On 3/8/2010 4:22:57 PM Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka wrote:
I just returned from a trip to Africa where I visited with partner nation military leaders in Uganda, Kenya, and Senegal. At each location and during each engagement I was encouraged by the willingness of partner nations to improve their security related capabilities and capacities; and by the enthusiasm of U.S. trainers–both military and contractors–to conduct security related training activities in a way which contributes to overall stability in Africa.
By now, anyone who has been following my travels knows that my focus has been assisting partner nation militaries improve warrant officer (WO) and noncommissioned officer (NCO) capability and capacity in a way that improves the overall effectiveness of a force.
I am always reminded by the Department of State lessons learned and the should-be themes of our US engagements:
1. Personal relationships are crucial. Everything is personal and this means being on the ground in Africa among Africans.
2.Listen, listen, listen…talk is cheap. Listening is golden.
3.It’s for the long-term, not short term rotations or arbitrary timelines. Nothing happens quickly in Africa. Much will go wrong. Commitments and perseverance are essential.
4.Understand that actions speak louder than words. The image of America in much of Africa is that of a 20 year old Peace Corps volunteer who lives among the Africans, learns their language, earns little, and is eager to learn.
And so, the above is my mental framework for each of my engagements. As hard as I try, I don’t get it right all the time and often–due to the nature of my engagements–I don’t even get an opportunity to employ all the lessons learned. But I persevere. So let’s get on with my most recent engagements.
In Uganda we attended a Ugandan NCO Peace Support Operations (PSO) course graduation. The course was administered by the French Foreign Legion based out of Djibouti. Upon graduation the NCO graduates transition to additional PSO training delivered by US personnel; finally, the British Army will close out the PSO training with a field training exercise. This training evolution is the type of partnering which demonstrates the level of international commitment to preparing peacekeeping forces in Africa.
Our next stop in Uganda was in Kasenyi where the 1st Battalion, 65th Infantry from the Puerto Rico National Guard was partnering with Ugandan military instructors delivering additional training to Ugandan forces. Ugandan Peoples Defense Force (UPDF) is one of two countries participating in the current African Union Mission in Somalia and at the same time the UPDF are engaged in defeating the Lord’s Resistance Army. Our training and partnering event in Kasenyi is designed to hone existing skills and add additional capacity to support the UPDF in its current operations. For the US NCOs, it’s about teaching and coaching–as well as listening and learning from the UPDF NCOs and soldiers!
In Kenya, the Defense Sergeant Major (DSM) and I re-established and strengthened our relationship from the previous year’s engagement. We continued to discuss ways ahead regarding WO and NCO leader development opportunities in 2010. The DSM accompanied our delegation to Isiolo. Isiolo is the Kenyan Army Infantry Training Center. At Isiolo, USAFRICOM’s Special Operations Command is leading the training of two Kenyan Army Ranger Companies over the next several months. The DSM was grateful for the informative trip and we were grateful because we were able to listen and learn from the KAF’s most senior Warrant Officer who works directly for the Chief of the Defense Force. As always, the DSM and I promised to stay in contact with each other.
Our last engagement of this trip took us to Senegal. The timing of this engagement was propitious because USAFRICOM, the week before, had hosted a delegation from the Senegalese Armed Forces in Stuttgart for staff to staff talks. GEN Ward and LTGEN Fall, the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) closed out the week’s activities by receiving various staff briefings. Interestingly enough, one of the themes that were integrated in many of the areas discussed was NCO leadership development. So those discussions set favorable conditions for our engagement.
Another positive aspect of this engagement was the integration of the Vermont National Guard. The Vermont National Guard is Senegal’s State Partnership Program partner. The Vermont National Guard, for the past several years, has been conducting several partnership events with the Senegalese Armed Forces.
We started the week’s engagement at the Senegalese Armed Forces (SAF) HQs at Dial Diop where our delegation conducted talks with LTGEN Fall’s assistant CDF and various SAF senior staff members. We were provided the opportunity to deliver the “Improving NCO Leadership Capability and Capacity” briefing to the SAF senior leadership. By the end of the week we had provided that briefing six times; we also conducted two desk-side discussion briefings.
Clearly one of the highlights of the week was our visit to the NCO Academy in Kaolack–a 3.5 hour drive west of Dakar. The Senegalese NCO Academy is a two-year curriculum designed to graduate leaders who are prepared to assume the duties as SGTs in the SAF. The 2009 class is the first class to include females; additionally, each class includes a number of other Francophone country SGTs-to-be.
While in Kaolack, we also met Viola Vaughn, Ed. D, who is the Executive Director of Women’s Health Education and Prevention Strategies Alliance (WHEPSA) and 10K Girls Program team. WHEPSA focuses its efforts in educational development, small business development, and environmental development-all targeted at girls.
WHEPSA started in 2001 with 4 girls; today WHEPSA has 2500 girls enrolled in the regions of Kaolack and Kaffrine. The program targets girls and applies resources which focus on keeping them in school by providing tutoring services. The tutoring and after-school services have resulted in an 82% government education exam pass rate for rural girls enrolled in the WHEPSA, compared to a 28% pass rate for non-enrollees. The idea is to create opportunities for the girls to further their education in order to become productive contributors to their community and economy. Noteworthy, is the fact that WHEPSA has the support of religious leaders as well as social leaders. We were all pretty charged after that discussion…
The remainder of the week consisted of meetings and discussions with senior leadership of the Gendarmerie, various Zone Commanders, Home of the Senegalese Army Infantry in Thies, Senegalese Navy, Senegalese Air Force, and the Senegalese Army. We closed out the week with a final out-brief with the Assistant CDF. The Assistant CDF was appreciative of the week’s activities and once again restated how clear and simple our message had been all week. As the Senegalese look to improve their NCO leadership capability and capacity they will proceed at a measured pace; it will be a step-by-step process.
I have said time and again, “don’t sacrifice sustainability for speed”; so their measured pace approach is absolutely the right approach. And now, we must be as patience as our partners. They must know that we are the trusted and reliable partners we say we are…
Once again, I’ll go back to the four lessons learned stated in this blog and ask myself did I apply them? Did I apply them with purity of intention? I think I did, but time will tell and we must be patient.
Command Sergeant Major Mark S. Ripka became United States Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader in November 2007. He previously served as command sergeant major of United States Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Command Sergeant Major Ripka holds the highest-ranking enlisted position in the command, serving as the principal enlisted advisor to the commander. You can learn more about CSM Ripka at http://www.africom.mil/ripka.asp.