Command Sergeant Major Blog: September 2010

Command Sergeant Major Mark Ripka wrote

It’s been almost two months since I last wrote…hard to believe.

Since my last blog I have been to Liberia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. A very special event in September was the privilege and honor of hosting the Kenya Defence Sergeant Major and his delegation consisting of the Army Sergeant Major, Air Force Sergeant Major, and the Navy Sergeant Major in Germany. After the Kenya delegation departed, once again I returned to East Africa, but this time for very different reasons. I’ll cover East Africa later; but first let go back to the beginning of September and highlight my Liberia engagement.

The Liberia trip was a special trip because this was my new executive assistance, Sergeant Major Matt Grucella’s first trip to Africa. I call Matt my encyclopedia and he’ll be the continuity for the next U.S. AFRICOM senior enlisted leader. And Liberia was a wonderful introduction to Africa for Matt. As most of my readers know we have an operation on-going in Liberia-it’s called Operation Onward Liberty. Onward Liberty consists of a USMC Marine Forces Africa-led joint organization which is partnering with the Armed Forces of Liberia to further mature their Department of State U.S. contractor-trained skills. The current U.S. military cadre is the second iteration this year and they are well-prepared to continue to develop the men and women of the Armed Forces of Liberia.

In Liberia I did my share of listening and learning to Africans-hmmm, wonder where I’ve heard that before. I want to emphasize two points that really stuck in my head…

1) It’s all about relationships, BUT, although we develop many relationships and come to know many people, when we walk into a room in Africa even though we may know everyone in the room, we seldom if ever really understand the 2d and 3d level of relationships of those in the room-who’s married to whom, who’s aligned with whom, etc.
2) In many parts of Africa, ‘process’ is more important than ‘output.’ If I think about it, this makes perfect sense since everything in Africa is about relationships, relationships, relationships. However, this is antithesis to U.S. thinking. I was told that if our efforts in Africa are to ever be sustained over the long term we must focus more on ‘process’ and less on ‘output.’

For an entire week in September we were pleased to host the Kenya Armed Forces Defence Sergeant Major and his delegation in Germany. The delegation visited the United States Air Forces Africa headquarters at Ramstein Air Force Base, the Joint Multinational Training Command at Grafenwohr, and they were hosted for briefings and discussions at the Headquarters, United States Africa Command here in Stuttgart. The delegation also took the opportunity to speak to an Elementary School assembly in Stuttgart. The delegation was “most welcome” at all the different venues and they were most pleased with the overall visit.

And now on to East Africa…

As I stated before this trip to East Africa was for very different reasons. This trip was to accompany the incoming USMC Sergeant Major and the out-going U.S. Navy Command Master Chief as they did their leader transition. Command Master Chief Bob Audiss departed after a year tour in the horn of Africa region; Sergeant Major Scott Mykoo is starting his year. Command Master Chief Bob Audiss wanted to ensure that Sergeant Major Scott Mykoo understood the area that many of his subordinate organizations would be conducting their activities in and so he prepared an aggressive itinerary that included visits to Djibouti-the home of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)-Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The visits included introductions to U.S. Embassy country teams, CJTF-HOA country coordination elements, various training venues, civil affairs teams, and enabling military activities in the region. All the visits were extremely beneficial and this type of turnover is most definitely value-added. Relationships were created, maintained, and passed from the out-going to the incoming senior enlisted leader.

Most noteworthy of the East Africa transition was our visit to Uganda. During our visit to Uganda we met the Defence Force Sergeant Major (DFSM) and the Land Forces Sergeant Major (LFSM) for the first time. Our U.S. delegation was excited to find out that these very important positions existed in the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF). Note: The LFSM is a Class 56 graduate of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy-Sergeants Major Course. The DFSM delegation and the U.S. delegation enjoyed a wonderful evening together in Kampala.

The regional introduction ended with a RMDL Losey hosted ceremony on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti where Command Master Chief Bob Audiss transferred the duties and responsibilities of the CJTF-HOA senior enlisted leader to Sergeant Major Scott Mykoo. So, we say farewell to Command Master Chief Bob Audiss and welcome to Sergeant Major Scott Mykoo. Welcome to the Team Sergeant Major.

As of now, I will not return to Africa until early November-it’s probably the longest stretch I’ve been out of Africa in three years. I’ll proceed to Washington, D.C. later this month for various deliberations and meetings.

Like all my blog closings-I leave you with this…

In Africa:
1. Personal relationships are crucial. Everything is personal and this means being on the ground in Africa among Africans.
2. Listen, listen, listentalk 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.

Until next time…


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