By Colonel Jon L. Lightner, JA, U.S. Army, Legal Counsel, U.S. Africa Command
I had the opportunity last week (6-9 July 2010) to attend and participate in the United Nations Peacekeeping and the Law Symposium in New York City. The conference was jointly sponsored by the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the Center of Excellence for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, and the International Human Rights Institute of the DePaul University School of Law. I got to hear a series of great presentations, including two directly related to Africa: one concerning the challenges of protecting civilians during the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and another on the strategic plan on military justice reforms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The highlight of my week, however, was a special breakout session on Friday devoted solely to the U.S. Africa Command and the lawyers of its State partners that are part of the State Partnership Program. This special session could not have been possible without the outstanding support from Brigadier General Cassie Strom, who is the Air National Guard Assistant to the Staff Judge Advocate for Air Mobility Command.
U.S. Africa Command currently has 8 state partners that are paired up with a corresponding country in Africa. For example, Michigan has been paired with Liberia. What a positive turnout we had from our State Partners. In fact, the interest in our Command was so great that we had numerous representatives attending from States who are looking to join with African partners in our AOR. The assembled group was provided with our Command and Office of the Legal Counsel briefs, and was also briefed on our Legal Engagements Plan, which was finalized and signed on 1 October 2009. A goal of this breakout session was to provide our State partners with the necessary background about our Command and our legal office, emphasizing our office’s unique capability to plan, prioritize, and execute legal engagements in the AOR, consistent with our Command’s overall Theater Strategic Objectives (TSOs). I also asked our State partners to review our Legal Engagements Plan and provide their input, so we can improve upon a revised plan and finalize it no later than 1 October 2010.
What was truly encouraging about this collaborative session was the useful discussion we had concerning potential funding sources and activities. I fully recognize the value of the support from our State legal partners — they come armed with authorities that can expand beyond our traditional military-to-military contacts and into military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian engagements. They provide definite valued-added to activities in support of sustained security engagement. I am excited about this shared endeavor with our State legal partners and I think that they too share my excitement. We look forward a productive and cooperative relationship for many years to come.