Malawi Senior Leader Engagement

On 5/24/2010 12:17:36 PM Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka, senior enlisted leader wrote:

I just returned from my most recent trip to Africa where I visited with partner nation military leaders in Malawi. This was my first trip to Malawi. As always, I was encouraged by the willingness of partner nations to improve their security related capabilities and to remain relevant in the contemporary operational environment.
Yes, you guessed it; my focus was to assist — if they invited us to do so, and they did — the Malawi Defense Force (MDF) in advancing warrant officer (WO) and noncommissioned officer (NCO) capabilities and capacity in a way that improves the overall effectiveness of a force.

And once again, I reminded myself what is important in all my engagements and deliberations:

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 is 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.

The US Embassy composition in Malawi is unique in that there is no US military presence in US Embassy-Lilongwe. The senior defense officer/ defense attach resides in US Embassy-Harare, Zimbabwe and the security cooperation officer resides in US Embassy-Gaborone, Botswana. Therefore, US Embassy-Lilongwe employs a Political Military officer (Mr. JT Ice)–who is a foreign service officer–and a foreign service national (Kalezi Zimba) as the military programs specialist; to be quite honest, that construct works quite well in Malawi. JT and Kalezi were wonderful partners this past week. Our delegation also included SGT Carrie Wawrzyk, OPS NCO US Embassy-Harare.

The engagement began with a visit with the Commander-Malawi Defense Force who provided our delegation with the history of the MDF; the MDF prides itself on its professionalism and apolitical approach to past political problems. The Cdr-MDF also explained very clearly that he is intent on improving the capabilities of the MDF WOs and NCOs. Our exchange of concepts and ideas re WO and NCO development was cordial and sincere. However, let me be clear here, this is not new to the Commander-MDF; he began to focus on WO-NCO development two years ago when he made the decision to allocate roughly 40% of MDF IMET to WOs and NCOs.

I was most fortunate this week to meet and spend the entire week with another Defense Sergeant Major (DSM), WO1 Julius Kamphenga. I still find it interesting that our information systems don’t recognize nor identify the postings of a DSM; often, it’s not until I embark on a senior leader engagement do we find out that the Defense/ Armed Force has a posted DSM or Force Sergeant Major (FSM). This fact further emphasizes the importance of US senior enlisted leader engagements in order to fully understand the organization of the defense/ armed force. I found the MDF DSM to be very astute and wise; with 39 years of total service and the last eight as the DSM, he knew the MDF.

Moreover, the Commander-MDF showed great respect for the MDF DSM, not true in all countries I visit who have posted DSMs/ FSMs. Needless to say, I listened and learned from this wizened and sagacious leader.

During the week, we visited various locations in and around Lilongwe and then proceeded to Salima–near Lake Malawi–where the Malawi Armed Forces College (MAFCO) and the MDF Parachute Battalion are located. In each location, our delegation heard various briefings on MDF capabilities, areas of previous partnership, and areas of potential future partnership. Likewise, in each location, the MDF eagerly requested our delegation to present the “US Africa Command” and the “Improving WO-NCO Capability and Capacity” briefings. The audiences–officers, WOs, and NCOs–were very interested in hearing about US Africa Command and how it has progressed since its establishment. Yes, most if not all in the audiences had heard of US Africa Command’s somewhat rocky beginning; they were impressed on how far we have come since those days–one US military command focused on delivering effective military programs and activities to African partners, all focused on security and stability. The audiences were also keenly interested in the “Improving WO-NCO Capability and Capacity” briefing as it uses a simple formula to clearly explain “A” Way to approach this endeavor. As we have stated so many times during this presentation, each partner must apply its own, history, culture, tradition, and doctrine in order to advance their WOs and NCOs in a way that sustainable for their AF/ DF. This presentation only serves to provide them another perspective to WO-NCO development. Just to remind our reading audience, the formula we use is “Ways X Means X 3Will.”

We wrapped-up the week with final discussions with the DSM. The DSM clearly stated his expectations and outcomes from the weeklong visits, discussions, and deliberations. We–our delegation–will now take his requests back to the US Africa Command staff in order to determine how to deliver the programs requested by the DSM, and in a way, that meets the MDF’s needs. As in every post-engagement follow-up we must now demonstrate that we–US Africa Command–are the trusted and reliable partner we want to be, and say we are!

http://www.africom.mil/africomDialogue.asp?entry=1240

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.

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