperation.”

Senior enlisted Soldiers are also heavily involved in reaching out to the other countries in the Horn of Africa, Hilton said. They have participated in two engagements with the Kenyan military, and one with the Rwandan military. Future engagements are planned in Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania.

“The main focus is to show them how we use our NCOs,” he said. “Typically, we’ll go to their country first, for an initial meet and greet, get a tour of their training centers and things like that. Then we will bring them to Camp Lemonnier for two days.”

On the first morning of the engagement, the African countries’ senior enlisted soldiers receive a series of briefs. After introductions, the briefs are conducted by U.S. junior enlisted Soldiers.

Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. Maj. John Hilton is serving in Djibouti as an embedded liaison officer for the Center for Army Lessons Learned. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The main focus is the role of the NCO within the joint staff,” Hilton said. “What their responsibilities are, what their daily duties are, how they manage their sections. That’s not something that you typically see in another country’s military, the use of NCOs as staff members. So we try to showcase how we use our junior enlisted, our NCOs.”

The second morning, the engagement focuses on specific problems of the attending country. They will often receive briefs on how the U.S. military handles things such as mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder “because they suffer from those problems, as well,” Hilton said.

The sessions end with a town hall meeting, where senior enlisted leaders from the other countries take questions from the U.S. junior enlisted NCOs. Popular questions include age (“because these guys are old,”) what their typical day is like and if they have some of the same ethnic strife the Soldiers have seen in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The town hall has turned out to be more beneficial than I anticipated,” Hilton said. “The junior Soldiers in our Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps get to see these gentlemen who have served their defense force for, some of them, more than 40 years. Because in these other countries they join for life. Our junior Soldiers find out they have the same issues we do. They miss their families just like we do. They have personnel and financial problems. They like hearing about what it’s like to be in the Kenyan army or the Rwandan navy.”

NCOs deploying to Djibouti should know that their mission is important and necessary, Hilton said. In addition, the opportunities to gain knowledge, especially from joint and coalition forces, are plentiful. Hilton suggests NCOs read up and study the area before they arrive, at the least completing Level 1 of Senior Enlisted Joint Professional Military Education.

“Bring your ‘A game’ when you come over here,” Hilton said. “It’s important, and the whole world is watching.”

Assignment to U.S. Embassy leads NCO to unexpected professional development

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson has been deployed multiple times, but sometimes a mission still surprises him, such as acting as assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti.

Johnson’s primary branch is civil affairs, where he typically joins a team of Soldiers to work with the local populace to identify the locals’ needs, wants and solutions. That’s what he expected to be doing in Djibouti, when he was called instead to the U.S. Embassy, serving as a line of contact between the U.S. Departments of Defense and State. It was not a job he felt ready for.

“When I found out I would be a liaison officer, I felt completely unprepared because this is not my background,” Johnson said. “But somebody is trusting in me. I want to be able to make this work and be successful on behalf of the Department of Defense and the Department of State to show that we can work together. I’ve learned so much.”

Johnson arrived in Djibouti from the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade out of Bristol, Pennsylvania. His main job is to make sure communication between the two departments remains smooth.

“I’m not always the direct chain, but I help facilitate,” Johnson said. “I set up meetings so that the commanding general and the ambassador can communicate and have the conversations they need at their levels.”

In addition, he facilitates access to the embassy for anybody from Camp Lemonnier or Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa who has business there. He helps others with their passports and plans bi-weekly security meetings between the U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti Tom Kelly, the Commanding General of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag and other officials from Camp Lemonnier to discuss pressing issues.

“For example,” Johnson said, “how is Ramadan going to affect Djibouti? How is it going to impact workers here and missions going forward? And how can the Departments of Defense and State collaborate to assist and celebrate during Ramadan?”

As busy as Johnson is at the embassy, he also leads an impressive array of activities at Camp Lemonnier, said Maj. Philip C. Schaub of J9 (interagency partnering) for CJTF-HOA.

“As an active member of the Joint Senior Enlisted Council, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson organized and managed a campwide ‘Spring Fling’ event to provide fun, food and summer safety tips for U.S. Embassy employees and their families,” Schaub said. “He collaborated with all camp associates (USO, Red Cross, Joint Forces 5, Echo 6, etc.) to ensure a successful event. Johnson has volunteered more than 250 hours in support of Friends of Africa Volunteers. He participated in the French English Discussion Group and was the project lead for Troops to Teachers.”

Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal
Graphic by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal

Making connections with people as part of efforts like Troops to Teachers has been rewarding and has helped the mission in some unexpected ways, Johnson said.

“With Troops to Teachers, we bring Djiboutian students on the base temporarily to network, to discuss and to teach them English,” Johnson said. “They already speak five languages fluently. We got to know them and found out a few of them work at the airport. By chance, they’ve been able to assist us as a military with small, but important, tasks when we’ve needed help at the airport, just because we’ve already built that relationship. It’s unique and genuine.”

In addition to all the work Johnson does both at the embassy and volunteering at Camp Lemonnier, he still steps up in many other ways, Schaub said.

“On May 12, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson was enroute back to camp from the embassy when he observed smoke emitting from a local market,” he said. “Without hesitation, he stopped, secured his first aid bag and assisted those in need. He monitored the situation and assisted where needed. Johnson demonstrated his willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty that day.”

Though no injuries were reported, Johnson, with the help of a translator he found on the scene, helped people evacuate the market and phoned in requests for additional fire trucks. Afterward, Johnson made sure the translator was honored for his help.

“As an NCO, Johnson brings a unique set of skills to the job, a set of skills the foundation of which was created in boot camp and has been built brick-by-brick as he progressed though the enlisted ranks,” Schaub said. “It is clear that Sgt. 1st Class Johnson has had good mentors as he has progressed through his career because he is more than willing to assist junior enlisted Soldiers and ensure that not only the mission is always completed and successful but that the Soldiers learn from their experiences. This is what a good NCO does.”

Though he was not expecting to work at the embassy, Johnson said, the experience has made him a better NCO.

“This is something I never would have put personal time into, but now that I’ve had the opportunity to take advantage of it, it’s been good to get a better understanding of what the Department of State’s political officer does, what the economics officer does,” Johnson said. “I’ve learned how that enhances our job, our skill set and our mission here as the Department of Defense.”

Camp Lemonnier isn’t a large post, but on it are coalition forces, in addition to all four branches of the U.S. military. That mix offers another opportunity for NCO professional development, Johnson said.

“There are so many coalition forces here, so there is the opportunity to meet up on any night and just socialize,” Johnson said. “I participate with the French English Discussion Group because I have a little bit of background in French. You learn a lot by just talking to some of their military members, and doing things like going over to the French base and seeing what their conditions are like.”

Watching how the other branches of the U.S. military work can help NCOs think about solutions in new ways, Johnson said.

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, is serving as the assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Johnson, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade, is serving as the assistant liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

“The Army J6 (communications) versus the Air Force J6 operate very differently,” he said. “That’s something you learn and take back with you. It gets you outside of that train-to-fix vision of thinking just because that is what the Army has taught you. You can think, ‘Oh, I’ve seen the Marines do it this way, and the Navy does it this way.’ We have a variety of NCO organizations or associations here.”

For those looking to duplicate Johnson’s success, his recipe involves getting out of whatever comfort zone you are in and spending time building relationships.

“As an NCO, and as a person, if you want something done, you can’t sit back,” Johnson said. “You have to have initiative and you have to go out and put a face to the name. You can’t sit back and wait for an e-mail.

“Build the relationships before you need them,” Johnson said. “Where I sit as the assistant liaison officer, I go to the J6, because you never know when your communications are going to come down. Go meet the personnel office and say, ‘This is who I am. This is what I’m trying to do here.’ Build those relationships face-to-face, up-front. I think the Department of State does that very well. It’s something on the DOD side that a lot of people do very well, but it’s something we can do better.”

Johnson may not have been expecting his latest mission, but as NCOs so often do, he adapted and has become an important part of making the U.S. military’s mission in Djibouti successful.

U.S. Army Africa CSM: NCOs are the ones keeping Soldiers safe on Ebola mission

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

From designing and building Ebola Treatment Units to providing transportation to health care workers, NCOs have proven to be instrumental in the U.S. military’s support of Operation United Assistance in Liberia, said the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Africa, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel. But their greatest contribution, he said, has been keeping U.S. Soldiers healthy by enforcing standards and discipline.

Stitzel was the first NCO on the ground with USARAF’s commander, Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, when they arrived in Liberia on Sept. 16 to organize the U.S. military’s response to the Ebola crisis. Rather than the traditional adversaries in combat, the main foes these Soldiers are facing can be avoided only by adhering to a strict hygiene regimen, he said.

“The biggest advice I have for any noncommissioned officer deploying here (to Liberia) is to get educated about the disease and really understand it, because it is important,” Stitzel said. “They need to realize how important discipline is. That’s what NCOs do. So when we identify what the training requirements are, … noncommissioned officers are the ones who are going to train those tasks and then enforce those standards in-theater. Discipline is what keeps our Soldiers safe.”

As of Dec. 2, more than 17,256 Ebola cases have been reported and 6,113 individuals have died of the virus in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Liberia alone has seen 7,650 cases and 3,155 deaths. Four Ebola cases have been reported in the United States — two imported cases, including one death, and two locally acquired cases. A New York doctor who contracted the virus after treating patients in Guinea, as well as two Dallas nurses who treated the individual who died of the virus have since recovered and have been discharged from their hospitals.

The spread of the virus can be stopped only by quickly identifying and isolating infected individuals and those with whom they have had close contact, the CDC states. The virus is not spread by casual contact, and the CDC considers Soldiers deployed to Liberia to be low risk, as they are not in contact with Ebola patients while in-theater. Each Soldier is still meticulously monitored for symptoms including a rise in temperature, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained bruising or bleeding, and measures have been put into place to immediately recognize any who need to be routed to care. Close monitoring and strict hygiene routines will better protect potentially exposed individuals and everyone around them, Stitzel said.

Discipline is saving lives

Education is the best way for NCOs to set themselves and their Soldiers up for a safe and successful mission in Liberia, said Sgt. Maj. Doug Hall, who was the Operation United Assistance engineering sergeant major in Liberia during the initial weeks of the effort.

U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crises Response 14-2, get their temperature checked as they exit a KC-130. All U.S. Soldiers in Liberia are required to have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature may be the first sign of infection with the Ebola virus. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)
U.S. Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crises Response 14-2, get their temperature checked as they exit a KC-130. All U.S. Soldiers in Liberia are required to have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature may be the first sign of infection with the Ebola virus. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)

“Pay very close attention to the pre-deployment training,” Hall said. “The training is important. You need to understand the transmission of the disease and how to protect yourself and your Soldiers. And you need to understand what you are coming here to do. You are not coming to treat people, you are coming to either build or provide logistical services. Be mission-focused, and always keep safety in mind.”

U.S. Army Soldiers are in Liberia to provide mission command, logistical, engineering and living support to the organizations that are treating patients and fighting the spread of the virus. Even though they do not have direct contact with Ebola patients, Soldiers are required to lower their risk of exposure by stepping in a shallow container of chlorine bleach solution before entering buildings and by washing their hands frequently with diluted bleach.

Soldiers must also have their temperatures taken and logged at least twice each day, as a rise in temperature to 100.4 degrees may be the first sign of infection. Stitzel said Soldiers can’t get into most buildings without their temperatures being taken. A record is kept of each Soldier’s temperatures every day he or she is in the country, and close monitoring will continue through a 21-day isolation period after a Soldier has left the country. These measures are in place to ensure U.S. Soldiers do not contract the virus, and, in the unlikely event one of them should become infected, to prevent the virus’ further spread by identifying those individuals before they become contagious.

NCOs are the key to enforcing these preventative measures and protecting Soldiers’ health, Stitzel said. From avoiding exposure to the Ebola virus and malaria to lowering the risk of accidents, NCOs save lives by ensuring every Soldier follows protocol.

“Whether it’s in this Ebola environment or anywhere else in Africa, safety is about discipline,” Stitzel said. “It starts with, ‘Do you have your bug spray? Are you taking your malaria pills?’ Malaria is our biggest threat, and it is easily mitigated by discipline. So we come up with different plans. There is a sergeant who looks at everybody and says, “OK, take out your pills and put them in your mouth,’ and then he watches them take it. The commanding general and I do the same thing every morning. He is my battle buddy, and I’m his.”

Great NCO leadership

Stitzel said everywhere he goes in Liberia, he sees exemplary NCOs. Their hands-on style of leadership has contributed greatly to this particular mission, he said.

“There is an Air Force senior master sergeant – Senior Master Sgt. Michael Jordan – who is here with the joint task force port operating team,” Stitzel said. “He has a little over 100 folks working out at the airport, bringing in all the supplies. They take care of all the passengers who come in and all of the equipment that comes in, as we start building out this theater. I watch his airmen and the Soldiers who work for him, and they are doing phenomenal work.

“You go out and see the Seabees out there, and you’ve got a petty officer directing his sailors in two- and three-person teams, getting the land set for us to build these life-support areas. Sgt Maj. Doug Hall went in and helped design and coordinate with the contractors to build the living areas and work areas. These tents and all of these [buildings] that are going up, somebody has to divide up the plan and tell them where to do it, how we are going to do it and set it up. Hall has been the right NCO at the right time to get done what needs to get done.”

In a partnership with the armed forces of Liberia, Hall’s unit was responsible for starting construction of the Ebola Treatment Units, the Monrovian Medical Unit in the country’s capital and the headquarters area.

“We have all of our officers and our engineers – they design, and I am more of a get-out-there-and-make-it-happen person,” Hall said. “It’s been important to get NCO eyes onto what they are designing on paper to develop a product, to get from the conceptual stage to actually building and get the mission done. I think NCOs here have brought that to the plate.”

‘I’m proud to be part of this joint effort’

On Oct. 25, USARAF transferred authority of Operation United Assistance to the 101st Airborne Division. The 101st Airborne Division will continue the work USARAF began: overseeing the joint military operations and providing mission command, logistical, engineering and living support to those fighting to stop the virus.

U.S. Marines and Soldiers enter a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 aircraft after a site survey of a future Ebola Treatment Unit site near Barclayville, Grand Kru, Liberia. The U.S. Agency for International Development is the lead U.S. government organization for Operation United Assistance. The U.S. Army is supporting the effort by providing mission command, logistics, training and engineering support to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)
U.S. Marines and Soldiers enter a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 aircraft after a site survey of a future Ebola Treatment Unit site near Barclayville, Grand Kru, Liberia. The U.S. Agency for International Development is the lead U.S. government organization for Operation United Assistance. The U.S. Army is supporting the effort by providing mission command, logistics, training and engineering support to contain the Ebola virus outbreak. (Photo by Pfc. Craig Philbrick/U.S. Army)

After witnessing the large-scale joint effort – which includes the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and Liberian military units – of OUA, Stitzel said this deployment will always stand out in his mind.

“I was at the Monrovia Medical Unit today, and right there at the airport you see the joint force working together,” Stitzel said.

U.S. sailors completed the land preparation and built latrine and external structures; U.S. airmen were in charge of building and setting up the structures, and U.S. Army engineers contributed by building the floors at the airport’s now-functional 25-bed hospital.

“To me, personally, I think it’s an amazing opportunity, not only to help out our airmen, but help out in a global situation — helping out wherever we are needed,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Will Villalobos, who helped lead the team working at the airport. “We will always be ready at a moment’s notice. I’m proud, so proud, to be part of this team and to help out the people of Liberia in every way we can.”

Stitzel said NCOs should take pride in this unique mission and in their work alongside so many other organizations assisting the Liberian people. He has been impressed, he said, by the swift and effective cooperation between the United States and Liberian militaries, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Doctors Without Borders and others.

“I’ve been on a few deployments, and they were all very important missions. But this is definitely going to be one I look back on with pride. We are here in support of USAID, and so I feel very proud to not only be a part of this fight against Ebola but to work with all of the other federal agencies and departments that are here working so well together. It has been a great experience and a blessing to being a part of this mission of helping the people of Liberia.”

Spc. Kristal Calderon, an information technology support specialist with the 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical) at Fort Gordon, Ga., practices carefully donning and removing personal protective equipment during pre-deployment training at the brigade’s logistical warehouse at Fort Gordon. The training was mandatory for the Soldiers who deployed to Liberia in late October to add their communications equipment and expertise to the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (Photo by Capt. Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)
Spc. Kristal Calderon, an information technology support specialist with the 35th Signal Brigade (Theater Tactical) at Fort Gordon, Ga., practices carefully donning and removing personal protective equipment during pre-deployment training at the brigade’s logistical warehouse at Fort Gordon. The training was mandatory for the Soldiers who deployed to Liberia in late October to add their communications equipment and expertise to the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (Photo by Capt. Lindsay D. Roman/U.S. Army)

U.S. Army Africa Soldiers demonstrate importance of officer-NCO relationship

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By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

U.S. Army Africa’s mission is the same as any other command’s mission. They keep Americans and American interests safe, in this case, through their actions on the African continent, said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffery Stitzel, command sergeant major of USARAF, based in Vicenza, Italy. USARAF engages in training operations, programs and exercises with defense forces across Africa in the hope that a secure environment may be maintained and minimal U.S. involvement will be needed when problems arise.

U.S. Africa Command’s motto is “African solutions to African problems.” USARAF follows this motto and accomplishes its mission by helping African nations strengthen their own defense capabilities so that they are better equipped to address their own security threats.

“We still have a lot of terrorist organizations that move through the northern part of Africa: elements of al-Qaida, AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb), Boko Haram from Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Those issues are the kind of things that make what we are doing in Africa really important.”

One of the best ways to strengthen a nation’s defense capabilities is by investing in its NCO corps, Stitzel said. But, the change has to come from within. USARAF can’t go in saying, “This is what you need to do; you need to become just like us,” Stitzel said. Rather, the U.S. armed forces must inspire the militaries of our partner nations to want it for themselves, and must help them reach their own goals in their own ways.

“On the continent, what our NCOs really do for us is show foreign countries how they are empowered by American officers to be valued and trusted tools to accomplish missions,” Stitzel said. “These officers in other nations watch us and see that our NCOs allow officers to be less burdened. Our officers have someone helping them; they have more time to think about in-depth things. They’re not really involved in everyday activities and are really thinking at a higher level – the strategic level.”

NCOs within USARAF and the continent’s regionally aligned force can have a profound impact on the future of these nations while they are on missions in Africa, Stitzel said. Whether they are expanding cadets’ horizons in a cultural language program in Senegal, teaching basic medical techniques in Cameroon or helping with gender integration in Botswana, he said American NCOs need to remember that one of the best ways they can accomplish their mission is by being model NCOs in everything they do. Just as NCOs must teach by example when working with their Soldiers, they must be the example that inspires other nations.

Finding common ground

The reason the U.S. military is so well accepted on the African continent, Stitzel said, is because these African countries were once European colonies.

“Who else was a colony of someone in Europe? We were,” he said. “They kind of see us as a big brother, and they really like American NCOs because we don’t look down on them. We look at them as peers. There is a professional courtesy that is extended between us, and they really like that, that we share our experiences and [have a similar history].”

Many African nations have gained their independence only in the past 50 years and have developed under the British or French military systems, which traditionally have not empowered NCOs like the United States system does. Stitzel asks his Soldiers to think about where the United States was in 1826, only 50 years after gaining our independence. The country hadn’t even been through the Civil War yet, when the military was just beginning to figure out the role of the NCO, he said.

“Some would argue that the true, professional role of NCOs didn’t come until after Vietnam. We forget that,” Stitzel said.

The role of the NCO has grown in the United States over time as the military has learned from past mistakes and solidified its values and policies. The strengthening of the NCO corps in these African nations must also come about as a result of internal change, Stitzel said.

“Their officer corps has to want to change within the country, and the training must start with their young officers. It has to grow,” he said. “True change, as we are beginning to see in Malawi, will come gradually. Gen. Henry Odillo, commander of their armed forces, said it best when he told the first class of graduates at the Malawi NCO academy, ‘You all are pioneers for our army.’ And that’s exactly what they are. They are pioneers. It isn’t going to be perfect on their backs going through. But they are going to pave a way for the generation that comes after them. I told them, ‘Somewhere in your country, somebody just joined your army who is going to be the sergeant major of the army in 30, 35 years.”

The Malawian Defense Force has observed the U.S. military and how its NCO corps is utilized. Odillo decided he wanted that for his military, and made it a priority for the MDF. The driving force that made the first class a success at the Malawi NCO academy was the soldiers’ desire for change, Stitzel said.

We can’t force our way

Being an NCO is about caring for other people and wanting them to learn and figure things out for themselves, Stitzel said. It is USARAF Soldiers’ job to find out what works best for these other countries, even if it is not what our country has done.

“Sure, I can go in there and say, ‘This is how you do it,’ and give them all the equipment,” Stitzel said. “But we have computers in our army. Some of these countries don’t. They may have computers, but they don’t have the access to them that we do. A perfect example is our surgeon directorate, which recently completed medical readiness training exercises in Chad and in Burkina Faso. Instead of sending a team of doctors and surgeons and nurses down there with all of the magical instruments that we have in America, they go down there and do it with only the supplies available in that country. That’s how they figure out how to develop the best practice for them.”

These militaries benefit not only from the treatment individuals receive from the U.S. doctors and surgeons, but from the knowledge they gain from the sergeants major, the master sergeants, the first sergeants and the combat medics, Stitzel said. And this training goes both ways. There are some diseases in these countries that Soldiers don’t encounter in the U.S. They are able to work with malaria or polio patients, for example, and take away a lot from the experience, he said. This is true not only for medics, but for all of the USARAF Soldiers on missions in Africa. They learn to be better teachers as they adapt to the different cultures and adjust to different ways of thinking, Stitzel said.

Demonstrating the officer-NCO relationship

“What others can learn from USARAF NCOs is that we can’t force our way of life – we can’t force the way our Army functions – onto another country. We need to wait for them to ask us for it. And it’s not about telling them; it’s about showing them,” Stitzel said. “We can do it by working together with our officers. I don’t want to see missions in Africa completed by just NCOs or just officers; it’s got to be together. They are watching us. How do our NCOs and officers interact? How do we show that NCOs are an integral part of our program?”

Just as we should not send only female NCOs to an area struggling with the integration of women into their military, we should not expect NCOs to, on their own, help a military develop their NCO corps, Stitzel said. Officers must be involved, he said, because they are the ones who already have the respect of that nation’s force. New ideas are always more readily accepted when the origin is trusted and respected within a culture.

“If the training is about gender integration, we need a gender-integrated team conducting it,” Stitzel said. “It’s the exact same thing with the NCOs and officers. You can’t just talk about it. You have to show it. It is through our actions that we teach people. Our officers and NCOs need to keep that in mind.”

Even if there is a mission that is run by either NCOs or by officers, there are always opportunities to demonstrate the importance of the officer-NCO relationship, Stitzel said. U.S. Soldiers should seize those chances to show how we work together.

“Take myself, for example. Most of the trips Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahue (commanding general of USARAF) takes, I go with him,” Stitzel said. “I sit right by him; he introduces me first and demonstrates that respect. And he really empowers me when he sends me out in his stead. When I go down, and they see that I am the senior representative from the general, that’s powerful.
“When they see it, that’s when they want it for themselves. I think when individuals see a behavior they want to model themselves, that’s when they say, ‘Hey, I want to be like that.’ Then they start asking.”

Related stories:
Graduates of Africa’s first NCO academy become leaders of change for Malawi
162nd Infantry Brigade NCOs behind success of Army’s first Regionally Aligned Force unit in Africa

Sgt. David Daerr, right, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and Soldiers with the 9th South African Infantry Battalion participate in Shared Accord 13, a biennial training exercise designed to increase capacity and enhance interoperability across the South African and U.S. militaries. (U.S. Army Africa photo)
Sgt. David Daerr, right, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and soldiers with the 9th South African Infantry Battalion participate in Shared Accord 13, a biennial training exercise designed to increase capacity and enhance interoperability across the South African and U.S. militaries. (U.S. Army Africa photo)